Your Complete Guide to Gantt Charts
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What Is a Gantt Chart?

Whether you’re a project management rookie or veteran, you’ve probably heard of a gantt chart. While a gantt chart might seem intimidating, they’re not as mystifying as you might think. 

In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about a gantt chart—from its definition and parts to pros and cons and side-by-side comparisons to other alternatives. You’ll learn what a gantt chart is and how it works, plus why so many project teams use gantt charts in project management. 

What is a gantt chart?: Definition & overview

A gantt chart is a horizontal bar chart used in project management to visually represent a project plan over time. Modern gantt charts typically show you the timeline and status—as well as who’s responsible—for each task in the project.

Here’s a quick look at the details a gantt chart enables you to capture at a glance:

  • How a project breaks down into tasks
  • When each task will begin and end
  • How long each task will take
  • Who’s assigned to each task
  • How tasks relate to and depend on each other
  • When important meetings, approvals, or deadlines need to happen
  • How work is progressing in a project
  • The full project schedule from start to finish

In other words, a gantt chart is a super-simple way to communicate what it will take to deliver a project on time and budget. That means it’s a whole lot easier to keep your project team and stakeholders on the same page from the get-go. 

How to read a gantt chart

Gantt charts may seem complicated at first. But once you learn the basics, you’ll be able to read and create a gantt chart easily and tell exactly where your projects are and what needs to happen to guide them to success.

Elements of a gantt chart

Reading a gantt chart really comes down to understanding how the different elements come together to make a gantt chart work. 

Let’s review some basic terminology so you understand the key parts of a gantt chart and how they function in a project plan:

  • Task list: Runs vertically down the left of the gantt chart to describe project work and may be organized into groups and subgroups
  • Timeline: Runs horizontally across the top of the gantt chart and shows months, weeks, days, and years
  • Dateline: A vertical line that highlights the current date on the gantt chart
  • Bars: Horizontal markers on the right side of the gantt chart that represent tasks and show progress, duration, and start and end dates
  • Milestones: Yellow diamonds that call out major events, dates, decisions, and deliverables
  • Dependencies: Light gray lines that connect tasks that need to happen in a certain order
  • Progress: Shows how far along work is and may be indicated by percent complete and/or bar shading
  • Resource assigned: Indicates the person or team responsible for completing a task

Here’s a gantt chart with these components highlighted. This gantt chart highlights 8 features every gantt chart should include:

8 key components every gantt chart must have

What is a gantt chart used for?

Gantt charts are used for planning and scheduling projects in project management. A gantt chart is incredibly useful because it allows you to simplify complex projects into an easy-to-follow plan and track the status of tasks as work progresses. 

Gantt charts also help you keep track of project deadlines, milestones, and hours worked so you can spot and address delays or overages before they wreak havoc on your project.

The history of gantt charts

The first project management chart was invented by Karol Adamiecki in 1896. So why isn’t it called an Adamiecki chart? Good question!

Here’s a quick history of gantt charts:

  • 1896: Karol Adamiecki creates the first project management chart: the Harmonogram, a precursor to the modern gantt chart.
  • 1931: Adamiecki publishes the Harmonogram (but in Polish with limited exposure).
  • 1910-1915: Henry Gantt publishes his own project management system, the gantt chart.
  • Today: Gantt charts are the preferred tool for managing projects of all sizes and types.
Side-by-side photos of Henry Gantt and Karol Adamiecki

Who uses gantt charts?

Gantt charts are useful in almost any industry. Here are just a few types of teams and companies that use gantt charts to plan, schedule, and execute their projects:

Want to see how gantt charts apply to different projects and industries? Check out these gantt chart examples.

When should you use a gantt chart?

So how do you know when to use a gantt chart to manage your project? We think a gantt chart’s handy for any project with a plan! But here are a few sure signs you’re going to need a gantt chart to get the job done.

If ANY of these are true about your project, use a gantt chart:

  • Your project has a hard deadline.
  • Multiple people or teams are involved in the project and need to be coordinated.
  • A boss, client, or team member wants to see a visual timeline of the project from beginning to end.
  • Your project involves even just a little complexity, such as tasks that need to be done in a specific order.
  • Team members work on multiple projects at a time, and you need to manage their workloads.
  • You have a good idea of roughly how long each task should or can take.

How does a gantt chart compare to other alternatives?

Project managers use a variety of tools—from gantt charts and kanban boards to spreadsheets and task lists—to keep up with project details, deadlines, and to-dos. 

Here’s what separates gantt charts from the rest of the pack when it comes to time-sensitive or complex projects.

gantt chart vs spreadsheet vs kanban board vs task list

The comparison is clear: Spreadsheets, kanban boards, and tasks lists fall short when it comes to important project management tasks, like building a timeline, outlining dependencies, and managing workloads.

Without these 3 gantt chart features, you’ll have a tough time communicating the plan to your team, clients, and stakeholders and answering simple questions like:

  • Can we take on more work?
  • How will we get from point A to point B?
  • What needs to happen first?
  • Can we meet a requested deadline?
  • Who has the bandwidth to tackle these tasks?
  • Are we on track to finish on time?
  • How are we performing?

The good news is, you can use a gantt chart without foregoing other alternatives. Your team may prefer kanban boards for managing daily tasks or using a spreadsheet to create a RACI chart, and that’s okay. 

With TeamGantt, you’ve got choices. View and manage projects as a gantt chart, task list, calendar, or kanban board, and upload important spreadsheets to the project documents. No matter how you look at things, everything ties back to your plan.

Let’s take a closer look at how a gantt chart can help you manage projects better.

Gantt chart pros and cons

What’s to love about gantt charts? And what should you be aware of before diving in? Here’s a quick snapshot of the pros and cons so you can decide if a gantt chart is right for your projects.

What are the pros of using a gantt chart?

A gantt chart is like a front-row seat to the project action. All the tiny details you never noticed from the nosebleed section suddenly come to life in full color right before your very eyes. It’s nearly impossible to miss a game-changing move!

Let’s explore some of the biggest gantt chart pros in project management.

Visualize your entire project

A project plan is one thing. How it plays out is another. A gantt chart gives you a start-to-finish view of your entire project timeline so you can see how tasks are progressing in real time. That means you can provide up-to-the-minute status reports to managers and stakeholders in a flash.

Gantt chart demonstrating a visual big-picture project plan

See how tasks are connected

Let’s face it: Things change. Lucky for you, modern gantt charts make it easy to shift tasks around without breaking your stride. With dependencies—a star feature of any gantt chart—you can keep tasks connected even when your timeline gives you the ol’ switcheroo.

Gantt chart with dependencies to show how project tasks are connected

Keep everyone on the same page and on time

Clear communication is a must-have in any project. Without it, you risk project delays and cost overruns. Web-based gantt charts, like TeamGantt, ensure no one’s left in the dark. That’s because all your project info and discussion threads live in one central hub that everyone can access, making team collaboration a breeze.

Use team collaboration to comment and share files on gantt chart tasks

Know who’s busy and who isn’t

If you want to make smart business decisions, you’ve got to have a good grasp on your resources. With gantt charts, resource management is no longer a guessing game. You can see who’s got bandwidth to take on new tasks at a glance.

Use the team availability tab at the bottom of your gantt chart to see who's busy and who's not

See a full list of gantt chart benefits.

Do gantt charts have limitations?

Some folks think gantt charts are too complicated to build, read, and update. While traditional desktop apps have their limitations, most of the cons people associate with gantt charts don’t apply to the online gantt chart software you’ll find today.

That’s because modern gantt charts ushered in a whole new era of project management. Now gantt charts offer clean and simple design with drag and drop scheduling so you can build and adjust project plans in an instant. And because everything happens online, it’s easy to share plans, collaborate on work, update tasks, and track progress in real time.

Let's look at how modern gantt charts compare to traditional desktop apps. 

Modern gantt charts vs. desktop apps

Gantt charts come in many forms—from good old-fashioned paper to desktop apps and even web-based software.

Bringing gantt charts online transforms them from a static document that quickly becomes obsolete to a living, collaborative representation of a project’s current state. Team members can update their progress in real time, and stakeholders can check in on project status without having to go through you. Plus, it's easy to stay in sync and push projects across the finish line more quickly.

See how TeamGantt’s modern gantt chart tool compares to 2 popular desktop apps:

Advanced features to look for in a modern gantt chart

A good modern gantt chart should be a part of a complete project management solution. Look for these advanced gantt chart software features to ensure your team and projects stay on track:

  • Team collaboration
  • Multiple project views, including kanban boards, task lists, and calendar views
  • Reporting
  • Time tracking and hourly estimation
  • Workload management
  • Mobile access
  • Integrations

TeamGantt has all of this! Try it for free.

Continue learning about gantt charts

Now that you’ve got the gantt chart basics down, you’re ready to roll up your sleeves and create a gantt chart of your own! Keep reading to learn what you need to get started and how to build a gantt chart that makes your next project a breeze.

NEXT CHAPTER: 
How to Make a Gantt Chart

Plan your next project in minutes

When you’re a project manager, every minute counts. So why waste time building out a bunch of complicated spreadsheets just to keep tabs on a project?

At TeamGantt, you don’t have to. Our free online gantt chart software enables you to stay focused on the tasks that move the needle. Whip up a project plan in minutes, and watch your team cross the finish line faster. It really is that simple.

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