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How To Create A Gantt Chart
A Gantt chart can be an incredibly effective tool for managing your projects and keeping your sub-projects and milestones organized. Here’s what you need to know to get started.
A Gantt chart is a project management tool used for charting the various activities associated with that project against a specific timeline. The chart provides a visual guide to start and end dates on different activities, statuses of the activities, and whether or not they are complete.
Gantt charts can also show how different activities are related to one another and how the completion or delay of one milestone might impact the others. With one quick glance, you can see how a project is performing relative to the allotted timeline and budget. Because Gantt charts provide so much information in a simple visual, they can be incredibly useful for both project managers and key stakeholders alike.
This is an example of a Gantt chart and how it might look depending on the software you use:
Below, we’ll walk through these few things (and more):
- When you might use a Gantt chart.
- How to build a Gantt chart, step-by-step.
- Sample Gantt charts.
- Gantt chart generators and software: what to look for.
- How to evaluate your chart.
- Considerations for using your chart.
- Getting started with a (free!) Excel Gantt chart template.
When might I use a Gantt chart?
A Gantt chart is most often used when you create, or are managing, any kind of strategic project that has many tasks associated with it. Project managers use them as a way to consolidate all of the pieces to a project into one view, so they can give the management team, and the team assigned to the project, a better understanding of how the pieces all fit together.
A Gantt chart allows you to visually lay out the logistics of when certain tasks can begin. Consider this: If task B cannot begin until task A is complete—and task A takes at least two weeks to complete—we can’t begin task B for at least two weeks. So the project will take a minimum of two weeks, plus the length of completion for task B. This seems simple enough when we discuss it this way, but it can be very confusing when you have many dependencies in the works and need to allocate your team’s time as effectively as possible.
How To Create A Gantt Chart
Step 1: Begin with a project or initiative in mind.
You might not know how long it’s going to take to complete the project at this point. Let’s say, for example, that you want to roll out your new employee training program, but don’t yet know what needs to go into it.
Step 2: Assess the current plan for this project in place.
You’ll want to look at every single step, from initiation to rollout, so you can get a clear idea of everyone who will need to be involved. This is what you’ll use to determine timelines.
Step 3: Determine which tasks are dependent on one another.
Some tasks can be completed simultaneously and some cannot begin until another has finished. Understanding this will help you understand time associated with each step and when the steps should take place.
Step 4: Compile your task time frames in a Gantt chart layout.
This is where software is extremely helpful. It allows you to enter start and end tasks and then automatically builds out the Gantt chart for you so you can see how long each project will take and share it across your organization. During this step, you may also realize that some milestones are too involved and are best broken down into submilestones.
Step 5: Add additional information, accountability, budget, description, etc.
It is usually a good idea to include information that will help viewers understand each component of the project. The downside here is that you want to keep your Gantt chart uncluttered, and there typically isn’t much room for descriptions, analysis, or recommendations. Some software solutions make accommodations for this by allowing you to create detail pages for each component that can be included in the report and navigated to if necessary. (Personally, we find this incredibly useful for project status meetings.)
Step 6: Break down your budget.
Now that everything is organized for you, you can start breaking down your budget for the project based on milestones. Once you’ve allocated a budget, you should get a more clear idea of whether you will complete the budget above or below what you’ve anticipated.
Step 7: Assign ownership.
Every component of a project should have an owner. When people take ownership of or responsibility for a task, they’re more likely to ensure that it’s completed on time and it’s of expected quality. If there are a number of contributors, it’s useful to include their names as contributors on the Gantt chart.
Step 8: Continuously use your Gantt chart as a reference.
As time goes on and you’re working through your project, you should be using your Gantt chart as a reference as much as possible. It will allow you to assess the current status of your different components and determine what those statuses mean for project completion. This is why the Gantt chart is so critical to begin with—because having a snapshot view of how everything is going is very important.
Sample Gantt Charts
You can create one of two types of Gantt charts: One that shows all of your projects or one that shows related information for a single project. While the chart layout is essentially same, the uses of the two types of charts are very different. Primarily, the high-level organizational Gantt chart is used at cross-departmental or C-level meetings, where the project-specific Gantt is used with one team or in one particular department.
High-Level Organizational Gantt Chart
When you need to show a high-level view of your organization's projects—where you only see the names and statuses of each project—this is the type of Gantt you'd create.
This Gantt can be very useful from the perspective of chief strategy officer, or, per our example of "Metropolis City," a city manager. Knowing what key initiatives are behind schedule and which are at risk makes it easier for managers to redistribute resources appropriately. The example below gives you an example of the enterprise-level projects for a local municipality and some of its departments.
You'd want to use a project-specific Gantt to show one expanded project, all the details associated with it, and how they're related to one another. You'll notice in the example that the name of the project is at the top, and you can see the relationship between each milestone and submilestone.
The project-specific Gantt chart typically has a departmental audience. It's especially useful if budgets or timelines need to be moved around, as the department can typically work together to figure out how to make the necessary adjustments. From the perspective of the project manager, a Gantt chart can be a lifesaver of a tool. Project managers can get as detailed as they want with each project, tracking every milestone and submilestone’s timeline and status.
Here is a basic sample example of an employee training initiative with its milestones open for further evaluation.
Evaluating Your Gantt Charts
To evaluate, some companies choose to use a complex method for every component of the project—but that’s not what we recommend. Instead, at the end of each period, have the owner:
- Write out an analysis based on the RAG status.
- Apply a status icon that is easily understood by everyone viewing the project. (This should be linked to the analysis mentioned above, so that the individual is held accountable. But because there are so many components in each project, complete analysis can be difficult. So we recommend that you look at current milestone statuses to determine your percent complete, whether you’re ahead, behind, or right on schedule, and an analysis of the budget status.)
- Include some recommendations so the team knows what needs to happen going forward.
Gantt Chart Generators & Software: What To Look For
A Gantt chart can be an incredibly effective tool for managing your projects and keeping your subprojects and milestones organized. If you are considering creating one, our recommendation is to look for a Gantt chart generator or software that makes your charts more dynamic and offers automatic updates. Generators and software typically allow you to have many more fields than a simple Excel chart may allow for, including fields for statuses, viewing analysis, and recommendations.
To find a solution that best suits your needs and the needs of your organization, you may want to look for the following features.
- Ability to track status and percentage complete: Having the colors changing within the bars on the Gantt charts (depending on the status of the project) is something you may find useful. Some Gantt chart generators and software will update your statuses and percentage complete automatically, which is ideal. Be sure to check and see if this feature is available!
- Ability to show visual aids within the chart: Aside from bar colors, there are other visual cues you may take from your Gantt chart if it's an advanced software. Some may show outline indentations, for example, to demonstrate whether something is a parent milestone or a submilestone. Remember, there's a lot going on in a Gantt chart—and you want your meetings to be as efficient as possible. We can’t emphasize enough how important it is to have a well-designed Gantt chart that is easily deciphered.
- Ability to show dependencies: One thing people look and ask for is the ability to show that one milestone is dependent on the completion of the next. For example, if milestone B is 100% dependent on the completion of milestone A and milestone A is delayed, the start date of milestone B is updated accordingly and delayed as well. This may not matter to you, but if your organization depends on this, it's worth noting.
Note: Before you begin looking, you should ask yourself (and your co-workers) what purpose you want the Gantt chart to serve. If you want it for the sake of example—or to simply act as an outline—some advanced features may be unnecessary. But if you want to use it as a project management guide, you'll want to ensure it has every bell and whistle you need.
If you want to see how you can build a Gantt chart online with ClearPoint’s software, try a 15-day free trial today!
Considerations While Using A Gantt Chart
Changing Start & End Dates
Start and end dates for the project are usually contingent on the first task’s earliest possible start date—and the end date is usually a sum of the expected length of all of the tasks, with an extra cushion of time for any unexpected delays. But when start and end dates change, it is usually good practice to look at the other components of the project and adjust them accordingly. It is also important to keep everyone with a stake in the project informed of these changes and how they might affect their own portion of the project.
You should also have a written policy about how changes to the end date and budget affect the RAG status. If the building of a tunnel through your city is several years and several billion dollars over the original timeline and budget, but is completed within the revised budget and timeline, is it show either green or red.
Budget & Effectiveness
Using a Gantt chart isn’t just helpful for determining project timelines—it also helps the team understand how resources should be allocated. This is especially true for the limited resource of budget. Seeing all of the components laid out together allows the project planners to see where the budget needs to be distributed, which can decrease wasteful spending. But this project can also work the other way around and can be helpful in determining the budget needed for a proposed project. Each component can be assessed separately, allowing you to then sum each subproject to determine what the overall project would need to be.
Download Now: A Simple, Effective Gantt Chart Excel Template
If you have one simple project you need a Gantt chart for, you’d like to use a Gantt chart for project demonstration purposes, or you’re currently in the market for the perfect Gantt chart solution before you scale up, Excel may be the right choice to get started! We have an easy-to-use Gantt template that can get you started quickly. Download it for free today!