Whether you’re a project management rookie or veteran, you’ve probably heard of a gantt chart. While gantt charts might seem intimidating, they’re not as mystifying as you might think.
In this guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know about the gantt chart—from its definition and parts to how to create one quickly and easily. Find out how gantt charts work and why so many project teams use them in project management.
Watch this video for a quick breakdown of the basics.
A gantt chart is a horizontal bar chart used in project management to visually represent a project plan over time. 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:
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.
The first project management chart was invented by Karol Adamiecki in 1896. So why isn’t it called an Adamiecki chart? Good question!
Although Adamiecki created his precursor to the gantt chart—called the harmonogram—in the late 19th century, he didn’t publish it until 1931. It got limited exposure at the time because it was only published in Polish.
Meanwhile, Henry Gantt published his own project management system in the 1910s to a much wider audience.
Here’s a quick history of gantt charts:
Gantt charts may seem complicated at first. But once you learn how to read them, you’ll be able to tell exactly where your projects are and what needs to happen to guide them to success.
Reading a gantt chart really comes down to understanding how the different elements come together to make a gantt chart work. Here’s a simple gantt chart example with explanations of the core components:
Let’s break down the basic parts of a gantt chart so you understand how they function in a project plan.
Need a little extra inspiration? Watch 12 Easy Gantt Chart Examples for Project Management to see a variety of project gantt charts across industries.
Or check out our library of free project templates with sample gantt charts you can use to build your own project schedules.
In project management, gantt charts are used for planning and scheduling projects. 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.
Gantt charts are used by project managers, business owners, team leaders, and executives in many different industries across various departments. Here are just a few types of companies and teams that use gantt charts to plan, schedule, and execute their projects:
A gantt chart comes in handy when your project requires more planning than a basic to-do list. Here are a few sure signs you’re going to need a gantt chart to get the job done:
If ANY of the conditions above apply to your project, use a gantt chart!
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! Let’s walk through the process of how to build a gantt chart for your next project.
In this section, we’ll go over:
You can’t build a gantt chart without knowing some basic project information. That’s why it’s important to answer a few simple questions first.
These questions can help you gather all the right details so you can sketch out a project plan before you sit down to create your gantt chart. Get a more detailed look at how to write a good project plan.
There are lots of different ways to make a gantt chart. Some people use traditional desktop apps to create a gantt chart, while others use collaborative project management software.
In this tutorial, we’ll show you how it’s done in TeamGantt. If you’d rather use a spreadsheet to build your gantt chart, we’ve got guides for that too.
Just be sure to choose a gantt chart builder that gives you the features you need.
Follow the steps and examples below to learn how to build a gantt chart in TeamGantt in minutes. Sign up for a free account to follow along and create a gantt chart of your own.
Before you start mapping out tasks on a timeline, you need to gather a few basic project details.
To create a new gantt chart in TeamGantt, click the New Project button in the upper right corner of the My Projects screen.
Give your project a name and start date, and select the days of the week you want to include in your project.
Once you’ve completed these basics, click Create New Project to move on to adding tasks.
Adding tasks to your gantt chart is the first step in creating your project timeline. To create tasks, click on the Add Task link (+Task), and type the name of your first task.
Hit enter to add another task. Repeat this process until you have all (or most) of your tasks added to the task list.
Now that you’ve got a full list of work to be done, it’s time to schedule all those tasks. TeamGantt makes scheduling tasks super-simple because you can drag and drop each task on your timeline.
To place the taskbar on your gantt chart, simply click on the timeline below the date you'd like to schedule your task. Then drag either side of the taskbar to shorten or extend the task's duration.
Adding milestones to your gantt chart makes it easy to track project deadlines, approvals, meetings, and other key deliverables or events. In TeamGantt, a milestone appears as a yellow diamond on your gantt chart.
To add a milestone to your gantt chart, simply click on the Milestone link, give your new milestone a name, and drag the milestone icon across the gantt chart to schedule it on the timeline.
Repeat this process until you have all your milestones added to the list.
Now that your tasks and milestones are entered and scheduled, hover over a task, and click the gray dot that appears.
Click and drag the dependency line to the task you want to link it to.
Click the Invite People button at the upper right corner of your project to go to your project’s People page. From there, click the blue Invite People link, located just below the list of people who are already part of your project.
If the user already exists in your account:
Simply select the checkbox next to the person you want to add to your project, then click the blue Add to Project button that appears. This person will automatically receive an invitation to log into TeamGantt and access the project.
If the user does not exist in your account yet:
Click the Add New Person link. Then enter the person’s name and email address, select their company-level permission, and click the Add User to Company button. (Note: Guest users and Basic users are automatically added with View Only project permission, while Advanced users are added with Edit Chart project permission.)
Feel free to add your own custom notification message, then click Add to Project to finalize the invite. This person will automatically receive an invitation to get set up in TeamGantt and access the project.
Color is a great way to make your gantt chart easy to understand at a quick glance.
Hover over a taskbar, and click on the colored square. Choose a new color, and you’re all done!
Tip: You can set a default color for each person on your team in TeamGantt. Simply select the People tab at the top of your project, then click none next to each user to assign a default task color. Now, each task you assign to that person will automatically be the color you selected.
If you want to build a gantt chart everyone can use and navigate, there are a few simple rules you should keep in mind. Follow these simple tips and best practices to make a good gantt chart that’s easy to update and manage.
The more detail you can spell out when it comes to tasks, the better you’ll be able to track progress and steps leading up to a deliverable. Refer back to your work breakdown structure, and list the steps you used to create that.
Creating groups of tasks will make your plan easier to scan and understand. It’ll also allow your team and stakeholders to see what tasks are part of a deliverable or a phase.
Sometimes your team and clients may forget what they committed to. Or maybe they don’t fully understand the intent of a task or group.
Use the notes section of your plan (most gantt chart software should provide this) to spell things out. While you’re at it, be sure to upload key files directly to the task so everything’s ready and waiting for work to begin.
In the project sample below, we added notes about the scope of the task and uploaded a copy of the creative brief for more detail.
This tip comes in handy for any project, but it’s especially useful for client projects. Identifying which team or company is responsible for each task makes your gantt chart super-easy to scan.
When creating a task, you can assign labels you've set up on the People tab or simply put the company name (or an acronym) in front of the task. Here’s how we tagged tasks in the following gantt chart example:
Of course, you’ll also want to take that a step further and assign each task to the person responsible. This will help you with resource allocation and accountability.
Seems like a silly tip, but it’s easy to hide this info in some apps! If you’re using TeamGantt, you’ll see the dates in the gantt view.
Regardless of what tool you’re using, you want to make it clear not only when a task ends, but when it starts. Again, this will help to keep your team and clients accountable.
If you’re not going to move forward on the project without an approval—or one task must be done before another—now’s your chance to note it.
Not every planning tool offers dependency functionality, and it can be a huge help. As your plan shifts, the flow of the work will stay intact.
If you’re lucky enough to use a product that shows you overall team availability, use it! Knowing how booked your team is and what projects they’re part of will play a huge role in delivering work on time and maintaining team morale.
Having an overall view of your team’s availability and conflicting work will help you adjust your plan to either meet the needs of existing project work or shift the milestones you’ve put in your plan.
Now is your chance to block time off in your plan. This is important now because as soon as your timeline shifts (you know it will, don’t fight it), you’ll open yourself up to making an error and dropping a deadline on a date that should be blocked. If you note them in your plan, that won’t happen.
If you deliver a plan that has a mistake, misinterprets a task, or even misses a date, it can create confusion and delays. So grab a teammate and ask them to review your gantt chart before you post it for review.
Of course, you’ll also want to be ready to get some feedback on your plan. Formalizing a plan means you’re taking a set of ideas and expanding on them. That also means you might interpret something differently than a teammate. That’s okay!
A gantt chart is a living, breathing document that should keep up with project changes—not a fixed plan that’s set in stone. Invite your team to collaborate on work and track progress in real time so your gantt chart’s always up-to-date.
Successful projects run on communication and collaboration. When project files and updates are scattered across different email threads and other platforms, it’s hard to get a good sense of what needs to get done and how close you are to the finish line.
With an online gantt chart, you can streamline communication through a single channel that centers around your project plan.
Here’s how to use a gantt chart to boost collaboration with your team and stakeholders.
If your team uses multiple apps to collaborate on projects, why not integrate them with your gantt chart so everything connects back to the plan? Here are a few popular integrations you can use to keep your people and projects in sync:
It’s hard to finish any project on time and budget when your team is overloaded and overwhelmed. A gantt chart plots everyone’s work on a visual timeline so you can see how tasks stack up across your projects.
In TeamGantt, you can check and adjust workloads right from your gantt chart to avoid overbooking your team as you schedule new tasks.
Assigning hourly estimates to tasks in your gantt chart makes it easier to assess project scope, balance team workloads, and monitor project budget once work gets underway.
TeamGantt’s Advanced plan comes with hourly estimation and time tracking. You can use these features to track and compare estimated vs. actual hours directly from your gantt chart. With that kind of visibility, you can keep a close eye on potential overages and get ahead of issues before they throw your whole project off course.
Estimating hours at the task level also gives you a more granular view of availability when assigning and scheduling work for your team. That way you can feel more confident your team can get the work done without missing deadlines.
One of the best things about using a gantt chart is the ability to see where a project stands at any given moment. After all, clients, bosses and other project stakeholders expect you to stick to your promises (aka: budgets and deadlines).
That’s why it’s important to monitor tasks to ensure you’re on track to deliver work on time and budget. If things start to go sideways, you can adjust the gantt chart to get things back on track and reset expectations along the way.
Here’s how to track progress and spot issues early in TeamGantt.
Checking things off a list is a pretty satisfying thing to do. What’s even more satisfying is updating the % Complete of a big task and watching the taskbar fill in until it’s 100% done.
Seeing the status of your teammates’ and coworkers’ tasks can be a healthy motivating force too. When you know the up-to-the-minute status of other tasks—especially those tasks that may rely on your tasks—it keeps everyone moving in the right direction.
How to request a progress update in TeamGantt
Need to know where someone stands on a particular task? TeamGantt makes it easy to do a quick status check and remind team members to update their progress.
Here's how it works:
TeamGantt’s Advanced plan enables you to compare hourly estimates with actual progress so you can easily spot tasks that are taking longer than expected. Simply look for the thin striped line in the middle of each taskbar on your gantt chart, and pay attention to its color and length.
These indicators signal task trouble:
Remember how I said no matter how much planning you do, it’s likely something will come up that requires you to move your timeline? It’s handy to know how much you’ve had to move things over the course of a project. Enter: baselines.
What is a baseline in a gantt chart?
A baseline is a “snapshot” of your project in time. When you create a baseline set, you’re grabbing a picture of your whole project so you have something to compare to when things inevitably shift for one reason or another.
Baselines are extremely important because they give you the “real” picture of shifts that have occurred. It’s easy to think things are looking pretty good, when in reality you’re 3 weeks behind and $10,000 over budget. Things can creep slowly, and without a set of baselines to compare to, it can be easy to get behind and not even fully realize it.
Using multiple baseline sets in your gantt chart
A single baseline is great, but a single point doesn’t show trends. Stringing multiple baseline sets together will give you a much clearer picture of when and why your project slipped. Was it due to consistently dragging manufacturing estimates? Or was it that the client was consistently slow in approving designs and signing contracts? Baselines can tell you exactly what you need to know so you can improve your estimating practices.
Baselines aren’t just for showing you the negatives of your project. They’re equally useful for seeing where things have gone better than expected. Just like you have to shift things around when tasks are delayed, you may have to make adjustments when things run ahead of schedule.
As you get better at tracking your project’s slippage, you’ll get better at making realistic estimates on timelines. Once you’ve mastered that skill, you’ll have customers lining up because they know that when you plan a project, they have a timeline they can count on.
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.
So what separates gantt charts from the rest of the pack when it comes to time-sensitive or complex projects? Spreadsheets, kanban boards, and task 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. Here are just a few examples of questions a gantt chart can help you answer:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
TeamGantt has all of this! Try it for free.
Now that you know how to make a gantt chart, you’re ready to move on to the next step! Keep reading to learn how to use your gantt chart to manage your team's time and availability more easily.
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.