Gantt Chart Guide

As the project manager, it’s your job to plan, coordinate, and track multiple tasks within a single project. Using a Gantt chart can help you track those projects more efficiently and effectively, saving you time and reducing the chances of setbacks due to human error.

A Gantt chart lets you visualize time, resources, and tasks more easily.
A Gantt chart lets you visualize time, resources, and tasks more easily.

Regardless of whether you’re managing a simple project or a large, complex one, a Gantt chart lets you visualize time, resources, and tasks more easily. This Gantt chart guide will show you how Gantt charts will help you when planning and managing projects.

What is a Gantt Chart?

The Gantt chart is a project management tool made popular by engineer Henry Gantt in the early 20th century. It gives a graphical representation of a project’s tasks and timeline.

Visually communicating data, Gantt charts make it easier to detect inefficiencies and mistakes. They help project managers plan, schedule, and track their projects over a timeline more easily, which is why the Gantt chart has become one of the most popular project management tools in use.

Another feature that makes Gantt charts great is their versatility. They are used in nearly all industries, including:

  • Construction
  • Manufacturing
  • IT and software development
  • Marketing
  • Human resources
Gantt charts bring project plans to life by providing graphical representation of the entire project timeline from start to finish.

Presenting critical project information in chart form makes it easier to identify and manage project-sensitive data and ensure on-time delivery of important milestones, ultimately reducing the chances of missing important details.

Other benefits of a Gantt chart include:

  • Advanced resource management: Project managers use Gantt charts to visualize resource capacity over an extended period of time, even between current and future projects. This helps prevent scheduling conflicts
  • Better collaboration: A Gantt chart acts as a single source of truth, so everyone is using the same project information at all times
  • Workflow transparency: Gantt charts provide a clear indication of who’s completing tasks on time and who is struggling with their work. This information can help determine which workers need additional assistance, as well as who has enough bandwidth to take on extra work if needed

Parts of a Gantt Chart

Part of what makes the Gantt chart popular is its simplicity. A standard Gantt chart will employ a timeline, a task list on the left axis, and task bars to represent the project’s work.

The timeline runs horizontally, either across the top or bottom of the chart, and is used to measure the length of the tasks within the project. You can choose to have the time displayed in days, weeks, months, and even years if you’re managing a long-term project.

Task bars on a Gantt chart are used to visualize progress, duration, and planned start and end dates.
Task bars on a Gantt chart are used to visualize progress, duration, and planned start and end dates.

Task bars run horizontally on the chart and are used to visualize the progress, duration, and planned start and end dates of tasks.

A Gantt chart also includes a task list that runs vertically on the left side of the chart. This list displays all of the tasks within the project, which you can arrange into a hierarchy of tasks and subtasks to keep the Gantt chart and team more organized.

Other elements you may find in a Gantt chart include:

  • Dateline: The dateline runs vertically down the chart, highlighting the current date
  • Measured progress: The progress of each task is usually demonstrated by bar shading or displaying the percentage of work completed for that task
  • Dependencies: Dependencies are typically represented by a small line that connects one task bar to another, showing the order in which work should be completed

Gantt charts are designed to help project managers, teams, and other collaborators manage and execute work quicker and more efficiently. You can adopt a minimalist approach that only incorporates a task list, task bars, and timeline, or bring in extra elements if you’re managing a complex project.

What is Gantt Chart Software?

Project management tools are constantly evolving with technology to improve the way teams collaborate. While many project managers constructed Gantt charts using desktop software in the past, most have switched to platforms that let them build and manage their Gantt chart online.

That’s because online Gantt chart software enhances collaboration by ensuring everyone is on the same page. Since the Gantt chart is stored online, everyone views an up-to-date version of the chart every time it’s accessed. What’s more, many online Gantt chart solutions also allow project managers and teams to upload and attach important files, like text files, videos, images, and other documents teams may need to complete their assignments.

Many Gantt chart solutions enable users to upload, attach, and store important files and documents related to a project.
Many Gantt chart solutions enable users to upload, attach, and store important files and documents related to a project.

Best of all, online Gantt chart software operates in the cloud. This means not having to worry about making sure your teams have the most recent software installed, or whether each member’s software license is up to date. This can greatly reduce setbacks by minimizing technological barriers that can restrict project collaboration.

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s take a look at some key features your Gantt chart software should have.

Best Gantt Chart Software Features

First and foremost, you should understand your project requirements when considering an online Gantt chart solution. With more organizations supporting remote and distributed work, you’ll want to have a project management tool that supports online collaboration.

On top of that, a cloud-based Gantt chart software solution protects your organization from corrupted files, hard drive malfunctions, and other technical difficulties that could cause lost data. The cost effectiveness of a cloud-based Gantt chart software will also be apparent when comparing it to on-premise solutions.

Collaborative features, like the ability to comment on a task or card, allow teams to keep conversations related to the Gantt chart all in one place.
Collaborative features, like the ability to comment on a task or card, allow teams to keep conversations related to the Gantt chart all in one place.

Other important features to look for in your Gantt chart software solution include:

  • Flexibility: Gantt chart software should be flexible enough to support simple projects, as well as complex ones with multiple tasks and subtasks
  • Templates: Having access to a wide range of templates lets project managers quickly roll out Gantt charts tailored specifically to their industry and type of project
  • Collaborative features: Features like document sharing and comments facilitate good collaboration by allowing teams to share information and solve problems in real-time
  • Mobile support: Android and iOS support gives you and your teams the ability to collaborate, execute and complete tasks from anywhere with their mobile device

Choosing a Gantt chart software solution that comes with these features makes it easier for you to track the progress of projects, while minimizing barriers that may inhibit team collaboration. This will help you and your teams keep projects moving.

How to Create a Gantt Chart

If you’re creating your first Gantt chart, you may have difficulty figuring out how and where to get started. The good news is that creating a Gantt chart is a relatively straightforward process.

Here are some tips to help you create an effective Gantt chart:

1. Start with a plan

A Gantt chart will enhance your project management capabilities, but it won’t do the work for you. Before you start building your chart, you need to plan out the project.

Think about what you want to achieve and how you can do it. Perhaps you want to create an onboarding program for new employees, or maybe you want to launch a project for developing and marketing a new application. Whatever your goal is, think about all the various steps involved from inception to completion and who will be working on your project.

2. Map out tasks and subtasks

Once you have a general idea of the project and its desired outcomes, you’re ready to start building the Gantt chart. Think carefully about every task and subtask that will be completed during the course of the project.

Consider making a task breakdown structure to be as thorough as possible when planning. For example, if the project is developing and releasing an application, you can break the tasks down into three columns.

  1. Marketing
  2. Business
  3. Software engineering

Each column has tasks and subtasks assigned to that specific department or team.

You can use a Gantt chart to request that a specific department or team take on a task or subtask.
You can use a Gantt chart to request that a specific department or team take on a task or subtask.

The task breakdown structure lets you break an entire project down into manageable chunks, making it easier to remember all the necessary steps when planning your Gantt chart. You can learn more about it and see how the structure looks by reading this article.

3. Identify dependencies

There are two types of tasks you’ll have on your Gantt chart: parallel tasks and sequential tasks. Parallel tasks can be worked on alongside other tasks, whereas sequential tasks are dependent on other work in the project.

Linear tasks are your dependencies, and there are three types of linear tasks to keep in mind:

  • Start-to-start tasks: Tasks that can’t begin until the preceding task starts
  • Finish-to-finish tasks: Tasks that can’t be finished until another task is completed
  • Finish-to-start tasks: Tasks that can’t begin until the preceding task ends

Identify the linear tasks in your project. This will help you get a feel for how long the project will take, and how long it should take for each step to be completed.

4. Come up with a timeline for the project

Once you’ve mapped out project tasks and identified dependencies, you’ll need to come up with a project timeline.

Keep in mind that you should avoid being overly ambitious when planning the Gantt chart timeline.

  • Think about potential setbacks that could slow the project down
  • Estimate the timeframe for each task on a case-by-case basis, carefully considering the length of time it’ll take teams to complete an assignment
  • Don’t forget to take dependencies into account when creating the project timeline

As a general rule, it’s better to err on the side of caution when developing the project timeline. If you move too quickly, you could be setting unrealistic expectations, causing team members to miss their deadlines. This can lead to unnecessary stress, which could have an effect on overall performance.

5. Arrange your tasks and build your chart

Your Gantt chart is almost complete. All you need to do now is organize and enter tasks. Start by arranging your work, listing each task and its dependency in the correct order.

Using a Gantt chart software solution really comes in handy here. Simply enter the tasks, along with their start and end times, and your project management tool will build the chart for you.

A Gantt chart enables you to assign tasks to relevant teams or individuals that coincide with the project’s planned start and end times.
A Gantt chart enables you to assign tasks to relevant teams or individuals that coincide with the project’s planned start and end times.

After you’ve built your chart, assign tasks to the relevant teams or individuals and launch the project.

Best Practices for Using Gantt Charts

Remember, a Gantt chart is a visual tool that’s designed to help you interpret project data. You can get the most out of the chart by organizing data in a way that’s easier for you and your teams to understand.

Here are some tips to help you use a Gantt chart effectively:

  • Organize your work: Stop the task list from becoming cluttered and difficult to track by arranging tasks and subtasks into categories
  • Color code your tasks: Make the chart visually appealing and easier to read by implementing a color system that assigns a certain color to a team, department, or task type
  • Flag completed tasks: Keep the Gantt chart tidy by marking finished tasks as completed. Be sure to make note of the completion date to help you determine whether the project is on schedule or not
  • Highlight important milestones: Identify all important milestones in your chart for everyone to see. Some Gantt chart software solutions have a tool for creating important milestones. If your platform doesn’t have that feature, label milestones using bold text, an asterisk, or another symbol
  • Engage your team in planning: Make sure that your project team is in the loop on all of the details relating to your project. By bringing your team in early during the planning process, you avoid missed connections and limit ramp-up time when you kick off the project.

Putting It All Together

Gantt charts add more clarity to the project by showing you how it’s progressing. You can use the Gantt chart to see where teams are ahead of schedule and where there are bottlenecks and stoppages that need to be addressed.

Using a Gantt chart also creates workplace transparency and can facilitate a culture of accountability. Tasks are assigned to specific teams and individuals, so everyone knows what their peers are working on at all times. This can inspire teams to be more invested in their work, while creating an environment where workers are more willing to help struggling teammates.

See firsthand how Gantt charts enhance project management by signing up for a free 30-day trial for Projectplace and creating your own chart.

If you’d like to learn more about Gantt charts and other ways to enhance project planning and delivery, download our eBook titled “Get Work Done Faster.”

Meet our author
Zach McDowell

Director of Product Marketing

Zach is Director of Product Marketing for Planview PPM Pro and Planview ProjectPlace. He has managed teams across three continents at Planview and largely focuses on driving innovation for mid-market project management and PPM. He led one of the largest releases in Projectplace’s 20-year history and continues to grow and support its global user base.