Project planning tools, such as Gantt charts, help ensure optimal project development and execution for even the most complex project, and these tools are popping up all over the place. Accordingly, project management rose to the most desired skill for 2021. As one of the most popular tools in project management, the Gantt chart rose in popularity with the rise in demand for project management skills. But what are Gantt charts and how can project managers create them?
In this article, I’ll cover what Gantt chart software is, key features and functionalities, project types that best suit Gantt charts, and I’ll provide a list of the best Gantt chart software on the market.
In this article
- What Is Gantt Chart Software?
- What Gantt Chart Software Can Do
- Gantt Charts For Specific Project Types
- Options For Gantt Chart Software
- Choose Your Gantt Chart Software Wisely
What is Gantt Chart Software?
Gantt chart software, then, is project management software that generates Gantt charts, and each Gantt chart software offers its own features for planning project tasks and objectives.
What Gantt Chart Software Can Do
When Henry L. Gantt developed the first Gantt charts to plan production and factory resource loading, the charts looked like tables that illustrated deliverables spread through a timeline. Gantt charts created using software still operate on their original goal of visualizing time constraints for project deliverables, but online Gantt chart software makes the process much easier.
The original Gantt chart maker was a human who manually drew the chart and highlighted dependencies. If any new task dependencies affected a project task or project timeline, someone would have to redraw the project schedule by hand all over again.
Gantt Chart Software Today
Project managers can be thankful that Gantt chart software offers easier functionality than its original iteration. Pesky task dependencies can be adjusted without having to redraw the entire project plan.
Gantt Chart Software Functionality
Project managers, project team members, and other stakeholders can use a Gantt chart app for a variety of purposes throughout a project’s duration.
First, project managers develop the chart in the Gantt chart tool, using information from the project plan, a work breakdown structure, and the resource management plan. Project managers can use the templates often provided by Gantt chart software, or design their own Gantt chart from scratch.
After the project manager develops the schedule, team members and other stakeholders can use the online Gantt chart software to see milestones and deliverables and use this information as the basis for status reports throughout the project.
As dependencies change and project managers adjust the Gantt chart, the team can automatically see the updates, as well as receive notifications about relevant changes.
Gantt Chart Software Features
Gantt chart software comes with a variety of features that can improve project management and project workflow. These features include the ability to
- assign resources and tasks
- create and easily revise the project schedule
- adjust the design, including column headings and chart colors
- send reminders, alerts, and notifications
- share the Gantt chart with internal and external stakeholders
- identify critical paths
- provide multiple views of project progress
- offer an overview dashboard
- import and export Gantt charts
- integrate with other software
Gantt Charts For Specific Project Types
A simple Gantt chart is based on task duration, project tasks, and critical paths. Task dependencies are also considered, but not every project’s dependencies are clear from the start.
Another consideration is the project type. The type of project will affect how the Gantt chart is created, and how useful it is throughout the project. Certain project methodologies also lend themselves better to Gantt charts than others.
For example, an engineering project may use a modern Gantt chart to outline the specific tasks, deliverables, assignments, milestones, and deadlines. Dependencies, for instance, among applied engineers, research engineers, and certifying bodies may shift the project timeline, but an online Gantt chart will allow easy schedule adjustments for the team to still meet their project goals with little kerfuffle.
On the contrary, a technology helpdesk does not have a clear view of deliverables or assigned resources before someone asks for help. Even then, the customer may be bounced from person to person until the help desk solves the customer’s problem.
In this case, a Gantt view is most beneficial for scheduling personnel throughout the project as it continues to unfold. Gantt chart software is not particularly helpful for seeing the project’s critical path because it is unknown from the start.
In short, each project management methodology emphasizes different mechanisms, and those mechanisms may impact the way a project team uses Gantt chart software. Waterfall methodology requires a lot of up-front planning, so flexibility in the Gantt chart may not matter as much. An Agile environment, on the other hand, pivots frequently, so flexibility would be important in that case.
Project Types That Benefit Most From Gantt Chart Software
Gantt charts utilization changes for every project. A simple project with a plan-and-execute strategy or a challenging project with many task dependencies work best with standard Gantt charts; however, complex and chaotic projects that have unclear or unknown cause-and-effect relationships make Gantt charts less easy to use. In these Agile environments, Scrum and other flexible project management strategies come into play.
In software development, for instance, Scrum is a common framework—as well as derivatives like extreme programming (XP) methodology. An Agile methodology in principle, Scrum prioritizes communication, teamwork, and speed, often changing or shifting objectives that appear on a Gantt chart. For this reason, Gantt chart software for software development needs to be easily modified to suit the needs of sprints, scrums, and scrum masters.
Project Types That Benefit Less From Gantt Chart Software
Some projects gain less from Gantt charts and, instead, benefit from frameworks like Kanban. Kanban emphasizes work status and reduces work in progress, which makes it the ideal project management strategy for support services or maintenance teams.
Once a task enters the workflow in the “to-do” column, the task receives attention in the “doing” column until completion, when the task moves to the “done” column. In support and maintenance fields, Gantt chart software is still useful for resource scheduling but tends to be less practical for projects.
Projects using the Scrum methodology can also make use of Gantt charts. A scrum master, for example, might break down sprints and other milestones as tasks in a table that can be translated to a Gantt chart. As a result, the project team can visualize upcoming tasks, plan accordingly for dependencies, and collaborate transparently. Still, the team needs to be aware that the Gantt chart is dynamic and likely to change throughout the project.
Options for Gantt Chart Software
Each Gantt chart software comes with features and functionality for creating Gantt charts from scratch or from templates, and tools for assigning tasks and resources. There are options for free Gantt chart software and freemium software, as well as paid software that offers both basic and premium plans, depending on your company needs.
The Best Gantt Chart Software
Best for building custom workflows across teams
Best for unlimited users/seats
Best for end-to-end solutions
A work execution platform with content collaboration features, forms to collect data, multiple permission levels, and dashboards to keep marketing teams in sync
Best robust and customizable marketing project management software
Best free plan for marketing project management software
Best for annotating and versioning
A work execution platform with useful content collaboration tool features and project dashboards to keep creative teams in sync
Best creative operations project management solution designed for high-performing in-house & agency teams
Best free plan for creative project management software
How To Choose Gantt Chart Software
Before adopting Gantt chart software, companies should consider what they need Gantt charts for. According to the British Association for Project Management, project managers can use Gantt charts in many ways:
- Scheduling projects
- Allocating resources
- Modifying projects
- Tracking progress
- Controlling and communicating the schedule
- Displaying milestones
- Identifying and reporting problems
Each company should consider which of these features they need and whether they need additional project management features such as time tracking, project discussion boards, or Kanban boards. Many software companies offer more than Gantt chart-only software which includes these additional features.
Your company should also consider the complexity of your projects and project management methodology. An overwhelming number of dependencies and prospective schedule adjustments may make Gantt charts more troublesome than helpful.
Task priority is not always clearly displayed in Gantt charts, so review your Gantt chart software options to determine what works best for your company and project needs.
Determine how much budget your company has for software. Many project management apps limit specific features to higher-cost subscription tiers. To prepare, do the following:
- Consider how many users and stakeholders will need access to the software. If you have a small team, you might want to consider project management software for small businesses instead.
- Estimate how much data storage you will need.
- Determine how much and what kinds of software you intend to integrate with your project management software.
- Assess how many and what kind of automated workflows you may need, such as push notifications to devices and other applications.
- Decide what views you need for your projects, such as Gantt and timeline views.
- Choose your desired messaging and communication options.
- Determine whether you need reporting and analytics tools.
- Determine the level of customization and customer support you will need from the Gantt chart software company.
After these considerations, you may even find you can manage with free Gantt chart software.
Choose Your Gantt Chart Software wisely
Maybe your project management practices tend toward waterfall, where information from the project plan is communicated to your team from the start. Gantt chart software will lay out the project schedule to keep your team on task and up to date.
Or perhaps your work primarily in an Agile environment like Kanban or Scrum; in that case, you need to keep your team moving toward project goals in an adaptive process while communicating a project schedule. Gantt chart software will help your team remain aware of upcoming tasks and dependencies that contribute to a shared vision of the project.
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