Gantt Charts: What They Are and How to Make Them

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

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 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 multicoloured charts and discusses Gantt charts with colleagues.

What is a Gantt chart?

A Gantt chart organizes and visualizes a project’s tasks and statuses. It's one of the most used project management tools. In a Gantt chart, horizontal bars represent tasks in a project, the length of each bar 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 represents the critical path within a project management process. 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 the progress of projects; however, many professionals benefit from using Gantt charts. Following are some examples of professionals and businesses using Gantt charts:

  • Event planners use Gantt charts to keep track of their event organization progress prior to an event.

  • Technology companies often use Gantt charts to track the progress of product development and launches. 

  • Marketing teams can use Gantt charts to ensure a campaign is executed on time. 

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 [1]. 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. 

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How do Gantt charts work?

Project managers use Gantt charts to brainstorm tasks, pinpoint realistic timelines, or meet deadlines on deliverables and events. Gantt charts visualize how much time or resources are needed to complete a project; they also indicate timelines to stakeholders and how changes to a project scope might affect that timeline. It also visualizes and identifies interdependencies 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.  

Benefits of Gantt charts

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

How to make a Gantt chart in 7 steps

The following step-by-step guide outlines creating a Gantt chart to manage your project successfully. 

1. Outline the project’s scope.

Before creating a Gantt chart, to help set you up for success, you need to gather important pieces of information, such as key dates and resources and the primary tasks. You can make a Gantt chart when you have a clear project scope and have finalized and approved the project charter—or description of your entire project—with stakeholders.

2. Determine the tasks needed to complete the project.

Use the project charter with your team 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 members

  • 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 discuss with stakeholders to determine the tasks with the greatest priority and those relying on completing other tasks on the timeline before they can begin. Once you define task dependencies, you have the pieces needed to outline and visualize the project timeline accurately.

4. Organize the task order.

With tasks outlined and dependencies determined, you can now organize them chronologically. 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 project 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 member availability and estimated shipping and delivery times. To set yourself up for success, use the Gantt chart to track resources, complete milestones, and meet deadlines. 

6. Assign the tasks.

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

7. Monitor progress.

A Gantt chart is a living document that needs to be updated 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 of the original timetable, ensures tasks stay on track, helps communicate with stakeholders, and provides the opportunity to learn valuable lessons for future projects.

Gantt chart best practices and key takeaways

There are a few Gantt chart best practices to follow. 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 colours.

Gantt charts should include tasks, assigned team members, key milestones, and estimated deadlines. Use colours to help visualize and organize project task statuses. 

Create the schedule.

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

Be detailed. 

Label Gantt chart tasks with deadlines and detailed descriptions, including budget details and resources that impact the project timeline and progress. Compare assignments to see if any team member is overloaded and adjust accordingly. 

Next steps

Consider the Google Project Management Professional Certificate on Coursera if you’re ready to start building your project management skills. It covers various topics related to project management, including Gantt charts, and provides templates and resources to help you become job-ready in six months or less.

Article sources

  1. The Engines of Our Ingenuity. “No. 2753: Henry Gantt, https://www.uh.edu/engines/epi2753.htm.” Accessed February 26, 2024.

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