Your latest project is essential, expensive… and really complicated. How can you stay on top of it—and make sure your team does the same?
What you need is a Gantt chart. This specialized form of project scheduling is also known as a Gantt diagram. Originally proposed in the early twentieth century by mechanical engineer Henry Gantt, it’s a bar chart that clearly delineates the start and end of a specific project, as well as key landmarks in the order in which they must occur. Put simply, it’s a way to visually represent the specific duration of each project element (shown as a vertical bar) in reference to the passing of time (shown as a horizontal axis).
Gantt charts were used in World War I but didn’t begin to enjoy widespread use until the advent of personal computing in the 1980s. These days, many types of project teams employ Gantt charts as an aspect of networked or web-based collaboration software.
Why use a Gantt chart?
Often the relationships between project elements are demonstrated in a Gantt chart, showing that one element must be fully completed before a second element can be initiated. Some Gantt charts are formulated to indicate the current status of the project by showing what percentage of each step is already complete. These versions often feature a vertical line that indicates today’s date.
Why is a Gantt chart so incredibly useful for complicated projects? First of all, it helps you achieve a thorough design for the project from the beginning, with no key elements overlooked. Once the Gantt chart is complete, you can set a detailed schedule of milestone dates. You can also use this type of chart to efficiently allocate resources for certain aspects of the project, including manpower.
The best part about a Gantt chart is that it will keep your project on schedule—and if it goes off schedule after all, it’s simple to pinpoint the next step that will bring the project back on track.
The old-school way to do it…
If you’re one of those hands-on project managers who believe that getting a job done well means doing it yourself—read “control freak”—you’ll be relieved to know that you can design your own Gantt chart from scratch. To create a Gantt chart by hand, start by making a list of each specific task that the project requires. Estimate how long each task will take, and make a note of whether the task is dependent on previous tasks to happen in sequential order. You may want to use a storyboard or flow chart for this part of the planning process.
Now, use graph paper to set up the horizontal axis representing time passing, with days or weeks marked as necessary. Assign each task from your list to a portion of the chart based on your estimate of how long the task will take, giving each task the earliest start date that’s possible. Use a horizontal bar to represent the length of the task, making sure that tasks occur in a logical sequence. This is your rough draft. Now you need specialized software (or a design firm) to create a professional version for your team’s use.
…and the time-saving way to do it
On the other hand, why not make life a little simpler with a Gantt chart template? It’s the easy way to create a Gantt chart without the headaches. Choose one of several pre-formatted chart styles that can be customized by inserting any text. The hard work of creating the graphical container is already done for you—all that’s needed is the details. You can start with a simple brainstormed list, or just jump in and start adding text to the template right off the bat. The best part is that a Gantt chart template makes it simple to adjust what you’ve entered, so it’s a snap to fill in the gaps of your project milestones and allocated resources.
A few more helpful hints
Whether you decide to create a Gantt chart from scratch (how quaint of you!) or use a pre-formatted template, here are a couple of concepts to keep in mind.
- Some charts feature a fill-as-you-go system of visual representation, in which the task bar or other symbol is gradually colored in to demonstrate percentage completed.
- You have the option of designating specific people or teams to handle certain tasks. Or you can color-code your chart to show different types of resources needed for each task.
- It’s tempting to include approvals or review processes as dated events, but it’s best to avoid doing this unless the date represents a scheduled meeting.
- To emphasize mission-critical tasks or events, you might want to employ eye-catching colors or a bold outline.