The ultimate guide to Gantt charts

For more than a century, the Gantt chart has played a significant role in pulling off successful projects and guiding them from launch to completion. Construction projects, destination weddings, content creation, new websites and just about any project with a beginning and an end can likely benefit from a Gantt chart.  

What is a Gantt chart exactly? 

A Gantt chart is a chronological bar chart, an easy-to-digest timeline that transforms your project details into a clear visual representation. Gantt charts are strongly associated with waterfall-type project management. In other words, each project phase must complete before the next step can begin, and phases are never repeated. 

It’s a linear plan, unlike Agile, where needs and requirements are fluctuating and added into the project after individual sprints and ongoing feedback. To create an effective Gantt chart, it will have to contain important information, such as: 

  • Scope 
  • Tasks 
  • Dependencies 
  • Level of effort (time) per task 
  • Resources (people) 
  • Milestones 

Thanks to user-friendly project management software, creating a Gantt chart has never been simpler, even for a novice. In fact, Gantt charts are consistently among the top five most used and requested features in project management software. That’s an important thing to keep in mind when you consider that approximately 9.9 percent of every dollar is wasted due to poor project performance. That’s 99 dollars for every thousand invested.  

One of the biggest hindrances to any project is scope creep, which is the inability to control or adjust for a project’s time, cost and resources. A recent survey of project managers found that 52 percent of the projects completed in the past 12 months experienced scope creep, a significant increase from the 43 percent reported five years ago. 

Almost all projects can benefit from the use of Gantt charts since they can simplify your project management tasks, keep it all in scope and help you achieve success. Let’s take a look at a couple of scenarios in which a Gantt chart can make all the difference: 

Scenario: When a spreadsheet is not enough, or just too much  

Trying to navigate through and make changes to an excessively large spreadsheet may be overwhelming, even downright scary to you and your project stakeholders. Plus, they don’t allow for features like dependencies or dynamic scheduling. 

Instead, turning that glut of information into a more appealing visual can help bring clarity to those tasks, which can boost coordination, decision making, workflow and more by providing a color-coded, visual timeline from beginning to the end. That’s critical when you consider the fact that successful businesses tend to have much higher project success rates (92%) compared to underperformers (32%) and waste 21-times less money due to poor project performance.  

Scenario: When a lot of people are involved in the project  

Using online Gantt charts are highly beneficial when ongoing updates are needed to keep everyone on the same page. Creating an online timeline keeps it fluid and fresh and, unlike a static spreadsheet, can help you quickly share tasks and upcoming milestones with all project stakeholders. 

You can create customizable views, make changes in real-time for instant version control, use easy drag-and-drop functionality and take advantage of on-board tools like reporting capabilities. As you get more familiar with Gantt charts, you’ll begin to see even more benefits, like the ability to capture dependencies and leverage automatic schedules, which is not possible with a spreadsheet alone. 

The good news is if you already house many of your project plans in spreadsheets like Excel, many software programs make it easy to import that Excel data to quickly create your Gantt chart. 

Whether you’re tracking a project on a daily, weekly, monthly or yearly basis, using Gantt charts gives everyone involved a highly visual and easily understandable way to track their tasks. Moreover, it can keep everything in scope, open up lines of communication and make the most of the resources at hand. All these things are critical to staying flexible and efficient to successfully meet your strategic objectives. 

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