If you’re a project manager, Gantt charts are your jam.
They’re like an architect’s compass, a doctor’s stethoscope, or a plumber’s plunger. In other words, the Gantt chart is a simple, humble tool that project managers use every day to successfully do their jobs.
Gantt charts are seamlessly built right into most project management software, but sometimes it helps to fly the plane without computer assistance, to borrow an aviation analogy.
With that in mind, this article will break down the Gantt chart from the ground up. We’ll look at a blank Gantt chart template, fill out a few, and then I’ll leave you with a few Gantt chart templates that you can use in programs such as Microsoft Excel and Google Sheets.
What are Gantt charts?
You know what Gantt charts are, and I know that you know what Gantt charts are. But just in case you need a quick refresher: a Gantt chart is a grid of boxes charting tasks that need to be accomplished against the progression of time.
What makes Gantt charts so useful is that the progress bars can quickly and easily show everyone key dates, the deadline, codependent tasks, and how important tasks relate to each other.
A Gantt chart template
To see what a Gantt chart looks like filled in, let’s use the NES classic The Legend of Zelda as an example.
It’s dangerous to manage projects without using a Gantt chart!
A simple, but legendary, example of a Gantt chart
A quick glance at this chart shows that you can’t get the Magical Boomerang or the raft and ladder until you’ve gotten the sword and bombs. You can start collecting the Triforce pieces early in the game, but you can’t complete it until you’ve finished all the tasks listed before it. Your ultimate goal is to slay Ganon and rescue Princess Zelda, and it all starts by obtaining a simple wooden sword.
There are, of course, examples more applicable to real life. Let’s try using a Gantt chart to plan cooking a turkey for Thanksgiving dinner.
A Thanksgiving Gantt chart
This chart quickly and clearly shows you that the first thing you need to do to have turkey for Thanksgiving dinner is to order a turkey. It also tells you to preheat the oven before going to the store to pick it up and to enjoy beverages throughout the process (once you’ve returned from the store, of course). By checking which progress bars overlap, you know which tasks can be worked on simultaneously. For example, preheating the oven, seasoning and prepping the turkey, and enjoying beverages.
More free Gantt charts
Filling out Gantt charts by hand or on a rudimentary chart is a fun exercise, but realistically you’ll use some type of project management software or at least a spreadsheet for your Gantt charts.
With that in mind, here are links to free Gantt chart templates that you can use:
- A free Gantt chart template for Excel from Smartsheet
- A free Gantt chart template for Excel from TeamGantt
- Free Gantt chart templates from Microsoft Office
- A free Gantt chart template for Google Sheets
If these don’t do it for you, there are lots more free Gantt chart templates out there on the web you can choose from. Because they’re templates, you can also tailor these to your liking.
Go forth and Gantt
Now that you’re all geared up with Gantt charts, it’s time to put them into action at work and in your own personal projects.
Our resident project management expert, Rachel Burger, is a Gantt chart pro, and she has published lots of great material on how to make the most of this project management tool.
Here’s a sampling: