Gantt charts have been around since 1917, when Henry L. Gantt created one as a way to analyze and synthesize workflows. His motivation was World War I, and trying to improve economic and labor results. He collaborated with the U.S. Army, which saw the value in his visual system.
Since the 1980s, Gantt charts have been going online and have become one of the great tools for project managers. They are a very useful tool when planning and executing a phase of your project, as they easily and visually identify tasks and allocated resources.
Think of a Gantt chart as a bar chart on steroids. It illustrates the start and finish dates of the many tasks and milestones of your project. The Gantt chart is also designed to show task dependencies between activities, and they are ideal ways to show a current schedule status using percent-complete shading.
Other than a visual timeline of tasks and projects, Gantt charts are great for managing projects because tasks can be color-coded by person, team or function. They make tracking dependent tasks easier. You can compare your planned versus your actual progress on the project. It’s also a means to view project baselines and critical paths, as well as defining core project milestones.
How to Use a Gantt Chart
Gantt chart can be complicated for the novice, but there are ways to make them simple and effective, such as when they’re part of your project management software tools.
1. Task Start and End Dates
The Gantt chart is not that different from a task list, at least in the sense that it’s a list of your tasks. Therefore, the first thing you should do is have a task-by-task breakdown of the project. Those will go in the first column. This may seem obvious, but the Gantt chart only works if you have every task assigned it’s own line so you can track the project as each tasks is completed.
Once the tasks are listed, you need to assign a start and end date to each one. This is part of the planning phase of your project. If you don’t have dates for when the project’s tasks start and when you expect them to end, there’s no way you’ll be able to control the scope of work on the project. Once you have these dates inserted into the proper columns you’ve begun the schedule of your project.
The final column in this section of the Gantt chart is the one titled duration. That, simply put, is the time it takes to complete the task. The duration is the sum of time between the start date and the end date.
2. Timeline View
This is where the Gantt chart stops being merely a glorified task list and turns into a visual aid in managing your project. What happens here is that all the data you imputed in the other columns is then generated here as a timeline. Now you have a visual aid in helping you see at-a-glance the progress of the project. This is where you can color-code tasks to reflect different teams, team members or functions. It’s a great way to highlight that information which is critical to your project and stay abreast of its progress.
There’s also the aforementioned task dependencies, which can complicate a schedule and potentially block team members sending the whole project off-track. Gantt charts have the feature where you can automate task dependencies so that when one tasks is delayed or complete it adjusts the other task dependent on it. And you can also automate emails to notify you and team members when these tasks are completed.
Create a visual tracking of your project tasks with our free Gantt chart Excel template. It’s a great way to see the duration of the overall project. Once you schedule your tasks on a Gantt chart you’ll never go back to the old-fashioned task list.