What Is a Gantt Chart? Definition & History

A Gantt chart is a project management tool that shows the duration of tasks on a visual project schedule. It has two main parts, a task list on the left side and a project timeline on the right.

The Gantt chart was created by Henry Gantt in the early 20th century to improve project planning, scheduling and tracking by illustrating completed work compared to planned work. Today, project managers and team members use Gantt charts to plan projects, create a project schedule, allocate resources and track progress with just one project management tool.

Gantt chart example in project management
ProjectManager’s online Gantt chart software. Learn more

At a basic level, a Gantt chart allows project, program and portfolio managers to easily map out project plans by organizing project tasks on a visual timeline. However, Gantt charts are used for many other purposes in project planning, project scheduling, project tracking and resource management.

With ProjectManager’s Gantt chart, you can assign tasks to your team members, set due dates, estimate costs and monitor progress in real time. The best part is that it can be used along with other project management tools such as kanban boards, real-time project dashboards, timesheets and team collaboration tools.

What Is Included In a Gantt Chart? Elements & Timeline

There are two halves to most Gantt chart tools you see online today. On the left is a grid that lists project tasks and important information about them as shown in the image below.

task list component on a Gantt chart example

On the right side, there’s a Gantt timeline, which is represented with a stacked bar chart where each task has a corresponding bar that runs on the horizontal axis. The task bars start on the date that the work is scheduled to start. The longer the bar, the longer the task will take.

Gantt chart example showing timeline and stacked bar chart

ProjectManager’s robust Gantt chart tool lets you zoom in on all the details of your project schedule. Simply fill out the following information to map out your project plan.

  • Task name: Briefly describe your task. You can also add more task details using other project views such as kanban boards and task lists.
  • Task owner: Assign tasks to team members.
    Task priority: Set a priority level for all your project tasks so you can better allocate your resources.
  • Due dates: Add planned start and planned finish dates and adjust them at any time by dragging and dropping tasks on the Gantt timeline. You can also compare planned vs. actual task duration.
  • Task dependencies: You can also show the task dependencies in number form. Choose the “Linked From” column in the column settings.
  • Percent complete: A figure, mostly always based on an educated guess by the project team, of how much work they have done and how much is still to do.
  • Critical path activities: ProjectManager’s Gantt chart maker automatically identifies the critical path based on your project task list, dependencies and due dates.

Gantt Chart Example

Here’s a Gantt chart example made with project management software. On the left side, there’s a list of tasks for a manufacturing project. The tasks on this Gantt chart sample are grouped into phases and include details such as percent complete, estimated duration and due dates.

Gantt chart example made with ProjectManager

On the right side, you can see the bars that represent the duration of each task.

Gantt chart showing a project timeline

In this Gantt chart example, you can easily see:

  • The Gantt chart timeline
  • What the project tasks are
  • Which team member is working on each task
  • When project activities start and finish
  • The percent complete for each activity and work package
  • How tasks group together, overlap and link with each other
  • Task dependencies such as finish-to-start, start-to-start, finish-to-finish and start-to-finish
  • Milestones and project phases on the schedule

Who Uses a Gantt Chart?

It used to be that Gantt charts were the exclusive tool of formally trained project managers. These were people planning complex projects of all different types: construction, engineering, military, manufacturing, infrastructure, IT and more. Creating long task lists and complex project schedules with lots of moving parts, required training in the art and science of task management, critical path analysis, baselining and so on.

Today, nearly everyone can use a Gantt chart to help them visualize their tasks. Because all the difficult work is now done by project management software, anyone can just create a simple task list, add start and end dates, and the software does the work instantly by displaying your tasks over a project timeline.

Gantt charts can be used by all kinds of teams, such as:

  • IT & software development teams
  • Project management teams
  • PMOs
  • Marketing teams
  • Professional services teams
  • Engineering & architectural teams
  • Construction teams
  • Manufacturing teams
  • Product development teams

Here are some examples of potential users of Gantt charts:

  • Project managers
  • General managers
  • Team leaders
  • Operations managers
  • Scheduling managers
  • Marketing managers
  • Executives such as CEOs & CTOs
  • Anyone who wants an instant view of a project timeline

Gantt Chart Template

This free Gantt chart Excel template helps you build a Gantt chart and a project timeline in minutes. It gives you a visual overview of your entire project from start to finish. Simply add all of the tasks needed to reach your final deliverable and manually update any changes during the execution of the project. It’s a great example of a Gantt chart in Microsoft Excel.

Related: How To Make a Gantt Chart in Excel

image of ProjectManager's Gantt Chart template for Microsoft Excel, example of a Gantt chart with a timeline

However, this free Gantt chart template is best suited for creating simple Gantt charts, as it lacks advanced project management features that are needed for larger projects such as resource management and cost tracking.

What Is a Gantt Chart Used For?

Because the Gantt chart is such a diverse project management tool for identifying timelines and task dependencies, it can be used in any industry or field. Here are some examples.

  • Gantt charts in project management: Gantt charts compile the information project managers need to create a visual timeline that shows all the elements of a project plan in one place. With Gantt charts, project managers can schedule projects, allocate resources, set cost and scope baselines, and identify the critical path.
  • Gantt charts in construction: Construction Gantt charts are used by project owners, general contractors and construction project managers to plan the different phases of a construction project, such as initiation, pre-construction and procurement. However, Gantt charts can also be used on a smaller scale to manage everyday tasks.
  • Gantt charts in software engineering: Software engineering teams use Gantt charts to create project roadmaps, which are essential for task management when developing new products. This is done by simply mapping software development tasks on a timeline, just as if it was a project plan.

Gantt charts are also used for implementing most project management methodologies, such as for example, waterfall and agile project management.

Gantt Charts in Waterfall Planning

Waterfall project management consists in planning a project in sequential phases. These project phases are planned in advance and then executed in order from beginning to end without making many changes to the original project plan. Gantt charts are ideal to map out such projects as they allow project managers to visualize task dependencies and establish task sequences on a project timeline.

Gantt Charts in Agile Planning

Unlike waterfall, agile planning consists in planning short iterations of work of one to two weeks known as agile sprints, where teams plan and execute their work. They then have short meetings where they review their performance and plan the next sprint. While Gantt charts aren’t commonly used to plan sprints, they help agile teams to map out their project plan or product development roadmap at large, which lets them see the bigger picture of their projects.

Pros and Cons of Gantt Charts

The Gantt chart is one, if not the most important project management tool to plan, schedule and track projects. Here are some of the main pros and cons of using Gantt charts to manage projects from any industry.

Pros of Using Gantt Charts

  • Gantt charts allow project managers to turn complex project plans into a visual project timeline that’s easy to understand.
  • Gantt charts are the perfect tool to compare the actual performance of your project team against the original project plan, schedule and cost baselines to determine whether a project is being completed on time and under budget.
  • Gantt charts allow project managers to understand both the scope of a project and its schedule from start to end, including task dependencies.
  • Gantt charts are also considered a resource management tool because they allow project managers to understand how they’re allocating their resources.

Cons of Using Gantt Charts

  • Gantt charts can be hard to understand for some team members and stakeholders who aren’t used to them.
  • Not all Gantt chart software available in the market offers the same features, which is something to look out for as some lack important features.
  • Other project tools such as task lists or kanban boards can be an easier method to keep track of tasks, such as when managing small teams, or short-term projects.
  • Gantt charts operate in a linear fashion and aren’t very dynamic for agile projects.

Best Practices for Using a Gantt Chart

Now that we have more context about Gantt charts and how to use them, let’s explore some of the best practices when using a Gantt chart.

Create a Work Breakdown Structure

Before you can use a Gantt chart to create a project schedule, you’ll need to first identify all the individual tasks that make up the total amount of work that’s needed for your project. A work breakdown structure (WBS) is a tool that can help you with this process. It’s important that you do this during the project planning phase so you don’t miss any project tasks.

Identify Task Dependencies

One of the key aspects that differentiate Gantt charts from other project planning tools is that they allow project managers to identify and visualize task dependencies. A task dependency is simply the relationship project tasks have among each other that dictates the order in which they must be completed. While Gantt charts let you represent task dependencies, these can’t be automatically determined. It’s your responsibility as a project manager to define them, otherwise, the project schedule won’t be accurate.

Find the Critical Path of Your Project

The critical path of a project is the longest sequence of tasks that need to be executed. It’s important to determine what your critical path is because if those tasks are delayed the whole project completion will be delayed. Luckily some Gantt chart software alternatives will automatically do this for you.

What Is a Gantt Chart Software?

Once computers introduced new ways of working, project managers found they could save time in creating and updating their Gantt charts. Gantt chart software, also called project planning, project management, or even project scheduling software, was created to automate the process to support more advanced Gantt requirements like creating task dependencies, adding milestones or identifying the critical path of a project plan.

Watch the video below for a quick introduction to ProjectManager’s online Gantt chart maker and its benefits.

Project management training video (gl8hk4dbxz)

Many project managers traditionally used local desktop programs like Microsoft Project—and many still do. But today, most Gantt chart makers and project management software have moved online, enabling anyone to create shareable and collaborative Gantt charts and project plans.

Must-Have Gantt Chart Software Features

While no two Gantt chart tools are the same, there are key features that you'll need to get the most out of your Gantt chart tool:

Milestones

Milestones are represented by a diamond symbol on the Gantt and have no duration. A milestone marks the end of a piece of work, task sequence or project management phase. They’re often fixed dates or important dates on your project schedule that you need to be aware of. Read more: Learn how to use milestones in your scheduling.

A screenshot of Gantt chart Milestones on the Gantt chart in ProjectManager

Task Dependencies

These show which tasks are linked together. Links are shown with lines on the Gantt chart, and the arrow points to the task that comes next. Task dependencies can be set up as start-to-finish, start-to-start, finish-to-finish or finish-to-start. Read more: Learn how to manage task dependencies.

A screenshot of Gantt chart task dependencies on the Gantt chart in ProjectManager

Summary Tasks

A summary task is a skinny ‘umbrella’ task above various individual tasks. It’s a good way of grouping activities together, especially as part of a project stage or phase. You can ‘roll up’ your tasks (in other words, hide them from view) so that only the summary task is shown. The summary task also displays the task progress with shading, so you can view the progress of all tasks underneath in that one bar.

A screenshot of Gantt Summary tasks on the Gantt chart in ProjectManager

Collaboration

A Gantt chart without collaboration is just a static plan. It’s nice to have, but it isn’t helping you advance the work your team is doing. Be sure that you can chat or comment around tasks to keep the workflow documented. Your team will then get alerts every time a task has been updated, so they know when new activity has occurred.

A screenshot team collaboration features on the Gantt chart in ProjectManager

File Sharing

It’s important as you collaborate to also be able to attach files, images, videos or other notes to document the task progress and keep all the task information together. That way, you always know where to look to find the file related to the work you’re doing.

A screenshot of Gantt File Sharing on the Gantt chart in ProjectManager

Planned vs. Actual Progress

This is represented in a couple different ways on the Gantt. Shading on the bar indicates how complete the planned work is. When the bar is totally shaded, the task is finished. You can also see just a view of the actual progress anytime in the settings. Don’t forget to set a baseline for the best tracking experience.

A screenshot of shaded bars which represent Gantt progress on the Gantt chart in ProjectManager

How to Make a Gantt Chart With Gantt Chart Software

Onboarding your team members with ProjectManager’s Gantt chart maker allows you to better plan, schedule and track all types of projects. Once you’ve invited your team members to the new Gantt chart tool, you can start improving the way you manage tasks, resources and timelines. But before we get to the benefits of using online Gantt chart software, let’s go through a step-by-step guide to making a Gantt chart in ProjectManager.

It’s easy for anyone to create a Gantt chart online in ProjectManager. You can import a task list from a CSV file, an Excel Gantt chart template, or a Microsoft Project file or create one from scratch. Unlike Gantt chart Excel templates, our Gantt chart maker does the heavy lifting so you can focus on what’s important.

Simply add project tasks to the tool, fill in the information and a fully-fledged Gantt chart will generate automatically. Our Gantt chart has advanced project management features that’ll let you set task dependencies, identify the critical path and use timesheets for resource tracking, just to name a few.

Also, since it’s an online Gantt chart maker, you and your team members can build the Gantt chart together in real time while you share files and documents with unlimited storage.

Now, without further ado, here’s a step-by-step guide to creating a Gantt chart with ProjectManager, one of the best Gantt chart software available in the market.

1. Create a New Project

When you first log in, you simply enter a project name and select “Create.” You’ll be directed to the Gantt chart view.

2. Add Project Tasks to Your Gantt Chart

As you add tasks, the default date will be today. Since you haven’t added a longer due date than today, the tasks appear in the Gantt chart tool to the right as circles, representing that they start and end today. The dotted line represents today’s date.

ProjectManager's Gantt chart showing a project task list

3. Assign Tasks to Team Members

You can easily assign or re-assign tasks to team members based on their availability in real time, which is ideal for workload management. When people are assigned tasks, their name appears above the taskbar on the Gantt chart. The Gantt chart maker lets you know whether your team members are available, or if they’re already scheduled for other tasks.

Assign tasks to team members with ProjectManager's Gantt chart

4. Add Due Dates to Your Gantt Chart

As you extend the start and end dates, the task bars on the Gantt chart view extend too, showing you how long each task will take. Add those dates under the planned start and planned finish columns.

5. Prioritize Your Project Tasks

The Gantt chart maker has a task prioritization feature that allows you to establish a priority level for each task so you and your team can focus your efforts on the most important activities. Best of all, this priority tag can also be used in other project views, like task lists and kanban boards for better task tracking.

6. Estimate Task Costs

Add the estimated costs for each task. Our Gantt chart maker helps you estimate labor costs for each project task based on how many team members are working on it and their hourly rate. On top of that, these labor costs are also updated on timesheets you can easily share with your team members.

7. Link Task Dependencies Using the Gantt Chart Timeline

Linking task dependencies is an advanced project planning feature that lets you create a realistic project schedule. There are four types of task dependencies that allow you to understand how your projects’ task sequences are interrelated. In the picture below, you can see how Gantt chart bars are connected by arrows, which indicates there’s a dependency between tasks.

Gantt chart task dependencies

8. Identify Critical Path Activities & Project Milestones

The Gantt chart maker automatically identifies the critical path of your project, which helps you focus on the critical tasks or the tasks that must be completed on time so that your project is completed on time. In addition, you can mark any project task as a milestone, which lets you pinpoint an important achievement, deliverable or the end of a project stage for detailed project tracking.

Gantt chart critical path

9. Customize Your Gantt Chart

You can customize your Gantt charts in whatever way suits your team. Here, you can see that different people are represented by different colors on the Gantt taskbars so it’s easy to see at a glance who is responsible for which tasks. Others might use colors on the stacked bar chart to represent different phases of a project or different teams responsible for a group of tasks.

Customizable Gantt chart template

10. Attach Files, Comments or Notes

When your team works collaboratively on an online Gantt chart maker, you can do so much more than just plan tasks. You can add images, videos, links, notes or comments right at the task level, so all the relevant task work is captured and easily accessible in one place.

ProjectManager's online Gantt charts let you manage files with unlimited file storage

11. Track Your Team’s Progress

All the updates on the Gantt diagram can be seen in one view. You can see what the team is working on and when tasks have been updated. Team collaboration is easy with online Gantt charts.

Gantt Chart Video for Beginners

If you still need help setting up and understanding your Gantt chart, watch this video by Jennifer Bridges, PMP.

Gantt Chart FAQs

If you still have questions about Gantt charts, they should be answered in the following frequently asked questions.

Can I create a Gantt chart online?

Yes, there are online Gantt chart tools such as ProjectManager that allow you to create a Gantt chart online without having to install any software on your Mac or PC.

Is there a Gantt chart in Excel?

Microsoft Excel doesn’t have a Gantt chart feature. You can create one by customizing the stacked bar chart or using one of the free Gantt chart templates available online.

How do you create a Gantt chart in Google Sheets?

To make a Gantt chart in Google Sheets, open a new blank spreadsheet, add the tasks data for your project (including duration, start and end dates), insert a stacked bar graph and then transform the bar graph into a Gantt chart. There are Gantt chart templates for Google Sheets too. Read more about it in our blog here.

How do I create a Gantt chart in Word?

You can create a Gantt chart in Word by opening a new document and setting the orientation to landscape, then inserting a stacked bar chart into the document and adding your project schedule (such as start, end dates and duration). Next, format the graph to look like a Gantt chart and customize it for greater readability.

What does Gantt stand for?

The Gantt chart was named after Henry Gantt, and many think he was the one who first had the idea of project planning on bar charts. This isn’t entirely true.

An image of the two men who invented the Gantt chart, Henry Gantt on the left and Karol Adamiecki on the right. The photo is a portrait of both side by side, and the image is in black and white.

Left: Henry Gantt | Right: Karol Adamiecki

Karol Adamiecki devised the first Gantt diagram back in 1896. He was a Polish engineer turned management professor who came up with the idea of displaying processes visually so that he could make it easier to see production schedules. (He did most of his work in the steel industry.) He called it the harmonogram (a much better word) but Adamiecki published his articles on it in Polish and Russian, so the English-speaking world didn’t know much about it.

Henry Gantt had the same idea as Karol Adamiecki, but about 15 years later. In 1910, Gantt started planning visually with bar charts to allow supervisors in the steelworks to see if production was on track or behind schedule. It was Gantt’s name that got attached to this way of project planning, but today it’s generally recognized that Adamiecki had the idea first.

 

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