Project Gantt Chart – What is it? How do I use?

Hi there, I was asked the other day from one of my customers about the importance of a Gantt Chart and told them I wrote all about it in my book the Project Management Communication Tools book. So, instead of sending them off to Amazon to buy that amazing book, I said I would give them a copy of what I wrote about it here. So, remember this comes directly from my book so the Figure numbers and references are directly out of my book.

The Gantt chart communicates the project’s activities to your customers, stakeholders, and team members. It is one of the most widely used tools in a project manager’s toolbox and is valuable in communicating a wealth of project information. At a single glance, a Gantt chart helps you decide and communicate project status to anyone. You use the Gantt chart throughout the project life cycle to show project tasks, start and finish dates, task and project costs, resource assignments, and dependencies.

One of the most valuable uses of a Gantt chart is the “what if” scenario you can perform on your project. You can adjust project task dates, costs, or resource reassignments to see the various results for your project based on the different scenarios. Adjusting any of these data values can change the project dramatically, which gives you good insight into how those changes will look like without affecting the project.

A Gantt chart lets you change, and change back, data values with little or no effort. There are few tools that can react “on the fly” to adjusted project data to immediately show you the possible impact. Just imagine the impact to your project schedule if a design task that was originally planned for 5 days took 30 days! A Gantt chart shows graphic and tabular information on a single page format.

Figure 8.2 — Example of a Gantt Chart shows an example Gantt chart. Gantt charts are easy to customize. You can add and delete items and move and size project columns however you choose. When you communicate project information using the Gantt chart, you don’t need to report on extra columns of data that are irrelevant or do not provide value On the other hand, you can display cost fields, resource fields, or any other field within the tool. The choices are almost unlimited, sometimes leaving you with the challenge of which fields to exclude.

Figure 8.2 — Example of a Gantt Chart

In the example, the arrows in the graph view show you the sequence (order) of activities and the directions and connecting points of those arrows. In this example, Task 1 connects to Task 2, which connects to Task 3. This is a simple example, but one that effectively displays and communicates the project’s task relationships. When creating a project schedule, project managers often miss these logical relationships between tasks. Usually, project managers create the project schedule by using the tabular view instead of the graphic view. This also happens when project managers are trying to troubleshoot issues with dates aligning correctly. They struggle to get the software-produced end date to match the required end date because they are using the tool’s tabular view instead of the graphic view. It is far more difficult to see the problems when viewing a list of activities in the tabular view instead of looking at them in a bar graph. If you have problems with project dates, make sure the logical relationships between tasks are correct. Using the Gantt chart’s graphic view shows valuable project information and relationships between tasks. It also enables you to work in a bar graph environment to move project dates around.

Project managers often use the Gantt chart to communicate with customers and team members. Customers often like to see the project’s Gantt chart weekly to track the project’s progress. However, your customer does not have to wait until the end of the week for a project report; instead, they can get this information on demand. If you store the project schedule in a document control system or a project scheduling tool, your customers have unlimited access to the project schedule. Knowing your customers have access to the schedule forces you to keep it up to date.
Usually, you should expect to report the Gantt chart formally once a week to your project team and your customers, but timing sometimes depends on the project’s size and duration. For a project that spans multiple years, you may report monthly instead of weekly. The exact timing is something you and your customer decide for every project. On most projects, though, stakeholders and customers expect the Gantt chart (report) weekly once you begin that cadence with them. Your customer will also look forward to seeing project performance reports, which show what has changed and what has progressed since the last time you sent it.

A Gantt chart provides many advantages to you. You can use it to report cost and schedule data concurrently on the same chart. It’s helpful to see tabular information on the left side of the chart and bar graph information on the right. Many project scheduling tools are set up this way. There are only a few tools, such as a tabular report and a spreadsheet report that can similarly report cost and schedules together. Another advantage of the Gantt chart is the ability to communicate the schedule in a bar graph showing bars for each project task over a timescale. Using the bar graph view, you can meet with customers to easily review project details and time lines.

A Gantt chart can also be a cost report, a schedule report, or a combination of both. The data in these charts includes work activities, cost data, resource assignments, time lines, and percent complete, to name a few. Choosing which columns of project information to communicate is unlimited within the scheduling tool. On most projects, you decide what information to communicate and what information not to expose to your customer.


The most popular project management scheduling packages include Gantt charts. The Gantt chart is a specific view that you select within the tool as you would any other view. Many project scheduling software packages, such as Microsoft Project® or SmartSheets® include Gantt charts. For project managers who work for a company that uses the Earned Value technique, the Gantt chart can present earned value information.

Planning to use a Gantt chart


In planning to use a Gantt chart, you must first decide which fields and columns of data you want to use. To prepare, meet with your customer to decide what they want captured on the chart and how often they want it reported. Often, companies set standards for which columns and fields they want to use. In some case, you have limited choices about what you can choose to report using the Gantt chart. If a company is using an enterprise project server environment, the project server administrators may lock down the project’s Gantt chart fields and only make a standard set available. Usually, you and your customer can choose the fields you want to use based on what makes the most sense for the project. Other activities you perform when preparing to use a Gantt chart include, identifying resources, time lines, and external dependencies.

Reporting from a Gantt chart

Usually, you are responsible for creating and reporting from the project’s Gantt chart. The project information on the report will vary from project to project, depending on your customer’s needs.

The following Gantt chart reports are popular for most projects:
• Cost chart: This report displays budgeted costs and actual costs.
• Earned value chart: This report displays cost and schedule performance indexes and variances.
• Time chart: This report displays tasks based on their scheduled start and end dates.
• Labor hours chart: This report displays planned and actual labor hours, over time.

It is easy to create any of these reports, but first you need to store some background information in the schedule before you display it on the Gantt chart. For example, entering relevant costs, time, and resource information into the scheduling tool makes creating these types of reports easy. Without that information, the reports would be difficult to produce.

Figure 8.3 — A More Robust Example of a Gantt Chart shows a more robust Gantt chart than that in Figure 8.2 — Example of a Gantt Chart. Figure 8.3 includes resource names; the Gantt chart in Figure 8.2 does not, although, both are from the same project.

Figure 8.3 — A More Robust Example of a Gantt Chart

Figure 8.4 — A Sample Gantt Chart for a Book-Publishing Project displays the roles assigned to the project and the associated costs assigned for each team member. The first line (line 1) in Figure 8.4 displays a summary activity for the project. The summary line shows the project information rolled up (summarized) from the five detailed tasks associated with it. These tasks are connected (network logic), which provides the overall cost and time allocations for the project. In this example, the project duration is 18 days.

In Figure 8.4, project information includes durations, start and finish dates, and resource assignments. Your customer may be overwhelmed with all the data on the Gantt chart, so work with your customer to ensure they are getting the information they need to make project decisions. Do not simply provide information you need, focus on your customer’s needs for showing data. Present the Gantt chart in a way that provides your customers the information they need without getting lost in all of the project details. For example, removing some of the columns can be a powerful way to communicate necessary information without overloading your customer with all of the data on the chart.

Figure 8.4 — A Sample Gantt Chart for a Book-Publishing Project

Most project managers use Gantt charts daily to manage and control projects. When the project schedule is up to date and accurate, those same project managers will use the Gantt chart as a communication tool for their customers. Team members, customers, management, or anyone else wanting detailed project information use the Gantt chart to view the project data they need.
You report from the Gantt chart weekly because of the valuable project information it contains. There are different formats for reporting Gantt charts, such as electronic and paper format. The Gantt chart lives in project-scheduling software. You will need to manually copy and store a weekly version of the project schedule in the document control system for long-term storage and archiving purposes.

Mastering the Gantt Chart

Before mastering the Gantt chart, you must understand how it can help and support you on your project. The following project scenario highlights its importance.
A large moving company just won a major contract to move music equipment for a large band during their international tour of Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom. The band will tour for ten months. The moving company will move all stage equipment, music equipment, and other materials, from city to city, and country to country. As the most senior project manager at the moving company, and a music lover, you decide that this will be a perfect project for you. As you start working on the project, you begin by meeting with the band and manager to ask several questions that need addressing immediately, such as:

  • When does the tour start?
  • Which cities are we traveling to and on which dates?
  • What equipment needs moving?
  • In what order do you set up the equipment?
  • What is the budget for moving expenses?
  • How many resources are working on the tour?
  • When does the tour end?

To answer these questions, you should use a Gantt chart to track the project activities and costs. A Gantt chart documents the project tasks and time lines and is the main repository for the, project schedule, resources, and task-related information. All project managers should use a Gantt chart to track project activities, or you will have a difficult time controlling the project.

Creating a Gantt chart

Creating a Gantt chart is easy to do and is something that every project manager should have some knowledge about how to create. A Gantt chart helps you stay on track with your project and the project’s time line. The Gantt chart may be the only project communication tool you use on a project, especially a small project.

When creating a Gantt chart, make sure to use the correct fields for reporting purposes. Popular fields to display in the Gantt chart include: description, resource name, percent complete, total float, duration, start and finish dates, predecessor and successors. You choose the fields you want to display in the Gantt chart, but those are the most common.
The steps for creating a Gantt chart vary among project managers because of the versatility of the tool and the project manager’s favorite tool of choice.

Complete the following steps to get started creating a Gantt chart:

1. Identify the information you want on the Gantt chart. This information includes project activities—rolled up or summary levels—resource names, and percent complete. This step defines the look and feel of the Gantt chart on the tabular section, or left side of the report.
Note
There are two sides to the Gantt chart, a tabular side where the tabular columns display data, and a graphic side where the timescale and calendar information displays.

2. Create a baseline schedule, if you have not already done so.

3. Add extra information in the right side of the Gantt chart. The graphic, or timeline side, has many available valuable data fields for reporting.

Caution
Never connect logic relationships to summary tasks, only to detail tasks. Let the detail tasks drive the summary tasks.

The Gantt chart is now complete and ready for reporting.

Figure 22.6 — Example of a basic Gantt chart shows a basic Gantt chart. This example is simple, but provides a great starting point for creating project activities. The project dependencies and summarized view in the Gantt chart provide an excellent representation of the project’s time frames.

Figure 22.6 — Example of a basic Gantt chart

Using a Gantt chart report

Before you can use a Gantt chart, you must identify who on your project team will use it so you can determine the level of detail needed, distribution frequency, style, and format of the Gantt chart. The Gantt chart can be detailed, although, project managers can always summarize the Gantt chart for reporting or printing purposes. The real value of the Gantt chart is tracking the details and being aware of project activities.

Before you starting using the Gantt chart report, review the material in Chapter 8 – Communication Tools That Manage Project Time, and then complete the following steps:

Identify the information that your customer wants to see on the Gantt chart. Because the Gantt chart is so powerful, you must determine which characteristics—such as cost, schedule, resources, WBS, and performance—that your customer wants you to display.

Update the Gantt chart to satisfy the customer’s requirements, and then present it to them for review. When your customer is happy with the chart’s look and feel and the key milestone dates, get their approval and sign-off by sending the Gantt chart and the user acceptance document to the customer for approval.

As the project starts, tell your team members to use the Gantt chart to report progress. They will need to enter the actual start date, actual finish date, actual work hours, actual cost, and remaining duration for each activity they have begun working on.

What do you think?

Have you seen my video on Gantt Charts on my YouTube Channel? If not check it out here. Bill Dow’s YouTube Gantt Chart Video. Are you looking for a Gantt Chart template that you could use on your projects today? Check out this link, will you can get all the tools from my Project Management Communication Tools book directly. Go here today, or click on book below to grab your copy of all my tools from the book.

Let me know what you think and if I hear from a lot of you, I will add keep adding tools to my blog.

If you are serious about growing your career and advancing your knowledge in the PMO and Project Management space, check out my offerings on my Bill Dow PMP Training site. I think you will love it!

Thanks

Bill Dow, PMP

Email me at [email protected]

1 Comment

  1. Who is using Gantt Charts on their projects today?

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Font Resize