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What is Gantt Chart | A Comprehensive Guide

Kate William

8 min read

Since 1990, Masterchef has helped amateur cooks fulfill their dream of a career in food. Sarah Todd is one such participant of Masterchef Australia (Season 6). She went on to start her restaurant, Antares. Not in her hometown, but in Goa, India, nearly 4000 miles away from home. In her interview with SBS Network, she says this journey was not a fairytale but a hard slog. After watching the show, we think her journey would have been much smoother if used some Gantt charts tools.

So What Is A Gantt Chart?

By definition, a Gantt chart is a graphical depiction of a project schedule, of tasks or activities performed against in time. It is a visual depiction of a project with its various activities broken down and displayed on an easily comprehended chart. It is a bar chart that shows the start and finish of different elements of a project, such as resources, milestones, tasks, and dependencies. Simply put, a Gantt chart is a bar chart that provides a visual view of tasks scheduled over a period of time.

Initially called Harmonogram, a Polish engineer by the name Karol Ademiecki devised these charts in 1896. Since it was in Polish, much of the English-speaking world was unaware of this innovation. A decade and a half later, in 1910, Henry Gantt, an American mechanical engineer, worked on the same idea and popularized the concept. And his name stuck.

A Gantt chart is a top-rated tool in project management. At its core, Gantt chart schedules and tracks activities that need to be done within a fixed period. It is commonly used for tracking project schedules.

If you look at a Gantt chart, you will find the tasks to be completed on the vertical axis. The scheduled time-spend is spread on the horizontal axis. Each task is represented by a bar that shows the time required for the project.

The bar usually shows a percentage of tasks that have been completed. It also indicates dependencies, which means the interlinkages between various activities in the project. When you input tasks, their start dates, end dates, and dependencies, bars will populate, representing task durations. In a Gantt tool like a Gantt chart software, this will happen automatically and save you a lot of time.

Let’s summarize what a Gantt chart can tell in a glance:

  1. How to break down a project into smaller tasks.
  2. Define the start and end times of each of these tasks.
  3. How long each task will take.
  4. Who’s assigned to each task.
  5. How do these tasks relate to and depend on each other?
  6. Set dates and times for important meetings, assessments, approvals, reviews, and deadlines.
  7. How work is progressing in a project.
  8. The entire project schedule from start to finish.

A Gantt chart is a super-efficient way to ensure that your project team and stakeholders are all on the same page, from start to finish.

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Deciphering A Gantt Chart

To a first-time user, a Gantt chart will look like a lot to process. Some lines seem to build unequal and uneven stairways leading to Cruella De Vil’s taxidermist. Fear not. Let’s take a step-by-step look at Gantt charts. Trust us, Gantt charts do not have a violent ending.

Elements

As we discussed earlier, a Gantt chart is plotted on two lines. The tasks are listed in the order of occurrence vertically. The time to complete these tasks is marked on the horizontal axis. The following are the essential elements of a Gantt chart template:

  • The Task List runs vertically downward, elucidating the project details. This can be broken down further into smaller tasks if need be.
  • The time required to complete each task on the task list is drawn horizontally and is called the Timeline. Depending on the project, it can be in years, months, weeks, or just days.
  • A Dateline shows the current date on the chart.
  • Horizontal markers on the right of the Gantt chart that show progress, duration, start and end dates for tasks are called Bars.
  • The tasks that define the completion date of the project are the tasks that are on the Critical Path. These tasks greatly influence the overall project and call for the lion’s share of the project manager’s attention. More often than not, these tasks are highlighted in some way – a different color or a bold font. A detailed description of the importance of the critical path is explained here.
  • Markers, usually in the shape of diamonds, show when meetings have to be called, important dates, and deadlines. These are the Milestones of a Gantt chart.
  • The light, thin lines that connect the tasks in a given order are called the Dependencies or Interlinkages.
  • You can show how far along the task is completed with a shaded bar or a percentage. This is the Progress of the task.
  • Who or which team is responsible for the completion of each task is labeled as Resource Assigned.

Who Uses Gantt Charts?

Any project manager worth his salt will swear by his Gantt chart. A Gantt chart can quickly give the project’s status in a single glance from scheduling, managing, and monitoring specific tasks and resources in a project. The chart shows the project timeline and aids project managers in communicating project status or plans, and also helps ensure the project remains on track.

If you meet any of the following, you are likely to find a Gantt chart in their computers:

  • Project Managers
  • General Managers
  • Team Leaders
  • Operations Managers
  • Scheduling managers
  • Work Managers
  • Marketing Managers
  • CEOs & CTOs

Gantt charts are a versatile tool that can find utility in a myriad of sectors. Some of the common industries that use Gantt charts to plan, schedule, and execute their projects are:

1. Construction

Construction is an industry where one change in plan can have a ripple effect in all other activities. This can increase costs as well. The project manager can broadly divide the project into three major phases, i.e. Pre-construction, Construction, and Closing. Scheduling smaller tasks to crew and subcontractors will keep the clients and stakeholders informed at every step of the process.

2. Consulting agencies

Consulting agencies often have the same team members working with different clients. Having a Gantt chart can sort out the chaos that can arise within the team. Developing a separate Gnatt chart for every client and measuring the progress on each client’s requirements can make it streamlined and effective. Spotting risks before they blow up into problems will save face and precious contracts. With teams collaborating and communicating seamlessly, resource management is easy as pie.

3. Marketing teams

Every Apple user eagerly awaits its new product launch every year. But simply developing a mobile or other devices alone cannot ensure a successful launch. In Apple’s case, the marketing team begins planning for the following year’s launch immediately after the current year’s launch. Once the new device ready for sale, the marketing team coordinates with its different teams, scheduling the launch across different platforms. This also includes creating an initial “buzz”, teasers in various media, and, more recently, attracting maximum views to the live stream of the launch on their YouTube channel. Plotting all this a Gantt chart can streamline the entire process and make the launch successful. Here’s a sample Gantt chart for a social media campaign.

4. Design and creative

It’s hard to control when your creative juices are flowing, and you want to display it to the world. It could be a singular ad or dance video that went viral. Consistency is key to success. If your timelines are loose, if you don’t stick to a schedule – script, shoot, edit, post – there is no way you will gather followers organically. And that is just the beginning. Using Gantt charts for creative project management simplifies planning so you can jump into work that matters faster without losing sight of the deadline.

5. Manufacturing

Manufacturing is one area where so many tasks are interdependent. It is also where unexpected delays can happen. As a project manager, you need to have all the data visually available in one place and deciphered easily. When you have people and resources spread over projects, a unified view helps prioritize tasks, prevent bottlenecks, make efficient use of resources leading to quick and effective decision making.

6. Human resources

Many employees often undermine or limit the role of the HR to some who hires and fires, often ignores their complaints, and wishes them Happy Birthday. Employees are the most critical asset of any organization. Human Resource managers have to deal with the most challenging type of strategic management. HR managers should be able to manage multiple human resource projects at a macroscopic level. Using Gantt charts can help achieve just that.

7. Software development

An average software takes 4-9 months to build a piece of custom software, from inception to completion of testing and release. Now add remote working, flexible working hours, and this pandemic. A gazillion things could go wrong.

Starting from Slack integration to building the framework, testing for bugs, and launching, a Gantt chart can smoothen the process, with little or no chance to fail. AND within budget.

8. Event planning

Be it an event marketing plan, a conference event plan, or just your perfect wedding, can you imagine how much easier it can be with a Gantt chart? Weigh that against a never-ending and exhausting to-do list. Nope. Gantt charts are the way to go.

For instance, in the wedding planning business, right from the kick-off meeting to the point the couple sets off for their honeymoon, anything goes wrong. You will have a Bridezilla to deal with. Look at it:

  • Decide the guest list (just close friends and family in a bit of church or include Uncle Peter, who has to be invited because he paid the bride’s tuition fee)
  • Sorting out the logistics(transport and accommodation)
  • Deciding vendors ( florists, baker, decor)
  • Has the bride said yes to the dress?
  • The gift registry(nobody wants that hideous, baby pink teapot)

We could go on, but you get the drift. No rom-com or TV series can fully explain what goes on behind a lavish wedding as a Gantt chart can.

Why Are Gantt Charts So Important?

While there are several reasons to use Gantt charts, here are four reasons Gantt charts are so popular:

Avoid Completion Confusion

Gantt charts were created to keep users on track, providing a visual timeline for starting and finishing specific tasks. With a visual overview of milestones and other key dates, these projects are easily understood. Tracking of timebound tasks and deliverables can be tracked daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly.

Keep Everyone on the Same Page

With a visual framework for the work to be done, chances for misunderstanding are minimized, especially in highly complex tasks. Gantt charts share the same information, set mutually understood expectations, and work in tandem to the end goal for all stakeholders.

Understand Task Relationships

A picture speaks 1000 words. Stakeholders see how various tasks are interrelated and sometimes rely on completing another to meet pre-determined objectives. This understanding can better assure the optimum workflow, maximized productivity, and overall project success.

Effectively Allocate Resources

By looking ahead on the Gantt chart, users can determine where resources need to be anticipated, allocated, or shared for optimal use of those resources. When the chart is monitored closely, not only can delays be reined in, but there can also be control on costs.

So What Tools Make The Best Gantt Charts?

Some of the best and popular Gantt chart tools are listed below:

  1. Trello
  2. nTask
  3. Team Gantt
  4. Gantter
  5. Rational Plan
  6. Instagantt
  7. OpenProject
  8. Smartsheet
  9. WorkZone
  10. EasyProjects

Wrapping Up…

Gantt charts are among the most valuable tools that you need to utilize as a project manager. A Gantt chart tool gives you the vantage point where you can see each and everything about your project. You can also visualize how your project is heading to successful completion. All the best project management tips and tools can’t cover the Gantt chart tools to make a more fruitful project management.

Kate William

Content Marketer at SurveySparrow

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