Your Complete Guide to Gantt Charts
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What Is a Gantt Chart? How to Use Gantt Charts in Project Management

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.

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. 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.

Who invented the gantt chart?

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:

  • 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

How to read a gantt chart

Gantt charts may seem complicated at first. But once you learn the basics, 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. Let’s review the parts of a gantt chart so you understand how they function in a project plan.

What are the components of a gantt chart?

Every good gantt chart includes the following basic parts:

  • 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 sample gantt chart with these components highlighted.

8 key components every gantt chart must have

What is a gantt chart used for in project management?

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.

Who uses gantt charts?

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:

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?

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:

  • 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.

If ANY of the conditions above apply to your project, use a gantt chart!

How to make 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:

Easy-breezy PM without the high price tag

Easy drag and drop features with templates for faster scheduling. Plan a project in minutes, collaborate easily as a team, and switch to calendar and list views in a single click.  

What you need to create a gantt chart

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.

What to consider when making a gantt chart

  • What are the major deliverables?
  • How will we get to those deliverables and the deadline?
  • What are the milestones we need to hit?
  • Are there dependencies that could impact the timeline?
  • Who is on the project team, and what role will they play in those deliverables?

How to build a basic gantt chart in minutes

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 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.

Step 1: Set up your project details

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.

My Projects page in TeamGantt with red arrow pointing to the New Project button

Give your project a name and start date, and select the days of the week you want to include in your project.

Adding basic project details when creating a new project in TeamGantt

Tip: You have 2 options for fast-tracking your build if you don’t want to create a gantt chart from scratch: create a project from a template or import a project via CSV.

Once you’ve completed these basics, click Create New Project to move on to adding tasks.

Step 2: Add tasks to your project

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.

Adding tasks to a new project in TeamGantt

Hit enter to add another task. Repeat this process until you have all (or most) of your tasks added to the task list.

Step 3: Schedule your tasks

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.

Gantt chart with drag and drop scheduling feature highlighted

Step 4: Add important project milestones

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.

Gantt chart with a milestone represented as a yellow diamond on the timeline

Repeat this process until you have all your milestones added to the list.

Step 5: Add dependencies to the tasks that need them

Now that your tasks and milestones are entered and scheduled, hover over a task, and click the gray dot that appears.

Gantt chart taskbar with dependency dot highlighted

Click and drag the dependency line to the task you want to link it to.

Gantt chart with dependencies added between tasks

Step 6: Invite people to your project and assign tasks to those responsible

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.

People tab in TeamGantt with 3 team members listed and default task colors assigned to each person

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.

Learn more about inviting people to your project in TeamGantt.

Step 7: Apply task colors to enhance visualization on your gantt chart

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.

Best practices for creating an effective gantt chart

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.

Do get granular with tasks.

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.

Do organize tasks into groups or phases.

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.

Here’s a quick look at how subgroups work in TeamGantt.

Do add important details and documents to tasks.

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.

Screenshot of discussion tab with task details and files added

Do label tasks by responsible party.

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:

  • PT = Product Team
  • GM = Gantt Museum
Gantt chart with tasks labeled by product and client teams

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.

Do display start and end dates for each task

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.

Don’t skip dependencies.

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.

Don't assign work without checking team availability.

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.

Here's how to view team availability directly from your gantt chart in TeamGantt.

Don’t overlook holidays and time off.

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.

Don’t forget to ask for feedback.

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!

Don’t set it and forget it.

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.

Collaborate with your team and stakeholders

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.

Use comments to discuss tasks and share project files

Got a mockup that’s ready for design review? Or need more info to get started on your task? Add a comment to the task, and be sure to tag the person you’re updating so they’ll get automatically notified.

You can also upload documents directly to a task, group, or project. TeamGantt supports version control, so it's easy to find the latest version of any document.

And if you need to share important details up front, that’s what sticky notes are for. For instance, you might want to document how many hours have been scoped for a task or outline specs for a design project.

Watch this video to see team collaboration in action in TeamGantt.

Share your gantt chart with external stakeholders

Need to share project updates with contractors, clients, or other stakeholders? In TeamGantt, you have several options for sharing your gantt chart with external users:

  • Invite someone as a guest to your project: Inviting someone as a guest enables them to see and comment on tasks in a single project without making edits to the gantt chart itself.
  • Send a view-only link to your gantt chart: This option is great if you want to enable a client or stakeholder to monitor project progress without inviting them to become a user on your account.
  • Export your gantt chart as a PDF: This option enables you to filter a gantt chart down to only the information you want to share so clients and stakeholders can get a quick snapshot of the project.

Integrate your gantt chart with other collaboration apps

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:

  • Trello: See your cards in a project timeline, create dependencies between cards, and view workloads—all without ever leaving Trello.
  • Slack: Create tasks from chats, check your daily task list, and get notified about new comments and assignments right from Slack.
  • Dropbox: Share important documents more easily by uploading Dropbox files directly to your tasks and projects.
  • Zapier: Automate work and streamline collaboration by connecting TeamGantt to your other favorite apps.
  • TeamGantt API: Got a developer on hand? Build custom integrations with your TeamGantt data using our public API!

Manage resources and team workloads

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.

Gantt chart with team availability heatmap showing at the bottom

Take a closer look at how to use gantt charts for project resource management.

Estimate project time and effort

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.

Project tasks with estimated and actual hours columns showing in the gantt chart

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.

Learn more about hourly estimation in TeamGantt.

Track progress against deadlines and estimates

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.

Update and monitor progress

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:

  1. Click the chat bubble to the left of the task to open the comment window.
  2. Click Request a progress update at the top of the comment window.
  3. TeamGantt will send anyone who's assigned to that task an email asking them to update their progress.
Discussion window in TeamGantt with the "Request a progress update" link highlighted

Hourly estimate vs. actual progress

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.

Gantt chart with estimated hours vs actual time and progress indicators showing in taskbars

These indicators signal task trouble:

  • The striped line is red: This task (or group) is over-budget. More hours have been tracked than were originally estimated for the task.
  • The striped line is longer than the progress indicated for a task: The hours tracked are outpacing actual progress. That means this task (or group) is at risk for going over budget or missing a deadline.

Baselines

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.

Learn how baselines work in TeamGantt.

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.

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.

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.

gantt chart vs spreadsheet vs kanban board vs task list

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 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.

NEXT CHAPTER: 
Managing Resources with Your 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.