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Managing Schedules
How Do You Create A Gantt Chart? A Step-By-Step Guide

A Gantt chart is a stacked bar chart that is used to display a timeline of events and the associated tasks, milestones, or activities. They are often used in project management to visually identify task and project start dates, durations, end dates, and more.

However, Gantt charts are mostly used in complex projects or for comparing one project schedule to another. They can be used to create a schedule for a small project, but they may not be useful when you need an accurate timeline over long periods of time. Luckily, Gantt chart software makes things easier.

However, you don’t necessarily need software at all to create a Gantt chart. People have been able to make a simple Gantt chart since the 1890s! Follow these steps whether you are using software or creating a Gantt chart manually.

In this article

How To Create A Gantt Chart

It’s no secret that using an online software program makes creating a simple Gantt chart quick and painless (for the most part). Even if you’re hand drawing your chart, the steps to creating an effective Gantt chart are essentially the same.

Gather the Main Elements of a Gantt Chart

There are three main elements: task, Gantt bar, and baseline.

There are two types of Gantt bars: summary and work. Summary bars show the start date, duration (in days), and finish date for each task. A Gantt bar gives a high-level overview of where your project is at the present. Work bars show the starting date, duration (in hours), and finish date. These Gantt bars represent the actual workload.

Baselines show deviations from your timeline. For example, if a task is behind your project schedule and has zero workdays to complete, you can use a baseline as an early warning system. The baseline for each block shows the timeline for that element in the project, such as a project sponsor’s expectations.

Tasks are self-explanatory. These are the things your team needs to do in order to complete the project.

Gather Other Information

First of all, you need to know what information you want the Gantt chart to contain. What do you want it to show? How many projects or tasks will there be? How long will each one take?

You need a list of all the tasks involved in your project and how much time each task will take. You might want to add the resources needed for that task and information about why it takes so long.

Tasks are normally broken down into smaller activities. The standard breakdown is days, weeks, or months. Whichever breakdown you choose is known as the timescale. No matter what your options are, work in timescales that are the most convenient to you and your project.

Activity names (the task descriptions) are normally written in capital letters. They describe what the activity is doing. The title of the project is also in capitals while a subtitle might be written in lowercase.

The people taking part will have skills and experience you need to consider. A good way of working out what skills you need is by using a skill matrix. One way of doing this is to make a table and place all the skills that are required for the project in the top row. Then in the left-hand column, add all of those people or resources who have that skill.

Critical Paths in a Gantt Chart

A critical path is a project schedule. It is the sequence of activities that must be completed on time to prevent the project from being delayed or even canceled. The critical path represents the longest duration of time that a project can be delayed without losing the ability to achieve an overall targeted completion date for the project.

Critical path awareness is essential to developing a successful project management schedule and for successfully managing projects in general. Critical path charts are commonly used in software development, accounting, engineering, construction, architecture, and many other industries that require keeping track of tasks that have start deadlines or due dates.

Critical path analysis is not only used in project management. It can be used to manage workflow in organizations and even personal tasks.

What Is Gantt Chart Software?

Learn about what Gantt chart software is here.

Pros Of Gantt Chart Software

The main advantage of using online Gantt chart software is that you do not need to download and install any new programs on your computer. Instead, everything can be done online, so long as you have a computer with internet access.

Online Gantt chart software also has the advantage of being free to download. The only costs involved are the monthly fees that you will have to pay for using an internet provider. Online software also gives you access to using a unique Gantt chart template.

With desktop project management software, the ease of use overcomes any learning curve associated with a program. Also, the structure of the software makes it easy to assign tasks and break out subtasks.

Desktop Gantt chart software also comes with plenty of templates, so starting a project is quick and easy.

Cons Of Gantt Chart Software

One of the biggest disadvantages of online Gantt chart software is that it relies solely on internet access to be able to view and edit your schedule, meaning there is no way of accessing projects when you do not have a connection (such as on vacation).

Another downside is that an interactive Gantt chart maker is often expensive, especially for small companies or individuals. On top of that, some programs are limited in their functionality as a project management tool.

While templates can be great for small companies, large businesses with unique processes and procedures may not find desktop software ideal. This is because a Gantt chart template will result in projects being set up the same way, time and time again.

The Most Important Features of Gantt Chart Software

What are the most important features of Gantt chart software? Just a heads-up—a Gantt diagram is complicated, so there are many features you’ll need. Luckily, most software options come fully equipped. Here’s what to look for:

  1. Customizability: The chart should be fully editable and customizable. It must include color-coding capabilities, as well as the ability to add, edit, and customize task names, descriptions, and milestones. The ability to add notes to tasks and dependencies is also a plus.
  2. File Management: The chart should have integrated file management and allow team members to attach files and links to external documents to each task.
  3. Shareability: It should have an export function and other sharing capabilities, as well as collaboration features that enable simultaneous editing by multiple people.
  4. Tracking: It should allow you to track tasks across milestones, statuses, durations, and projects.
  5. Formatting: It should provide conditional formatting, including highlighted rows and columns, copies of subtasks, dates with times, and vertical and horizontal date increments
  6. Integrations: It should allow the Gantt chart tool to integrate with other software such as attendance, timesheet, and payroll software. Compatibility with all versions of Microsoft Office and Google Docs is also a plus.
  7. Mobile Usability: The Gantt chart tool must also have a mobile version in addition to a web-based version.

It’s also worth checking whether the software has a free version available, especially if you’re on a budget.

Get Started Creating Gantt Charts

So why is a Gantt chart tool useful? Mainly because it is visual! It also makes it easy to see which tasks have other task dependencies. No matter what you’re using to make your simple Gantt chart, the Gantt chart is only as good as the information in it.

If your plan is to go online and research Gantt chart software options, make sure to find a project management tool that offers the flexibility your company needs. There’s a learning curve, but once you get the hang of it, a Gantt chart is an excellent way to keep your company organized.

Start with our lists of Gantt chart software here:

Related Read: What Is A Gantt Chart Used For? Top 4 Use Cases & Expert Tips

By Ben Aston

I’m Ben Aston, a digital project manager and founder of thedpm.com. I've been in the industry for more than 15 years working in the UK at London’s top digital agencies including Dare, Wunderman, Lowe and DDB. I’ve delivered everything from film to CMS', games to advertising and eCRM to eCommerce sites. I’ve been fortunate enough to work across a wide range of great clients; automotive brands including Land Rover, Volkswagen and Honda; Utility brands including BT, British Gas and Exxon, FMCG brands such as Unilever, and consumer electronics brands including Sony.

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