Do you want to learn about Gantt charts and understand how to use them?
A Gantt chart is a powerful tool that helps you plan projects and track their progress.
Founded by engineer Henry Gantt, his now-famous charts were used to build the Hoover Dam and most of the U.S. highway system in the 1950s.
If Henry could harness the power of water and connect thousands of cities with his charts, just imagine what you could do with Gantt charts of your own.
In this article, we’ll explain what Gantt charts are, why you need one, and also highlight a powerful Gantt chart tool that will make it really easy for you to make them.
This Article Contains:
(click on the links to jump to a section)
- What are Gantt charts?
- Who uses Gantt charts?
- How do you create Gantt charts?
- Why Gantt charts are essential for project management
- Limitations of Gantt charts
- How to supercharge simple Gantt charts with ClickUp
- Why ClickUp Is Better Than An Excel Gantt chartTemplate
Let’s get started.
What is a Gantt chart?
A Gantt chart is a bar chart that highlights a project’s progress along a timeline. Gantt charts can also show important project milestones and how tasks are dependent on one another.
Gantt charts are an essential part of project management because they also allow you to track the status of project tasks.
When the Gantt chart was first conceptualized, it was just a stacked bar chart that was filled as the project timeline progressed. They were very rigid and difficult to work with!
With time, they evolved into much more. Once SCRUM and Agile project management came in, Gantt chart software had to up their game.
It’s why you have powerful project management tools like ClickUp that can do much more with your Gantt charts. No need to use an old-school, rigid Excel Gantt chart template anymore!
A simple Gantt chart usually looks like a horizontally stacked bar chart.
These Gantt chart examples allow you to visualize:
- Your project timeline
- What a project’s tasks are
- Who’s working on these tasks
- The task start time and end time
- The order in which the tasks should be completed
- How these project tasks overlap and link together
Who uses Gantt charts?
Project managers, team leads, CEOs, and anyone who needs an overview of their project’s progress can easily operate a Gantt chart!
Long ago, only formally trained project managers used Gantt charts.
They were rigid and impractical.
Barely anyone understood how to use them.
However, over time, Gantt charts became easier to use.
Now, they’re as easy to operate like Kanban boards! Modern Gantt charts come with a scroll bar, a drop-down list, advanced filters – you name it!
You have a simple Gantt chart that anyone can use!
Anyone who needs an overview of your project’s progress can easily operate a Gantt chart!
Here are a few people who use Gantt charts today:
- Project managers: can use it to supervise multiple projects at once
- Marketing managers: can use it to track their marketing campaigns
- CEOs / CTOs: can use it to monitor the project timeline for all the company
- Scheduling managers: can use it to plan out schedules for multiple teams
- Team leaders: can use it to ensure that the entire team is utilizing resources correctly
How To Read a Gantt chart:
Here’s a look at a Gantt chart example.
A. Task details (Y axis):
On the Y axis of this Gantt chart, you can see each task name. It also displays related data like:
- Expectations:What the outcome of the task should be
- Team Members: The people who are responsible for the task
- Dependencies: Tasks that can start only after a preceding task is finished
B. Task progress (X axis):
On the X axis, you can see the tasks visualized across a calendar.
It displays data such as:
- Task Time: The duration of the task
- Sequence: Which tasks need to be completed first
- Progress: What stage of the project the team reached
How Do You Create Gantt charts?
Here are the step-by-step instructions you need to build a Gantt chart for your team.
Step 1: Identify Crucial Tasks
Start by creating a list of tasks that need to be done.
You can do this by using your work breakdown structure to break up project tasks into smaller chunks.
Then you should categorize them based on the process.
For each task, note down the estimated start date and how long the task will take to complete.
Here’s an example of this:
|Task||Length||Estimated Start Date|
|A. Create a UI style guide||3 days||12/3/20|
|B. Add drop-down menu options||1 day||14/3/20|
|C. Create transparent and opaque action buttons||1 day||15/3/20|
|D. Create widget background||2 days||16/3/20|
|E. Quality Check UI prototype design||2 days||17/3/20|
Step 2: Determine Task Relationships
While mapping a project plan, some activities may follow a sequence.
- A few tasks may need to be completed before you start the next one
- Or some other tasks can’t be completed until the preceding processes have ended
These tasks are called ‘linear’ tasks.
For example, conducting a grammar check can only happen once you’ve finished your article draft.
In Gantt charts, there are three primary relationships between linear asks:
- Finish to Start (FS): FS tasks can’t start before a previous (and related) task is finished.
- Start to Start (SS): SS tasks can’t start until a preceding task starts.
- Finish to Finish (FF): FF tasks can’t end before a preceding task ends.
However, linear tasks aren’t the only kind of relationship in a Gantt chart.
There are those tasks that happen at the same time.
These are called parallel tasks.
Identify which of your project’s activities are parallel and which are linear.
Understand which tasks are dependent on others, and note down the relationship between them.
This will help you efficiently organize and schedule tasks on your Gantt chart.
Step 3: Input tasks into a Gantt chart software
You can start creating Gantt charts by hand, or you can create one using online Gantt chart software.
Microsoft Excel has a wide variety of free Gantt chart templates available online. All you need to do is input any task, subtask, or recurring task into the sheet, and Excel takes care of the rest!
There are also tons of paid and free Gantt tools available online that can help your team access the charts from anywhere.
Note: Using a dedicated Gantt chart tool instead of Excel is always a better option as you get far more functionality and control over your chart.
Step 4: Track project progress
As your project moves forward, your Gantt chart will evolve.
Update your Gantt chart timeline every time a task is completed. This will ensure that your team members are aware of the project’s progress.
Why Gantt charts are essential for project management
Gantt charts help you:
- Use one view for everything
- Understand your project schedule
- Break down projects into smaller chunks
- See task dependencies
- Easily reschedule tasks
Here’s a quick look at why you need Gantt charts:
1. One view for everything
Online Gantt chart tools like ClickUp give you a bird’s eye view of the entire project. You can view task dependencies, task duration, see your work breakdown structure, format data series, and more!
It’s a super-convenient way to get a snapshot of everything related to a project. With a powerful Gantt chart maker, you can see where everything fits and identify issues without switching between multiple tabs or pages.
2. Seeing your dependencies
Task dependencies are an essential aspect of project management. Most tasks rely on earlier ones. If one task is delayed, it’s going to have a domino effect on all the other tasks depending on it.
Losing track of your dependencies can spell disaster for your project.
Modern Gantt charts let you set and view task dependencies to keep things running smoothly. If something’s being held up, you can take swift action to stop it from causing any further issues.
3. Understand schedules
As a Gantt chart functions like a calendar, you can easily find openings in your project timeline for additional activities.
Here’s how you do it:
- Open your Gantt chart
- Find openings in your schedule
- Inform your team of new tasks they can do in these available time slots
Modern Gantt charts are also great scheduling tools.
For example, ClickUp’s Calendar View lets you drag and drop tasks into slots on your Gantt Chart.
4. Easy rescheduling
A simple Gantt chart includes estimates of how long tasks and subtasks are supposed to take. This is critical for meeting deadlines.
If you’re falling behind, you’ll need to reschedule these estimates to see if you can still hit your goal.
Luckily, Gantt charts make this process a breeze.
As you have a bird’s eye perspective of everything, you can reschedule things in a flash.
You can view the impact any front end changes will have on your end result and take action on it.
Falling behind doesn’t mean you can’t catch up!
5. Break down projects into smaller chunks
Most projects involve tons of tasks and subtasks. You’ll need a work breakdown structure to deal with them effectively.
A Gantt chart app lets you layout these tasks and subtasks to help you easily develop a detailed activity breakdown structure. You can gauge how much time each task will take and format data series easily.
Limitations of Gantt charts
Gantt charts are an essential part of project management.
However, Gantt charts can have a few limitations: bar sizes can be misleading and they can become complicated to understand over time.
1. Bar sizes can be misleading
Each bar on a Gantt chart indicates the time period over which the task would be completed.
However, it doesn’t indicate the number of hours it will take to complete the task.
At first glance, a longer bar may indicate that it is a more complex task when, in fact, it is not.
Here’s an example to illustrate this issue:
A task with a long bar has to be completed over a period of 1 month. However, in actuality, the task might just take 20 hours.
Likewise, a task with a short bar might have to be completed in a week. But the task might be complicated and take around 40 hours to complete with additional resources.
If you look at your Gantt chart, you might think that the short bar task is less complex and intensive when that might not actually be the case!
Simple Gantt charts let you visualize your project progress, but have you ever wanted an actual figure instead?
Luckily ClickUp’s Gantt chart view gives you that!
Here’s how ClickUp’s online Gantt charts can help:
Hover the mouse over your task and ClickUp gives you a project progress percentage! It does this by dividing the completed tasks by the total number of tasks in your Gantt chart. This gives you a better idea of where you’re placed.
2. They can become complicated over time
Most projects involve multiple team members working on tons of different tasks.
Over time, the project scope might change, or a few new tasks might be assigned to your team.
When the project gets to this level, making Gantt charts can become complicated.
- Since every task is dependent on every other task, you would have to update multiple tasks and team members at a time
- You also have to account for each member’s schedule while readjusting your timeline
While big businesses can solve this issue by hiring multiple dedicated project managers, this may be harder for businesses with limited resources.
Additionally, even if you have a project manager, manually keeping track of all of this is going to make you feel like this:
ClickUp’s Gantt chart view can simplify even the most complex Gantt charts.
Here’s how ClickUp’s online Gantt charts help:
- If you have to edit the timeline, you would need to notify your team members. ClickUp can do this automatically for you!
Your team instantly receives notifications whenever they have to work on a new task.
- Some team members might unknowingly start work on a task that is dependent on another task.
ClickUp prevents this from happening by blocking such dependent tasks. Your team members can only access this task until the preceding task is completed.
Why you should use ClickUp’s Gantt charts
Use Gantt chart software like ClickUp to add loads of functionality to your simple Gantt charts and make them a powerful component of your entire project management process.
Here are a few reasons why you should use ClickUp’s online Gantt charts:
1. Viewing dependencies
ClickUp’s Gantt chart view makes it ridiculously easy to create Gantt charts and visualize task dependencies.
Just select two tasks on your Gantt chart and draw a line between them.
ClickUp does the rest!
You can now view how these individual tasks are linked in just a single click!
2. Rescheduling dependencies
The biggest issue with rescheduling individual tasks is adjusting your task dependencies.
You need them to coincide with your entire project schedule, or you’re going to have a problem.
Once you have “Reschedule Dependencies” enabled, ClickUp will automatically adjust task dependencies when you drag and drop tasks around your chart!
3. Planned vs. actual dates
Plans can go awry. It’s part and parcel of project management.
Maybe a client wants something changed. A test prototype is flawed.
It doesn’t matter why plans change.
You just have to keep track of it.
With project management software like ClickUp, you can easily keep track of sudden plan changes.
ClickUp shows what your estimates for a project were vs. the actual time it’s taken you so far. You can now switch gears to get things done quickly and adjust your estimates for future tasks.
4. Group rescheduling
Ever need to reschedule an entire project’s schedule?
With project management software like ClickUp, you can!
Just drag and drop a project across your Gantt Chart, and it’ll automatically adjust the task start date, due date, and dependencies.
ClickUp’s Gantt view includes Milestones when you activate the Milestones ClickApp! They are represented as diamond shapes to help you see all the big items that need to be completed in your project timeline.
You can use Milestones to signify major breakthroughs in your project, such as a group of tasks that lead to finishing a national highway network or a hydro-powered dam. Or any important achievement in your team’s work to break out the champagne and celebrate.
In ClickUp you can even use filters and sorting for your Milestones. So add them to your Gantt view and unleash your team’s forward momentum when you reach them!
Why ClickUp is better than an Excel Gantt chart template
Many people use a template to manage their Gantt charts in Microsoft Excel.
After all, there’s no point using a Gantt chart in PowerPoint, right?
You can download a Gantt chart template, add your project data, and even import them onto your other project management software.
However, using a template in 2020 would be like using a flip-phone now!
Here are a few reasons why you should select project management software like ClickUp to create a Gantt chart instead of an Excel template:
Excel limitation #1: No automation
You have to manually input and adjust everything in an Excel Gantt chart template.
The chart template cannot automatically adjust the task start date, due dates, and dependencies based on any changes.
Using a Gantt chart template causes two issues:
- You’ll be wasting time manually adjusting each value in your chart template
- You could lose sight of some figures because of these daily changes. Miss one value and your whole workflow could get disrupted!
ClickUp Advantage: Automated processes
ClickUp’s Gantt charts have tons of automation to make rescheduling a breeze. It can automatically adjust task dependencies and due dates based on any changes you make.
Excel limitation # 2: Cannot calculate your critical path
A critical path determines which chain of tasks is critical to your project’s completion. It gives you an idea of which individual tasks can be rescheduled without impacting your project’s overall progress.
Unfortunately, a Gantt chart Excel template cannot calculate this for you. You’ll have to figure it out on your own – which isn’t easy!
ClickUp advantage: Critical path calculations
ClickUp can easily calculate your project’s critical path.
Just select the group of tasks you’d like to calculate the critical path for, and ClickUp will do the rest. It gives you an idea of what needs to be prioritized to meet your deadline.
Excel limitation #3: No insights
A chart template can’t give you detailed insights about your entire project and work breakdown structure.
You have access to basic graphs, but that’s it!
Most companies would like their project Gantt charts to give them detailed insights, such as their project progress percentage.
Unfortunately, this isn’t something Microsoft Excel can do.
ClickUp advantage: Detailed insights
With insights like project progress percentage and planned vs. actual dates, you have concrete figures on how you’re doing. This can help you readjust your estimates or efforts to make sure you keep up with your deadlines!
Excel limitation #4: Not user-friendly
Microsoft Excel isn’t user-friendly when it comes to Gantt chart templates.
Excel’s format axis option for Gantt charts is incredibly difficult to work with and can’t format data and graphs accurately.
If you use a Gantt chart Excel template, you’ll be forced to work with an impractical sheet that’s impossible to edit and customize!
ClickUp advantage: Organized and customizable
Gantt charts in ClickUp are super easy to use and understand.
ClickUp even lets you customize your project Gantt chart.
You can use a column view, hide columns, sort items, block out weekends – it’s up to you!
And since it’s a drag-and-drop interface, everything is just a click away!
Each item is also color-coded for easier identification.
For example, project tasks are blue, lists are green, and projects are dark grey.
Project tasks can also be colored based on priority such as:
Gantt charts are an integral part of modern project management.
Using them with a chart software like ClickUp lets you monitor task dependencies, deadlines and format data series easily!
How do you plan on using Gantt charts?
Let us know in the comment section below.
In the meantime, why not sign up for a management tool like ClickUp’s free version for free?
Erica is ClickUp’s Senior Content Manager and professional beach bum. She spends her days creating emails, blogs, landing pages, and more to help people increase their productivity so they can save one day every week to do more of what they love.