What is a Gantt Chart? Gantt Definitions, Types & Benefits

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Anyone can use gantt charts to help schedule and manage their projects. This guide, while predominantly for individuals who aren’t familiar with gantt charts or project management in general, will contain valuable information that rookie project managers and grizzled veterans alike can use to build their project timelines.

Given the number of gantt chart tools and their differing feature sets, it would be impossible to cover every feature and all the varying ways of accomplishing things within every app. In this chapter, we’ll explain gantt chart definitions, the history of gantt charts, and the benefits of using one. Once you know those, in chapter two, we’ll walk you through how to create a gantt chart in tools like Excel, Word, and our software, TeamGantt.

What is a gantt chart?

A gantt chart is simply a type of bar chart that visually represents a project plan over time. It shows start and end dates for tasks, displays milestones, and allows for dependencies between tasks. Modern gantt charts can even show you the status of a task or group of tasks, as well as who is assigned to a given task. Gantt charts can seem overwhelming, but they’re not as mystifying as you might think at first glance.

On left side of the gantt chart is the list of tasks, events, and milestones in the project. In most applications these can be organized into groups and subgroups.

At the top of the chart is the time scale that can be adjusted or ‘zoomed’ to a level that allows you to see as detailed or broad a view as necessary.

Each task, in the gantt chart is represented by a bar that displays the overall length of the task as well as its start and end date.

Who created the first gantt chart and why?

The first project management chart was invented by Karol Adamiecki in 1896. So why isn’t it called an Adamiecki chart? While Karol may have been the first to develop such a system to manage project plans, he waited until 1931 to publish his Harmonogram, and even then only published in Polish which limited its exposure. In the meantime, Henry Gantt was working on a similar system that he made public around 1910-1915. It was Gantt’s system that was adopted and became what we know today as the gantt chart.

With all the features of Henry gantt’s project management system, it’s no wonder that even now, more than 100 years later, the gantt chart is still the preferred tool for managing projects of all sizes and types.

Features have been added and updated, and the proliferation of computer technology and the internet have exponentially increased the power and collaborative aspects of Henry gantt’s invention. That being said, the basic model of the gantt chart exists today much as it did in 1905. Though, admittedly gantt charts are simpler to create and maintain today.

What are the uses & different types of gantt charts?

Gantt charts come in many forms. From paper to desktop software to web based software. Bringing these charts to the web have enabled them to go from a static document that quickly becomes obsolete, to a living collaborative representation of the current state of a project.

Gantt charts are useful in almost any industry. Construction, consulting agencies, marketing teams, manufacturing, human resources, software development, and event planning are just some examples of the types of companies and teams that use gantt charts to plan, schedule, and execute their projects.

What are the benefits of gantt charts?

There simply isn’t a more visual way to get the full picture of a project than with a gantt chart. To-do lists, card systems, and spreadsheets can all be used to varying degrees of success, but none of them give you the complete picture of your project like a gantt chart can.

Gantt charts allow you to visually see your entire project timeline from start to finish. It’s easy to see when a task should begin, when it should end, what other tasks may be dependent on that task, how complete it is, and whether it’s on-time or overdue.

Depending on the complexity of the particular gantt tool you choose to use, there are plenty more options as well. Time tracking, resourcing, lists and to-do’s per task, and plenty more are available to help make managing a project easier and more collaborative.

Gantt charts have long been one of the most popular tools for managing projects. Many teams from large and small companies use them to plan, track, and manage their projects. A gantt chart is simply a way to visualise all the tasks and resources involved in a project in a linear timeline chart

Think gantt charts are just for PM nerds? Think again.

Benefits of Using Gantt Charts

Visualize Your Entire Project

Being able to get a bird’s eye view of your entire project can be a huge benefit. Imagine being able to give immediate answers to managers and stakeholders on the exact, up-to-the-minute status of both the project as a whole and any individual tasks or task groups in question. With a properly built and maintained gantt chart, having accurate and timely information is a breeze.

It may seem like a ton of work to keep all the information regarding today’s modern fast-paced projects up to date so accurately, but remember, you’re not going at this alone. Today’s gantt charts, especially web based ones are extremely collaborative.

Updates on tasks, completion status, notes, documents… All of these things can be partially managed by your team in real time, not solely left to the PM. That means more accurate project plans and schedules without drowning in work.

Visualizing the project plan that you, as the PM, built at the beginning of the project is one thing. What about at the midpoint, or the start of the final phase? As your team does their part by tracking their time, and updating their percent complete, you’ll have the at-a-glance confidence in your project plan to give solid information to anyone who needs it, immediately.

See How Tasks are Connected

Let’s face it, things change. Often. No matter how much planning you put into your timeline there’s always the possibility it will have to shift around. People on your team can get sick and miss time, manufacturing and fabrication can take longer than expected, clients can be slow to deliver on things you need to keep the project moving, all of these things need to be accounted for. Luckily, modern gantt charts make it pretty painless to move things around when the inevitable happens thanks to dependencies.

Dependencies are the cornerstone to this ability to be flexible. When you take care to draw dependencies between appropriate tasks you can make updates to the project plan, keep everyone working and, more importantly keep your project on time and on budget.

There are a few different types of dependencies, but the one we’re going to focus on in this document is Finish-to-Start.

Finish-to-Start dependencies are probably what you immediately think about when you think of task dependencies. A finish to start dependency means that Task B cannot *start* until Task A is *complete*. This is the most basic and widely used dependency type. There are other types but they are more advanced and are beyond the scope of this guide.

Keeps Everyone on the Same Page

Clear communication makes all the difference in almost *any* endeavor. Without it, simple tasks and projects can quickly devolve into quagmires of delay and cost overruns. gantt charts make communication amongst your team, your clients, management, and stakeholders fast, easy, and centralized. Its power lies in the fact that it's so visual. A picture, or timeline in this case, is worth a thousand words.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the amount of notifications we get from our email, online chats, social media, etc. Lost in that deluge of new message tones and bouncing app icons can be important information that you need to accomplish the task at hand. Gantt charts, specifically web based gantt chart solutions, like TeamGantt, eliminate this problem by keeping all of the pertinent task and project information in one central place that’s accessible by everyone on the team that needs to see it. No more endless email threads or chat room conversations interrupted by GIF images of dancing donkeys – or whatever. The gantt chart is not just for planning any more, it can be the central hub for management and execution.

Being able to leave comments and upload files at both the project and/or the task level is a huge help in making sure that the people who need to know something know it. Have a question about the latest design? Ask away on the appropriate task. Need to know where to get your hands on that signed contract? There’s a good chance it’s attached to the “Contract” task. And if it isn’t, it’s easy to leave a note on that task for the person who _does_ have it, reminding them to upload it because you need a copy.

Know Who’s Busy and Who Isn’t

How much available time does your development staff have to give you for your new website project? What about the design group? Can they get you that magazine ad you need this week? These are questions that can be answered pretty easily by examining your gantt chart.

Resourcing, the act of assigning tasks to individuals or groups, is one of the most useful features of modern gantt charts. TeamGantt for instance allows you to see how many tasks each individual or group has assigned to them on any given day. You can view it on just the current project, or across *all* active projects. You can even see that information broken down into hours if you’re using Hourly Estimating. The best part is that you can see all of this data right from the main schedule window in the Availability Section. No need to go searching through windows or pulling reports to get an accurate resource view. It’s all right there at your fingertips.

Using all of this information allows you to make better business decisions as well. Should you hire more people? Can you realistically take on that new project? If you can’t right now, when can you? Answering these questions is possible by using the resourcing data from your PM tool.

Gives You Peace of Mind

At some point in the career of every project manager there’s a moment when you wake up in a cold sweat wondering if that one important task got done when it was supposed to, or realizing that you forgot to email your manager that status update you promised her.

Many of these nightmare inducing moments can be eliminated, or at the very least reduced to passing questions as you settle in for the night. When you use a gantt chart to plan and schedule your projects, you can have all the answers you need for anyone who asks. Those answers will be up to date and accurate. When managers and clients are happy, the whole team is happy.

Conclusion

Now you know what information you need to gather to create a functional gantt chart for your project and have a basic understanding of how to build a basic gantt chart in Excel or TeamGantt.

In the next chapter we’ll explain all about how to manage your teams and resources for your projects.

Next chapter: How to make a Gantt chart >>

A Quick Recap (TLDR)

So far we’ve learned what a Gantt chart is and who created it (Henry Gantt). We also learned the benefits of using a gantt chart, which are:

  • Visualize Your Entire Project
  • See How Tasks are Connected
  • Keeps Everyone on the Same Page
  • Know Who’s Busy and Who Isn’t
  • Gives You Peace of Mind