Microsoft Project Gantt Chart: A How-to Guide With Pros, Cons & Alternatives


The Gantt chart is one of the most important tools in a project manager’s toolbox. One side is a spreadsheet that collects important project data and the other is a visual timeline that shows the entire project from start to finish. The Microsoft Project Gantt chart is typically seen as the centerpiece of that project management software.

However, some never get the chance to use Gantt charts for Microsoft Project because of the steep price and learning curve. Let’s look at Microsoft Project’s Gantt chart and see what is worthwhile and what is lacking in the essential project management tool. We’ll highlight key features, show you how to build a Microsoft Project Gantt chart and identify some of the pitfalls of the Gantt chart for Microsoft Project.

What Can You Use a Microsoft Project Gantt Chart For?

The Microsoft Project Gantt chart allows you to visually plan your project. It can be used as a chronological bar chart that turns your project details into a clear visual representation. This is why Microsoft Project Gantt charts are used for projects that follow the waterfall methodology. They offer a clear, linear path where one phase must be completed before the next begins.

You’ll find that the Gantt chart for Microsoft Project captures important project information, such as scope, tasks, dependencies, level of effort in terms of time for each task, resources and milestones. Therefore, you can use the Microsoft Project Gantt chart to organize your tasks, link dependent tasks, set the duration for each task and attach resources to execute it. The Gantt chart for Microsoft Project also breaks your project down into project phases and you can add milestones to indicate important dates, which helps you track progress and reward the team for completing their work.

However, the Microsoft Project Gantt chart is not without its limitations. ProjectManager is award-winning project management software that has Gantt charts that link all four types of task dependencies to avoid costly delays. Our Gantt charts update automatically and can be shared easily with your project team. Microsoft Project is not known for its collaboration or ease of use. Our software is easier to use, fosters collaboration, including a mobile app, and is not as expensive as Microsoft Project. Get started with ProjectManager today for free.

ProjectManager's Gantt chart
ProjectManager’s Gantt charts are easier to use and less expensive than MS Project. Learn more

Key Features and Pros of Microsoft Project Gantt Charts

Microsoft Project is still valuable as a project management tool. It integrates with other MS products, such as Office 365, SharePoint and Skype. Let’s take a moment to look at the pros of the software and some of the key features of the Gantt chart for Microsoft Project.

  • Task Dependency Mapping: Links tasks that are dependent on one another, meaning they can’t start or finish without the other having started or finished.
  • Critical Path Analysis: Identifies the tasks that must be completed to deliver the project.
  • Project Milestone Tracking: Project tracking tool that helps track key steps, achievements or deliverables in a project schedule.
  • Track Task Percentage of Completion: Tracks the progress the team is making in executing their tasks.

Cons of Making a Gantt Chart in Microsoft Project

Making a Gantt chart in Microsoft Project isn’t without its disadvantages. While the Gantt chart feature itself is robust, the project management software in which it resides has problems. Here are some of the issues you’ll find working in a Microsoft Project Gantt chart environment.

You’ve probably heard of the steep price for MS Project and those costs only increase as you pay for more licenses. If you’re working with a larger team, Microsoft Gantt charts are just going to be too expensive for them to be viable project management tools. That’s just one disadvantage. There are more.

  • Steep Learning Curve: MS Project is complicated. Even seasoned pros have difficulty getting a handle on it without hours of training and trial and error.
  • Difficult User Interface: Microsoft Project is hard to navigate. There’s poor visualization, which makes the project management tool that much harder to use, especially compared to Gantt chart software with a more modern user interface.
  • MPP Files are Hard to Share: If you use Mac products, you’re out of luck, and even PC users can’t collaborate on MS Project. Yes, you could use SharePoint, but that’s another cost and even then, the system is clunky.
  • No Cost or Resource Tracking Features: Projects are expensive and costs must be closely monitored to make sure you don’t overspend the budget. Microsoft Project’s Gantt charts can’t add the associated resources and how much it’s going to cost.

For these and other reasons, many Microsoft Project alternatives have been developed over the years. These are project management software equipped with the same features as Microsoft Project, such as Gantt charts, resource management tools, project calendars and more.

How to Make a Gantt Chart in Microsoft Project

Now that we understand the importance of a Gantt chart tool in project management, the next step is to learn how to make one in Microsoft Project. You’d start with a task list for your project and then create a new project file in Microsoft Project. Then follow these three steps to create a Microsoft Project Gantt chart.

1. Add Project Tasks, Durations and Due Dates

On the left side of the Gantt chart is a spreadsheet. Here, you’ll want to add all your project tasks on one line at a time. In the next column, you’ll add the start date. In the column after that, add the end date. This will create the duration for each task and it will populate the project timeline as a bar from the start date to the end date.


Microsoft Project Gantt chart spreadsheet showing project tasks, due dates and duration in days


2. Link Task Dependencies

Task dependencies need to be linked or else they can be overlooked, which is going to negatively impact your project schedule. You can link dependent tasks on the Gantt chart by holding down the Ctrl key and selecting the two tasks you want to link.


task dependencies on a Microsoft Project Gantt chart

3. Mark Milestones in the Project Timeline

You can add milestones to your MS Project Gantt chart by clicking view, then, in the task views group, click Gantt chart. Now you can type the milestone name and pick the task you want to turn into a milestone. Then you can add its duration.


project milestones on a Microsoft Project Gantt chart

4. Identify the Critical Path

Now that you’ve created a Gantt chart, you can identify the critical path of your project by clicking “Gantt chart format” on the top menu and then marking the critical tasks checkbox as shown in the image below. Once you do so, the Microsoft Project Gantt chart will highlight the critical path tasks on the right side.


steps to identify the critical path tasks of a project with a Microsoft Project Gantt chart

5. Set a Project Schedule Baseline

A project baseline is an estimate of the time, scope or cost of a project. In this case, a Microsoft Project Gantt chart can help you create a project schedule baseline that establishes the estimated time your project should take. You can then use the schedule baseline to compare the actual progress of your project against what you had planned on your Gantt chart.


how to set up a project baseline with a microsoft project gantt chart

6. Track Percent Complete

Tracking the progress of your team once the project execution phase starts is critical for the success of your projects. That’s why the Microsoft Project Gantt chart has a column where you and your team members can specify the percentage completion of each task. This is shown in each bar of the Microsoft Project Gantt chart.


Microsoft Project Gantt Chart column showing the percent complete of each project task


In the MS Project Gantt chart example below, the percent complete of the task that’s selected has been set to 45%. Therefore, the bar that represents that task on the Microsoft Project Gantt chart is filled halfway in dark blue. You might edit the formatting to change the color of your stacked bar.

How to Make a Microsoft Project Gantt Chart With ProjectManager

Microsoft Project is hard to use, doesn’t foster team collaboration and can’t track costs or resources. That’s a big problem, especially if you want to deliver your project within its budget. Microsoft has a lot of problems that might not be worth the price of admission. If you’re looking for the best Microsoft Project alternative, use ProjectManager for a better project management software experience.

You can easily import Gantt charts from Microsoft Project to ProjectManager and vice versa. Simply save your Microsoft Project Gantt chart as an MPP file and you’ll be able to open and edit it in ProjectManager and use all its advanced project management features such as workload and resource allocation charts, timesheets, kanban boards, project calendars and much more. To do so, simply start a free trial of ProjectManager.

Import MPP files to ProjectManager

ProjectManager is online project management software with the same and even more features than the desktop and online versions of Microsoft Project. ProjectManager’s Gantt charts are ideal for planning, scheduling and tracking your projects. They’ll allow you to use the same features as a Microsoft Project Gantt chart at a fraction of the cost.

1. Use the Import Button on the Gantt Chart

Start your MPP file import with one click. Go to the Gantt chart view in the top menu of your Gantt chart.


Fields to add more data to your Microsoft Project Gantt chart in ProjectManager


2. Select Which MPP File You Want to Import

Follow the prompt on the popup window and select the Microsoft Project file you want to import. After you’ve imported your MPP file, you can view and edit the project plan file on your Mac.


Once you import the MPP file you can view and edit the Microsoft Project Gantt chart with PM


3. Choose Your MPP File Import Options

Pick from the options shown on the new popup menu, such as importing the MPP file to a new or existing project.

4. Import All Data or Just the Task List

Select from the next popup menu whether to import all the data on the MPP file or just the tasks.


Choose what data you'd like to import from the MS Project Gantt chart MPP file


5. Close the Success Prompt

If you see a new window that says “Success,” that means you’ve successfully imported the MPP file.


Success pop up indicating you've imported a Gantt chart from MS project


6. Your Microsoft Project Gantt Chart Is Ready to Be Edited In ProjectManager

See the MPP file as it now appears in ProjectManager. You can view it in the Microsoft Project Gantt chart, as seen below, where task dependencies can be linked, milestones set, etc., or use one of the other multiple views such as kanban boards, project calendars and real-time dashboards.


Microsoft Project Gantt Chart Opened In ProjectManager

Microsoft Project Gantt Chart Example

This Microsoft Project Gantt chart example shows a Gantt chart that was created for construction project management. On the left, there’s a list of tasks and information about them such as their duration, due dates, task dependencies and percentage of completion. On the right, there’s the stacked bar chart that shows each of those tasks on a timeline.

Microsoft Project Gantt Chart Example

You can see the names of the team members to whom you’ve assigned the tasks. Additionally, as we pointed out earlier, each of the Microsoft Project Gantt chart bars shows the percentage of completion of each task with the fill color, which shows the progress each team member makes on each task.

Use the Microsoft Project Gantt Chart Wizard

MS Project has something called the Gantt Chart Wizard, a Gantt chart maker that’s designed to help users build Gantt charts automatically without any manual setup. To use it, you’ll need to follow these steps:

First, you have to add the Gantt Chart Wizard to the Project Ribbon by clicking File on the top menu, then click “Options.” Once the Options window opens, click the “Customize ribbon” button on the left side, then select Macros and click “New Group.” Then rename the new group you’ve created. We’ve called it “Gantt chart wizard” for this Microsoft Project Gantt chart example.


Customize Ribbon settings in Microsoft Project Gantt chart wizard


Now click the drop-down menu and select “All Commands” and find the command called Gantt chart wizard, then click “Add.”


Step to set up the MS project Gantt chart wizard


Then click the Gantt Chart Wizard icon on your Quick Access Toolbar. This will bring up a welcome screen.


Microsoft Project Gantt chart wizard button in top menu


The Microsoft Project Gantt chart will allow you to customize the information you want to display, like critical path tasks, resources, project baselines and task dependencies. Simply follow the steps that are shown in the Gantt chart wizard windows like the one below.


Microsoft Project Gantt chart wizard example


Congratulations! You’ve created a Microsoft Project Gantt chart using the wizard feature. This feature will help you save time and create project schedules easily.

ProjectManager Has Better Gantt Charts Than Microsoft Project

ProjectManager gives you superior Gantt charts than Microsoft Project at a competitive price that won’t bust the bank. Our software is more intuitive and visual than MS Project and user-friendly. If you’re stuck with Microsoft Project Gantt charts, you can import MPP files in our software, make the changes you need to and collaborate with the project team. Then, export those changes in the MPP file back to MS Project.

But there’s a better solution: use our cloud-based project portfolio management software. We even have a mobile app, which Microsoft Project doesn’t, and multiple project views, from kanban boards and task lists to sheet and calendar views, all of which update simultaneously in real time.

Superior Cost and Resource Tracking Gantt Chart Features

Our Gantt chart view helps you keep track of project costs by setting a baseline, which captures your project cost and then compares those planned costs to your actual costs in real time. You can see if you’re overspending and take action to prevent going over your budget.

You can set the availability of your resources, including PTO, vacation and global holidays, which makes it easier to make assignments and then track their progress across your project or portfolio of projects. Use our color-coded workload chart to balance your team’s workload to keep them working at capacity.

Real-Time Project Tracking Dashboards

Once you set the baseline in the Gantt chart you can then compare your planned effort against your actual effort in real time across the app. For example, toggle over to our real-time dashboard, which automatically collects live data and displays it on easy-to-read graphs and charts that show time, cost, workload and much more.

Unlike lightweight alternatives, our dashboard doesn’t require a lengthy and complicated setup. If you need more details, use our reporting features. It’s easy to generate a status or portfolio report, variance, timesheet, workload report and many more. All are customizable, so you can filter only the data you want to see, and they can be easily shared to keep stakeholders informed.

Related Microsoft Project Content

If you’re still on the fence about Microsoft Project Gantt charts, we have more MS Project articles for you to read. Learn about Microsoft Project, find the best Microsoft Project alternatives and much more. Follow the links below.

ProjectManager is online project and portfolio management software that connects teams whether they’re in the office, out in the field or anywhere in between. They can share files, comment at the task level and stay updated with email and in-app notifications. Join teams at Avis, Nestle and Siemens who use our software to deliver successful projects. Get started with ProjectManager today for free.