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What is a Gantt chart useful for?

Last updated

11 January 2024

Author

Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Mary Mikhail

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Project management can be a complex process. Without the right tools, keeping everything and everyone on task can quickly become an administrative nightmare. Luckily, tools like a Gantt chart can simplify the process.

Read on to learn more about Gantt charts and how you can use them to plan and manage projects.

Understanding Gantt charts

Gantt charts are popular for project management because they have a visual design that provides an at-a-glance understanding of a project’s progress while still keeping all the important information.

The chart’s horizontal axis represents the project’s time frame. The tasks or activities that make up the project are displayed on the chart’s vertical axis. Connecting these two axes are several important components:

  • Bars: each task is represented by a horizontal bar. Vertically, the bar is aligned with its task group. Its horizontal start and end are aligned with the task’s start and end dates. This helps you visualize its timing in relation to other tasks.

  • Dependencies: an arrow is drawn between tasks to visualize those that are dependent on others. This helps everyone involved in the project quickly see which tasks need to be completed before others can begin.

  • Progress indicators: in keeping with the idea of providing all information at a glance, some Gantt charts use coloring or other elements in the bars to indicate the progress of that particular task.

  • Milestones: Gantt charts use milestone markers to quickly visualize where specific milestones fit into the project’s progress. These are typically diamond markers with a vertical line down the chart representing the time the milestone should be completed.

  • Other information: the taskbars themselves may contain additional information, such as the people or team assigned to work on the task, its priority level, or any other useful task-specific information.

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Applications and uses

A Gantt chart’s flexible and all-inclusive nature makes it a beneficial tool for various project planning and management tasks. All stakeholders throughout all phases of a project can use Gantt charts.

Let’s look at some of the ways in which they are used, starting at the initial stages of a new project.

Project planning

Gantt charts make an excellent dynamic planning tool during the initial project stages. They let project managers break projects down into smaller, more manageable tasks and assign a start and end date to each. This visual representation makes it easy to quickly understand the sequence of events and their interdependencies.

As new tasks are added to the project or requirements change, it’s easy to see how the new addition will impact and be impacted by the existing tasks. A Gantt chart’s ability to condense useful information about a project into a single chart makes it especially beneficial for large and complex projects.

Determining logistics and task dependencies

For non-trivial projects, understanding the logistics and dependencies required to complete the project can be difficult. Here, Gantt charts come in useful as dependencies need to be included on the chart directly for it to function.

In addition, the chart’s easy-to-read nature makes it a quick reference guide to what is required to complete the project and when it’s required. This is useful in determining and documenting the dependencies, visualizing the critical paths, and predicting where potential delays may occur.

Aiding project management

Once the project starts, Gantt charts are a great help to the project manager and the team members working on the project.

For the project manager, Gantt charts make it easy to map out tasks and milestones, ensuring that those working on the project have a clear understanding of what must be done and when. The project manager has a comprehensive overview of all activities, so it’s easy for them to see when a potential delay may occur and take steps to resolve it.

With dependencies laid out on the time axis, project managers can more effectively allocate resources to the project to prevent dependencies from becoming bottlenecks.

Monitoring the project’s progress

Beyond the project manager, every stakeholder involved in a project can benefit from Gantt charts.

Team members working on tasks can quickly see which prerequisite tasks have been finished or get insights into when they might be finished. This allows them to allocate their own time and resources to their tasks more accurately and effectively.

The chart’s detailed information also serves as a communication tool. All stakeholders can look at the chart and know exactly where the project is in the timeline and whether or not it’s on track. They provide transparency into who is working on which tasks and how much progress they have made.

Comparing methodologies

Gantt charts can be used in both the waterfall and agile methodologies—two of the most common frameworks used in project management. Let’s look at how Gantt charts work with both approaches.

Waterfall

The waterfall methodology involves a linear and sequential approach to project management. It uses a fixed sequence of stages, such as conceptions, initiation, analysis, design, construction, testing, deployment, and maintenance. Each of these project stages must be completed before the next can begin. This leaves little room to revisit a phase once it’s complete.

Gantt charts are well-suited to the waterfall approach because their linear timeline can match up perfectly with the waterfall schedule. The chart enables you to mark and visualize each phase of the project and the key milestones in each. Being able to mark dependencies on a Gantt chart makes it easy to know what must be accomplished before the next phase of a project can begin.

Advantages and limitations

  • Advantages: Gantt charts provide clarity and predictability to waterfall projects. They make an excellent tool for tracking deadlines and keeping each phase on track.

  • Limitations: depending on the Gantt chart tool used, the waterfall model’s rigidity is mirrored in the chart itself. This can be a problem if requirements evolve.

Agile

The agile method lives up to its name, providing teams with much more agility when approaching the project management lifecycle.

Agile is an interactive and incremental approach. It focuses heavily on collaboration between various units, feedback from customers, and small, rapid releases. The methodology divides the project into small parts that teams work on in short iterations, continually evolving the project based on feedback and changing requirements.

On the face of it, agile development’s flexible nature isn’t well-suited to the more strict timelines outlined in a Gantt chart. While you can shorten or lengthen the taskbars in modern Gantt software whenever you like, doing so as frequently as agile development requires negates many of this chart’s benefits.

However, one thing that Gantt charts do well in agile development is mapping out a broader picture of the project. Rather than detailing individual tasks, a Gantt chart maps out sprints.

Advantages and limitations

  • Advantages: Gantt charts can draw focus to a project’s broader picture, outlining major phases and milestones. Meanwhile, activity within the sprints themselves is tracked elsewhere.

  • Limitations: using a Gantt chart for big-picture management and a separate tool for sprints may not provide a universal project management solution.

Benefits of a Gantt chart

Using a Gantt chart provides several benefits that many other project-tracking methods lack. It combines the best of several options, providing project managers with a solution that offers the following:

  • Enhanced clarity: offers a visual, easy-to-understand overview of the entire project

  • Improved planning: facilitates detailed task and deadline planning

  • Efficient resource management: helps in allocating and managing resources effectively

  • Clear task dependencies: highlights how tasks are interconnected

  • Progress tracking: allows you to monitor project progress in real time

  • Enhanced communication: simplifies communication among stakeholders

  • Deadline management: helps you adhere to project timelines and deadlines

  • Risk mitigation: helps you identify potential delays and risks early

  • Increased accountability: assigns and tracks responsibility for each task

Best practices and common pitfalls

As with any tool, the effectiveness of a Gantt chart depends on how you use it. It’s easy to ignore best practices or make common mistakes, but effective use is how you get the best results.

When designing and using your Gantt chart, keep the following best practices and common pitfalls in mind.

Best practices

  • Regular updates: keep the Gantt chart updated to reflect real-time progress and changes

  • Realistic timelines: set achievable deadlines to avoid overstretched resources and burnout

  • Clear task breakdown: define tasks clearly and concisely for easy understanding and tracking

  • Stakeholder involvement: involve all stakeholders in the creation process to ensure complete alignment

  • Flexibility: be prepared to adjust the chart as project requirements or details change

Common pitfalls

  • Over-complexity: an overly detailed Gantt chart can lead to confusion and mismanagement

  • Ignoring dependencies: incomplete task dependencies can lead to unrealistic planning and delays

  • Neglecting updates: outdated information can mislead the team and provide incorrect data to stakeholders

  • Inflexibility: being too rigid can stop you from adapting to project changes or unforeseen challenges

  • Underestimating timeframes: setting unrealistic time frames can cause you to miss deadlines

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