1600+ words about Gantt charts
Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about Gantt charts
A Gantt chart in its most simple terms.
More specifically, a Gantt chart is a bar chart that illustrates a project schedule activities (or tasks or events) over a specific time.
Modern Gantt charts tend to have dependencies (how each task is related to others) and can include multiple team members, color-coded project-type buckets, integrated calendars, and more.
But how did the Gantt chart earn its name and fame?
Where did the Gantt chart come from? A brief history
In 1896, a gentleman by the name of Karol Adamiecki invented a new way to visually show interdependent processes. He called this type of visual project management diagram a harmonogram or harmonograf — a precursor to what is now widely known as the Gantt chart.
So why isn’t it called the Adamiecki chart?
Unfortunately for Adamiecki, his original work didn’t get a lot of international recognition because he published it in Polish and Russian, two non-English languages. When he published a more detailed and widespread report in 1931, Henry Gantt’s chart had been circulating for a few decades.
Enter, Henry Gantt.
Mr. Gantt was a trained mechanical engineer who earned a Masters of Engineering degree in the late 1800s. In the early 1901s, he designed a bar chart (aka a harmonogram) to illustrate a project schedule. Originally done by hand (no computers or Internet in the early 20th century!), it was painstakingly time-consuming and inefficient anytime the project changed as the chart had to be manually recreated.
Henry Gantt’s bar chart is now referred to as the Gantt chart.
The Gantt chart was used by the United States during WWI but didn’t become mainstream in business processes until personal computers became more commonplace in the 1980s. The proliferation of the Internet in the 1990s led to further developments with Gantt charts, and, by the end of the millennium, the Gantt chart was one of the most widely used project management tools on the market.
How are Gantt charts used today?
Gone are days of hand-drawn Gantt charts. It’s no longer necessary to recreate a new Gantt chart every time there is a small change.
Instead, project management software enables businesses to quickly and efficiently track a team’s project progress.
Modern Gantt charts empower users to create boards, add tasks, assign team members, and easily visualize the entire project’s progress from A to Z.
Powerful Gantt charts have built-in automations that notify users when tasks are ready to move to the next phase and include alerts when a project is stuck.
You would be hard-pressed to find a 21st-century company that doesn’t implement some sort of a Gantt chart daily to manage projects. From education to marketing to IT, Gantt charts serve as the foundation for project managers and their teams.
Let’s dig into the components of modern-day Gantt charts.
What are the key components of a Gantt chart?
While no two Gantt charts look the same, every chart has the same foundation — an X and Y-axis:
From there, the Gantt chart can get more sophisticated — and more powerful. Let’s break down a few of the critical components:
- Time: The length of each task is often displayed in days/weeks/months, but it can also be represented in minutes/hours. The current day/time is usually highlighted.
- Tasks: There are individual activities (or tasks) that live at various stages of completion. Each task can stand on its own, yet can also be part of a larger bucket of tasks (think: groups and subgroups).
- Owner: This represents the person who is responsible for the task. Note: This can be more than one person or an entire team.
- Status: Each task moves through various stages until completion. The status represents what stage each task currently resides in. Common statuses can include “up next,” “planned,” “stuck,” “future steps,” “milestone,” and so on.
- Milestones: This is the date when the project is set to be complete (aka, end date). Each milestone can include “mini-milestones” along the way.
- Dependencies: Many tasks cannot start until another task is completed.*
*At monday.com we are not fans of bottlenecks (truthfully, who is?). Dependencies have a tendency to create bottlenecks — waiting on other people to finish their work means you can’t move forward. We encourage teams to push forward and prevent dependencies by working in parallel whenever possible.
Should I use Gantt charts?
Yes! No! Maybe!
Why the indecisiveness, you ask? Well, as we outline in this article, we haven’t always been raving fans of Gantt charts. It took us some time (and the addition of timeline) to move to the pro-Gantt chart side of the aisle.
This is why we understand that Gantt charts aren’t the solution for everyone in every situation.
Here are some advantages (and some disadvantages):
Gantt chart pros
- Simple, straightforward, visual representation of projects
- Clearly see project progress, in real-time
- Enables the entire team to be on the same page
- Easily anticipate (and celebrate) goal completion while also identifying “sticking points” and heading them off before projects stall
- Understand how tasks are connected
- Limit multiple platforms for project communications
Gantt chart cons
- Can be challenging to understand the full complexity of a project
- Without built-in automation, management can get tricky
- Larger projects can quickly get unruly — lots of vertical and horizontal scrolling
- Dependencies. See our take in the previous section.
Generally, we believe the pros outweigh the cons — and the right Gantt chart software should make your life easier — but certainly consider all options before moving forward.
Are there alternatives to Gantt charts?
While the Gantt chart is the gold standard of project management software, there certainly are other solutions that businesses prefer. Note that all of the below examples have some similar components to the traditional Gantt chart.
While a PERT (Program Evaluation Review Technique) is also a visual representation of a project, it is represented more like a network diagram. Instead of bars and dates, a PERT chart uses lines to connect nodes (often depicted by circles and rectangles). PERTs tend to be used more for larger-scale projects that require a high-level plan. Its goal is more focused on dependencies than on time to complete.
Kanban boards are comprised of 3 (sometimes 4) columns — To Do, Doing, Done. Cards (tasks) live under each column heading. One of the main advantages of a Kanban board is its simplicity. However, this can also be a drawback. Kanban boards are good at showing task status.
Note: monday.com Kanban boards have more (and somewhat different) columns than the “To Do,” “Doing,” and “Done” outlined above. Our boards are fully-customizable. Make ‘em your own!
Timelines are generally comprised of a single line and are reserved for more simple, high-level project overviews. Timelines can show dates and events, but fall apart when you start to add more complex dependencies.
Note: Timelines can be part of a more complete Gantt chart — super flexible, intuitive, and focused on people.
A task (or “to do”) list is the most simplistic of project software tools. Add tasks. Mark them as complete when done. While “checking something off your list” can be empowering, a basic task list lacks the true power of a detailed Gantt chart.
How do WBS and agile fit with Gantt charts?
Work breakdown structure, or WBS, is a specific method of breaking down large or complicated goals into manageable objectives. WBS does not factor in time to completion. For more details, check out our quick start guide.
WBS is often the foundation for creating a solid Gantt chart. It depicts what tasks (and subtasks) are to be completed, but it does not show when each task will begin and end.
Start with a hierarchical representation of tasks and their dependencies (WBS) and layer in Gantt chart components such as time, ownership, status, milestones, etc.
Agile or Agile project management is a project management methodology comprised of short (1-3 week) sprints or iterations, where a team is hyperfocused on a small set of items that need to be completed during that time-window.
You can easily incorporate the agile process into any Gantt chart. In fact, we’ve shared the 11 steps to implement Agile Project Management into your workflow.
So many Gantt chart templates and software to choose from. How do I decide what’s best?
Google “gantt chart templates” and you get about 2,940,000 results.
Google “gantt chart software” and you get over 10 million results.
Clearly, there is no shortage of articles about Gantt chart templates and software. You don’t have to look far to find a free (or paid) Gantt chart template and solutions.
If you wanted, you could even skip the templates and software and build a quick Gantt chart in Google sheets or Excel.
But not all Gantt chart templates and software solutions are created equal.
The basic ones are, well, basic. Stand-alone. Limited functionality. No automation. Zero dependencies. (In some cases, too many dependencies). No internal communication and collaboration.
The more sophisticated Gantt chart template and software solutions solve for most of the known “Gantt chart issues:”
- Different chart views: change the way you see data
- Customizable automations and integrations: notify everyone about progress
- Filter and sort data or search with toolbar: no more endless scrolling
- Eliminate dependencies – see what teammates are working on and add tasks in conjunction
And if you are looking for a Gantt solution that can manage projects of all sizes, across all industries … Gantt software with actionable calendar views that can be used by teams of all sizes … with easy-to-use template bundles that help manage projects in a visually appealing way … well, check out the monday.com offering below.