Did you know that 57% of projects fail because of a “breakdown in communications?” Want a gorgeous visual representation of your project’s progress that can help alleviate a host of communications-related issues that could derail your project?
Welcome to Gantt charts.
Gantt charts are bar charts that represent the amount of work that needs to be done in certain chunks of time. They are ultimately used to visually lay out a project schedule.
While the first Gantt charts were created by a polish engineer named Karol Adamiecki in the early-20th century, it’s named after an American engineer, Henry Gantt, who tweaked and popularized the chart in the West. In 1918, Colonel John T. Thompson, who invented the Thompson submachine gun, received the Distinguished Service Medal for “exceptionally meritorious and conspicuous service with the design and production of small arms and the ammunition thereby supplied to the U.S. army.” He acknowledged the Gantt chart’s contribution to his success in a note that he wrote to Henry Gantt, “A large share in this reward for the accomplishment of a great war task is due to H.L Gantt and his assistants. The Gantt general control production chart was my compass.”
Over time, professionals tweaked the Gantt chart into what we use today. While frequently getting called upon to manage major construction projects (such as the Hoover Dam), the Gantt chart was quickly translated to all industries, especially those with deadlines, shifts, and complicated production processes.
How does it work?
Gantt charts visually depict what tasks need to be done at what point in the project in order for it to move forward. But a Gantt chart is useless unless it’s filled with well-thought out information. The first step that project managers need to take is to identify all the project’s essential tasks. What needs to be completed in order for the project to be “done?”
Next, project managers need to pinpoint how tasks relate to each other. Tasks can either be sequential—one needs to be finished before the next starts—or parallel, meaning that they can run at the same time as another task. To optimize delivery times, project managers should schedule as many parallel tasks as possible.
Finally, draw out your charts. Create an x-axis with dates and a y-axis with task order. The final product should look like descending stairs.
Are there tools to help create Gantt charts?
Naturally, hand-drawing Gantt charts are not an option for most busy project managers. Luckily, there are a variety of project management software options that can help project managers organize, create, and share Gantt charts across their teams. Here are four options project managers should consider when planning to use Gantt charts to organize their projects.
These four options were selected because of their Gantt functionality—with all four of them, it’s clear that Gantt was a cornerstone of the product development as opposed to an add-on. These four software options represent the range of Gantt project management software—from enterprise systems to free and open source.
According to Microsoft Office, “The Gantt Chart view is the most commonly used view in Microsoft Office Project 2007.” This popular tool offers a Gantt chart wizard to help the newest project managers make their charts. Microsoft Project is a durable program that can scale to any sized company.
Want free project management software? Gantter offers a cloud-based solution for project managers with some great Google app integrations, including Google Drive. Unfortunately, Gantter doesn’t offer a whole lot of features—including collaboration—so this app is best used as a charting tool.
Offering a slick and intuitive user interface, Merlin boasts customizability without becoming overwhelmed with features. It runs exclusively on Mac OS X version 10.4.9 or newer (10.6.4 or newer is recommended). Merlin 2 takes the guesswork out of maintaining Gantt charts with powerful collaboration features—all users can update their project status. Merlin 2 is great for bigger teams with complicated communication issues.
GanttProject is a free and open-source project management software option. This robust software has been compared to Microsoft Project in its features and complexity. As implied by the name, GanttProject focuses on producing Gantt charts. Unfortunately, GanttProject can get confusing for users hoping to tackle bigger projects, so it’s best to keep GanttProject for small-and-medium-sized businesses.
Are there any drawbacks to Gantt charts? Major benefits?
While Gantt charts are a fantastic tool, they do have their problems. As an inflexible project management system, Gantt charts do not offer quick solutions to addressing problems with an unforeseen event. Additionally, it can become tedious to consistently update the chart, or expect teammates to keep their personal charts updated. Finally, Gantt charts are largely used to display how far along a project will be at a certain point in time—there is not much space on the typical Gantt chart to elaborate on task expectations or purpose.
With that said, however, Gantt charts do what they set out to do—they provide a visual representation of where a project should begin and end. This keeps all team members apprised of how far along the project is, how long each task should take, and how long the team has until the final deliverable is due.
I’m sure there’s a lot more that goes into Gantt charts. What did I miss? Would you recommend other software to go along with what I’ve already pinpointed? Leave your thoughts and comments in the section below!
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