Gantt charts have been around for a long time, but since they migrated from analog to digital, their ease of use has made them a staple of project management. There can be misconceptions about Gantt charts, but plainly stated, a Gantt chart shows tasks over time.
On the left of a Gantt chart is a list of the tasks, and to the right is a timeline in which those tasks are placed according to when they occur in the project. Each task is laid out with a start date and an end date. That’s the duration of the task. It is graphically a line between two points.
This layout makes it simple to see what the tasks are, when each of them begins and ends and how long the task should take to complete. The Gantt chart also shows where tasks overlap, by how much, as well as the duration of the entire project.
So, a Gantt chart shows you what tasks are needed to complete the project, and how long they are going to take. But how do you make one to plan and schedule a successful project? The following are the five steps will show you how to make a Gantt chart.
How to Make a Gantt Chart
There are a few ways to make a Gantt chart. If you want to be traditional, you can get out a paper and pencil. That might be a good way to start putting you pieces together, but it’s not feasible for managing a project, with all its issues and changes.
To make things easier, we offer a free Gantt chart template, which gives you an Excel spreadsheet to fill in the fields. But if you keep your schedule on a spreadsheet, it’s going to be a problem. Excel was created to make easy and visual timelines. To take it further, we recommend uploading the spreadsheet to our online Gantt chart software. The benefits of that are detailed below.
That said, you still have to go through the steps of collecting all the data you’ll need to make a Gantt chart. Once you go through the following five steps, take a moment to read on. We’ll explain how putting your Gantt chart online into our software makes it a living document that can not only plan your schedule, but help you execute it.
1. Make a Task List
Before you can map out the work you have to have a list of it. This list of tasks must be thorough and complete to be effective. Therefore, it’s advised that you use a work breakdown structure.
This tool, like it’s name, breaks down larger, complex (or small, simpler) projects down. It starts with the final deliverable and goes step by step backwards to get the essential steps necessary to get to the project’s end.
As you’re gathering up tasks it doesn’t hurt to look back at historical data of related projects to get an idea of how long they have taken. Also, talking to people who have gone through similar projects, be they inside or outside your team, can help as you move to the next step.
2. What Are the Tasks’ Start and End Dates?
This is when you take the tasks and sequence them over the course of your project. Tasks are not islands that stand alone in the ocean of your project. It is possible and even likely that some tasks will be performed at the same time but by different team members.
As you determine what the start date is, you tasks will show up on the timeline at that date. Then with the knowledge you’ve acquired in the last step, make a time estimation as to when the task will be completed. This creates the two points and the bar between them, marking the time it will take to do the task over the course of the entire project.
This is the first step towards creating a schedule for the project. The duration of your tasks is the time between the start date and the end date. Now you’re cooking with gas. You no longer have merely a task list, but a visual representation of your project laid out over a timeline. This provides an at-a-glance aid to your progress once you execute the project.
3. Add Milestones
While you want to collect every task, no matter how tiny, you don’t want to neglect the big picture. Gantt charts allow you to break the project up into phases or mark when a large unique section of the project is complete. These are called milestones.
Having milestones in a project is helpful. It not only boosts morale to see that you’ve finished a large chunk of the project, but it delineates key events, acting like signposts on the route to your final destination.
4. Identify Dependencies
While some tasks can be executed at the same time, others can’t be started until another has finished. These are called task dependencies. If they’re not identified, they can create bottlenecks in your team’s workflow.
There are four types of task dependencies.
- Finish to Start: Task can’t start until the one before it is finished.
- Start to Start: Task can’t start until the one before it starts.
- Finish to Finish: Task can’t end before the one before it ends.
- Start to Finish: Task can’t end before the one before it starts.
Once these dependencies are identified, create them on your Gantt chart by linking the related tasks. That way you’ll be able to readily see which tasks are dependent on one another.
5. Start Assigning
Once you have your tasks, milestones, durations and dependencies on your Gantt chart, you can start assigning tasks. This is where you give team members work. They are now responsible for meeting the due date of the tasks to which they are assigned.
Project managers can use the Gantt chart as a visual guide to track the team’s progress as it works through their assignments. But there’s much more a Gantt chart can do if you’re working with a superior project management software.
How ProjectManager.com Supersizes Your Gantt Chart
Whether you’ve used our template or merely collected a task list in a spreadsheet, you can take it to the next level by importing the document into ProjectManager.com. You can import MS Project, CSV or Excel files and your tasks are spread out over a timeline automatically.
You can then pick and choose which columns you want on the left side of the Gantt chart. Once you add the durations of each task, they move across the timeline to the left. Milestones are added by diamond symbols and dependencies can be linked.
When it comes time to assign tasks to your team members, you can do so directly from our Gantt. Then team members can use the Gantt as a collaborative platform when they’re executing the tasks. Because ProjectManager.com is a cloud-based project management software, they can access it anywhere and at any time, which is great for distributed teams.
Team members can also comment at the task level, adding documents as needed. We have unlimited file storage, so they can attach whatever images or handoffs are necessary. If a team member has a question for the project manager or another project member not assigned the task, they can @ them and that person will be notified by email, so they can join the discussion.
Easy Editing & Automations
One complaint about Gantt charts is that they’re difficult to edit. But ProjectManager.com makes changing task durations as easy as drag-and-drop. Just grab your start date and end date and move it to where you want. It’s that easy.
The online Gantt chart also can be automated, so if a task is delayed, the task dependent on it will be adjusted to avoid any scheduling mistakes. Email notifications can be automated as well to keep project managers and team members updated when tasks are completed. ProjectManager.com fulfills the promise of Gantt charts in project management.
ProjectManager.com is cloud-based project management software. Our online Gantt chart gives project managers the tools to control schedule, link task dependencies and track progress with integrated reporting. Team members get a collaborative platform to work more productively. That’s just one aspect of our software, which also has kanban, calendar and list views. See how we can help you manage your next project by taking advantage of our free 30-day trial.