Gantt Charts: What They Are and How to Make Them

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Gantt charts are a key tool used in project management. Learn more about Gantt charts, when and why to use them, and how to create one in five steps.

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

A Gantt chart is a key tool used in project management. Just like an architect creates a blueprint for a new project, a project manager makes Gantt charts to outline a project's roadmap. It is essentially a bar chart that conveys a project's timeline, tasks, and the team members associated with each task.

In this article, you'll learn all about Gantt charts, when and why to use them, and how to create one.

What is a Gantt chart?

A Gantt chart organizes tasks and statuses for a project so that timelines can be visualized in a bar chart designed for project managers. It's one of the most popular 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. This is a technique also called the critical path method, where a project is broken up into tasks and flexible schedules are determined for each task.

Project management tools like Jira or Wrike help users create Gantt charts efficiently. Project managers can adjust information in real time, map out project milestones, insert deliverables, and assign team members to specific tasks.

Brief history of Gantt charts

In the early 20th century, mechanical engineer Henry Gantt created charts to illustrate his production and manufacturing schedule [1]. These Gantt charts helped monitor progress, thereby revolutionizing project management for projects as large as the Hoover Dam. At the time, engineers drew the charts by hand on paper, but the rise of computers in he 1980s allowed Gantt charts to be created on Excel and other project management software.


Who uses Gantt charts?

Project and product managers use Gantt charts to monitor their team or client projects, but many professionals benefit from using them. Here are examples of Gantt charts in practice:

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

  • Product managers in tech companies often use Gantt charts to track the progress of product launches

  • Marketing teams use Gantt charts to meet a campaign's deliverables 

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

How do Gantt charts work?

Project managers use Gantt charts to pinpoint realistic timelines and meet deadlines on commitments. They help teams visualize how much time or resources are needed to complete the project. They communicate to stakeholders the timeline and how changes to a project scope affect the outcome.

In a Gantt chart, time is measured on the x-axis, while the work breakdown structure is laid out on the y-axis of the bar chart. New tasks can only start after the completion of a previous task.

How to make a Gantt chart

These five steps guide you to create your own Gantt chart to help you manage your project. 

1. Outline the project scope.

Before creating a Gantt chart, outline your project scope. Then, gather the key dates, resources, and outcomes for the project. You'll need to know your deliverables and overall timeline before moving forward.

Identify your business goals, key deliverables, and resources. Consider these elements:

  • Goals

  • Business case 

  • Key deliverables

  • Team 

  • Resources

  • Budget

  • Schedule

  • Risks

  • Objectives and key results (OKRs)

  • Approvals 

2. Determine the task dependencies.

Research and talk with stakeholders to help you determine which tasks have the greatest priority. Then, define the relationships among tasks, which are called "task dependencies," and determine the order in which tasks should be carried out.

At this point, you'll have the pieces you need to outline the Gantt chart.

3. Organize the tasks in chronological order.

With the tasks and dependencies in hand, organize them in chronological order. Estimate the time needed to complete each task and extend the task for the expected duration of time on the Gantt chart. You can consult with stakeholders to help with this step. 

4. Assign the tasks and availability.

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 whose roles and can communicate any potential roadblocks. 

5. Monitor your 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. 

Use the chart to track resources and deadlines. Monitoring progress maintains transparency and ensures tasks get completed in a timely manner. This process provides project managers with opportunities to learn valuable lessons for success in their next project.

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

How to make a Gantt chart in Excel

You can make a Gantt chart in Excel or Google Sheets. Take a look at this video for a step-by-step guide to creating a Gantt chart using the stacked bar method on Microsoft Excel.

Learn project management with Google

Want to start a career as a project manager? Consider enrolling in the Google Project Management Professional Certificate, no degree or experience required. The certificate covers both traditional and agile methodologies, including how to make Gantt charts, how to use project management software, and resources to get you started.

Article sources

  1. British Library. "Henry Laurence Gantt," Accessed March 30, 2023.

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