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How to use a Gantt Chart Effectively
How to use a Gantt Chart

How to use a Gantt Chart Effectively

By Steve Pogue

Gantt Charts are a great way to show project timelines, but using them effectively for different audiences can be a difficult task for project managers. What the executive team needs to see from a Gantt chart is drastically different from what your project team needs. 

In this article, we’ll show you when and how to use a Gantt Chart effectively. Plus, we’ll provide valuable tips on how to create a Gantt Chart that everyone loves, so you don’t have to worry about updating separate charts for each audience.  

What is a Gantt Chart?

Workzone’s interactive Gantt Chart

A Gantt Chart is a visual overview of a project’s timeline. It’s a horizontal bar chart of the start and end dates of the tasks within a project. Often, milestones are represented on the chart as a diamond or other symbol. 

Gantt Charts enable you to quickly see when tasks are scheduled and when key milestones are due. From a Gantt chart, you can easily understand when the project starts and ends, as well as when each task is planned to start and finish and how long it should take. 

By reviewing this information in a visual format, it can be easier to understand task durations, pinpoint key task dependencies, and understand the volume of tasks planned each day. Gantt charts also help highlight the critical path of a project (the sequence of tasks that, if delayed, will push out the project end date.)

A Gantt Chart gives a unique perspective of projects developing over time versus a project dashboard, which only gives a snapshot of what’s going on right now. 

When and Why to Use a Gantt Chart

Gantt charts have been around since the 1900s (in paper form.) Yet, they are still one of the best ways to visualize projects as they help you efficiently monitor your project timeline and workload.  

When to Use a Gantt Chart

If your project has a defined timeline, then a Gantt chart is effective. Even for Agile projects where the whole project may not be scheduled, you can still effectively use a Gantt chart to monitor sprint progress. 

The only type of project that wouldn’t benefit from a Gantt chart is one that doesn’t have defined task lengths and start and end dates or dependencies. For instance, Gantt charts may not work well with the Kanban project management framework.  

Why Use a Gantt Chart

The most significant advantage is that it provides you with a clear, easy to interpret visual of the project’s timeline. This can be shared with internal and external project stakeholders to help them understand when key tasks will be completed, when major milestones will be hit and when the project will end. 

Gantt charts help keep everyone on the same page and ensure that everyone understands what is coming next. In particular, they are great at highlighting expected versus actual progress. Users and managers can quickly see where tasks are falling behind and how delays may impact the project. 

Other benefits of using Gantt Charts are:

  • Dependencies can be highlighted, so you ensure tasks are planned in the right order and understand the overall impacts of rescheduling any individual task. 
  • You can quickly analyze the critical path to see how changes in priorities and deadlines will impact milestones and the project end date. 
  • Having a brief visual of progress and upcoming work can help keep everyone focused on the project. 
  • Enable team members to see how their work fits in with what the others on the team are doing. 
  • Gantt charts are a quick way to review dates and progress to ensure there are no errors. 
  • You can see daily and weekly workloads, which can help highlight resource problems and potential bottlenecks
  • Frequently sharing Gantt chart updates with your team and other stakeholders can increase the sense of accountability
  • Being able to see what work is coming up and when can also help your team improve their time management. 
  • Celebrate wins! When your team completes major tasks early, sharing progress in a Gantt chart communicates big wins to management or client.

Try Workzone’s dynamic Gantt Chart to make your team more productive.

How to use a Gantt Chart Effectively

how to use a gantt chart

Gantt charts are effective tools for anyone who wants to see an instant view of the project timeline. But, different stakeholders need to see different information on your Gantt charts. Generally, your team needs greater detail than what other stakeholders (such as your executive sponsor or client) need. 

We’ll cover these two groups separately to better illustrate how best to use a Gantt chart for each scenario. 

Project Management Use

Gantt Charts make excellent planning tools for project teams. Gantt Charts are great here because they can show as much or as little detail as you want. Teams mostly need to drill down to the individual task but if they need to they can see the entire project.

The most effective way to use a Gantt Chart for project management is by creating a daily, four-week view. A view for the next four weeks, broken out by day, lets everyone to see tasks in the future, but not too far to get distracted.

Hopefully, you have project management software that will let you dynamically change tasks, different durations, and dates. If not, we have you covered.

Review your Gantt chart with your team at least once a week to ensure everything is accurate. This review can also lead discussions around upcoming work, potential roadblocks and risks, and any other issues your team faces. 

Aspects of the Gantt chart you should focus on during team reviews

  1. Workflow. You can play with different timetables in the chart to support discussions about changing task dates. As you move one task, you’ll be able to instantly see the impact on other tasks and the overall project. 
  2. The critical path. The critical path always shows the shortest amount of time possible to complete the project. Whether you’re facing pressure to complete the project sooner, or you’re worried about delays, looking at the critical path will keep the discussion focused on the tasks with the largest impact. 
  3. Deadlines. Review the deadlines looming in the next few weeks to ensure everyone is still on track. This is the time for your team to raise any concerns.
  4. Progress. Compare completed progress to the plan. This helps you focus your discussion on off-plan tasks rather than going through every task in detail. 

Reporting Use

Management and other stakeholders usually want to see a higher level of detail than what you discuss with your team. They are often looking for the status of major milestones until the end of the project. 

When using Gantt charts for reporting, the goal is to quickly and easily answer the question, “Is everything on track?”

Your Gantt chart software should enable you to roll up tasks to show only the top-level summary task. This feature means your team can provide all of their updates at the detailed level, and then you can quickly summarize and minimize the chart for higher-level reporting. Therefore, avoiding the need to maintain two separate charts while also not overwhelming your stakeholders with more data than they need. 

By using a Gantt chart to report progress, you save your client and executives from reading lengthy reports or pouring through detailed task lists. They can quickly see the overall state of the project in one snapshot. 

Get Started 

If you’ve never used a Gantt Chart before, implementing one may seem overwhelming. 

Fortunately, many project management solutions on the market offer Gantt chart views in addition to other project views. So, if you’re more comfortable working in a task list view, you can still make changes there and have them automatically updated in your Gantt chart. 

We recommend you start using your Gantt Chart for reporting. The high-level nature of the Gantt Chart is perfect for executives. If you are using the Gantt Chart regularly, exporting this view should be very easy!

Then, once you’re comfortable with the format and layout of Gantt charts, start using the detailed view in your internal project meetings. This is a time saver!

What if you don’t yet have project management software that supports Gantt charts? 

Check out Workzone today! Our software offers multiple project views, including Gantt charts, and it comes with dedicated customer support. You will have a team of experts at your fingertips to help ensure success. 

Steve Pogue is the Marketing Operations Manager at Workzone. He writes about project management tips and the buying process. When not at Workzone, you can find him playing vintage base ball or relaxing with his family at home.