Gantt Charts: What They Are and How to Make Them

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Gantt charts are a key tool used in project management. They are bar charts used to convey a project’s timeline, tasks, and team members. In this article, you’ll learn more about Gantt charts, when and why to use them, and how to create one in seven steps.

[Featured Image] A project manager stands in front of multicolored charts and discusses Gantt charts with colleagues.

Gantt charts are a key tool used in project management. They are bar charts used to convey a project’s timeline, tasks, and team members. In this article, you’ll learn more about Gantt charts, when and why to use them, and how to create one in seven steps.

What is a Gantt chart?

A Gantt chart organizes and visualizes the tasks and statuses related to a project. It is one of the most commonly used project management tools. In a Gantt chart, each horizontal bar represents a task, with the length corresponding to the time required to complete it. The bars are arranged on a progressive timeline, with each bar following the end of the previous bar. They are an example of the critical path method of project management. Project management tools are available to help create Gantt charts efficiently, adjust information in real time, map out project milestones, insert deliverables, and assign team members to tasks. 

Who uses Gantt charts?

Project and product managers use Gantt charts to monitor their projects, but many professionals benefit from using Gantt charts. Here are some examples of jobs and businesses that may use Gantt charts:

  • Event planners might use Gantt charts to keep track of all necessary to-dos before an event.

  • Technology companies often use Gantt charts throughout their organizations to track the progress of product launches. 

  • Marketing teams can use Gantt charts to ensure they meet a campaign's deliverables. 

History of Gantt charts

Henry L. Gantt, an American mechanical engineer, developed the Gantt chart with his colleague Frederick Taylor to illustrate the production and manufacturing schedule at the Frankford Arsenal in 1917. At the time, engineers would hand draw the charts and manually revise them. Modern computers have made it possible to digitally update a Gantt diagram using Excel and other project management software programs. 

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How do Gantt charts work?

Project managers use Gantt charts to brainstorm tasks, pinpoint realistic timelines, or meet deadlines on commitments and events. Gantt charts visualize how much time or resources are needed to complete the project and communicate to stakeholders the timeline and how changes to a project scope would affect the timeline. It also visualizes and identifies dependencies or tasks that can only start after completing a previous task. Project managers also need Gantt charts to determine a project’s quickest path to completion.  

Read more: What Is a Project Manager? A Career Guide

Benefits of Gantt charts

Gantt charts are a valuable tool because they help project managers brainstorm tasks, timelines, and dependencies. Project managers can also find risks that could impact a project by outlining dependencies. Gantt charts make it easier to maintain momentum and morale by breaking down projects into manageable tasks or sections to help keep a project on track and identify and manage any risks. 

How to make a Gantt chart in 7 steps

The following step-by-step guide outlines what you need to create a Gantt chart and manage your project successfully. 

1. Outline the project’s scope.

Before creating a Gantt chart, you will need important pieces of information. Since they track a project’s schedule and progress, gathering key dates and resources and outlining key tasks will help set you up for success. You can make a Gantt chart when you have a clear project scope and have finalized and approved the project charter with stakeholders.

2. Determine the tasks needed to complete the project.

Together with your team, use the project charter to identify a comprehensive list of tasks and the order in which to complete them. Elements from the project charter to consider include:

  • Goals

  • Business case 

  • Key deliverables

  • Team 

  • Resources

  • Budget

  • Schedule

  • Risks

  • Objectives and key results (OKRs)

  • Approvals 

Tip: Gantt chart example templates found online can provide a solid foundation for your project and can be customized for your project plan.

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3. Determine task dependencies. 

Research and talk with stakeholders to help you determine which tasks have the greatest priority and require completion of other tasks on the timeline before they can begin. Once you define dependencies, you have the pieces needed to outline and visualize the project timeline accurately.

4. Organize the order of the tasks.

With the tasks outlined and dependencies determined, you can now organize them in chronological order. Estimate the time needed to complete each task to create a schedule for the Gantt chart. You can consult subject matter experts or communicate with the stakeholders to help with this step. 

5. Add supporting information (budget, resources, etc.).

To make the Gantt chart as accurate as possible, include details such as team members’ availability and estimate shipping and delivery times. Use the chart to track resources and deadlines to set yourself up for success in meeting milestones.

6. Assign the tasks.

The next step is to discuss the availability of team members and develop a realistic timeline for the project’s goals. Assign tasks to team members who are the fit for the job and can communicate any roadblocks. 

7. Monitor progress.

The Gantt chart is a living document that you will likely need to update throughout the project's progress. It’s the project manager’s responsibility to monitor the progress of tasks and adjust the Gantt chart accordingly.  Monitoring progress maintains visibility on the original timetable, ensures tasks stay on track, helps communication with stakeholders, and offers the opportunity to learn valuable lessons for the next project.

Gantt chart best practices and key takeaways

There are a few best practices to follow with Gantt charts. Remember to keep it organized, consider your team when creating a schedule, and include all relevant information that can impact a project timeline.

Keep it organized with labels and colors.

Gantt charts should have tasks, assigned team members, key milestones, and estimated deadlines. Use color to organize project tasks’ statuses to help visualize them. 

Create the schedule with your team in mind.

Communicate with your team members about their workload and availability to create a realistic schedule. Be sure to assign the tasks to the right team member based on their role, strengths, motivation, and availability.

Read more: How to Make a Project Plan in 4 Steps

Be detailed. 

For the Gantt diagram, you should label tasks with due dates and detailed descriptions, including details such as budget and resources that can impact the project timeline and progress. Compare assignments to see if any team member is overloaded and adjust accordingly. 

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View an example of a Gantt chart.

Next steps

If you’re ready to start building your project management skills, consider the Google Project Management Professional Certificate. It covers various topics related to project management, including Gantt charts, and provides templates and resources. 

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Article sources

1. The Engines of Our Ingenuity. “No. 2753: Henry Gantt, https://www.uh.edu/engines/epi2753.htm.” Accessed April 21, 2022.

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