Gantt Charts: Basics To Best Practices (Free Gantt Chart Template Included)

Hannah Donato
January 24, 2022
7 minute read

The best marketing teams can generate out-of-the-box ideas through robust systems that promote efficiency and collaboration. Task visibility and resource management are key to achieving these.

A Gantt chart is a powerful tool to increase task visibility. Teams across all industries use it to create schedules with more precision.

At a glance, a Gantt chart displays tasks the team needs to do and how each task relates to the other. These capabilities allow project managers to plot the most efficient approach.

 

What Is A Gantt Chart?

Gantt charts are horizontal bar graphs that represent the tasks needed to complete a project, along with the schedule of when they’re expected to start and end. They also illustrate dependencies, hierarchies, and relevant milestones.

It was popularized by the American engineer Henry Gantt. They were initially drawn by hand and were tedious to maintain. But with the rise of computers in the 1980s, Gantt charts became easier to manage and rose further in popularity.

 

Click here for our free Gantt Chart template.

 

Types Of Gantt Charts

Their scope and level of detail distinguish the two types of Gantt charts.

- High-Level Gantt Charts

High-level Gantt charts help monitor major company initiatives. The time intervals here are usually in months or quarters because each line item represents efforts that involve hundreds of tasks and a handful of teams.

A Gantt chart that tracks your marketing communication campaigns across the year is an example of a high-level Gantt chart.

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Project-Level Gantt Charts

Project-specific Gantt charts monitor smaller projects usually connected to a major initiative. The tasks here can be nitty-gritty, so time intervals are typically days or weeks. On some occasions, it can even be hours.

Following our marketing communication campaign example above, a project-specific Gantt chart tied to it can be one for tracking articles to be published in your blog. 

Using both types of Gantt charts in this scenario can help you produce content at scale while ensuring that they all align with your campaign’s key messages.

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How To Read A Gantt Chart

To read a Gantt chart, you’ll need to understand what each part represents.

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Time Scale

The top of the Gantt chart’s x-axis illustrates the time interval you want to use to track your tasks. These can be in days, weeks, months, or quarters. Sometimes, even hours.

Tasks And Subtasks

The leftmost side of the Gantt chart lists the tasks you need to accomplish to move the project forward. 

Activity Bars And Progress Lines

The bars on the Gantt chart reflect the estimated duration for tasks to finish. Inside the bars are lines that show the team’s progress. 

When lines are inside the bar graph, it means that work is on track. Lines that go beyond it indicate tasks going over their intended schedules. These can signal delays for dependencies or the need for additional follow-up, budget, or resources.

Milestones

Milestones serve as checkpoints towards the completion of a project. Diamonds represent them because they typically don’t have durations the way regular tasks do.

Arrows

The arrows that connect activity bars from each other signify tasks that have dependencies on each other. We’ll talk more about dependencies in a later section, but they’re essential considerations when scheduling.

Vertical Line Marker

The vertical line marker helps you identify the activities being done at a certain point in time. As a project manager, this can help you see who to check in with to ensure they receive the support they need.

 

How To Make A Gantt Chart In 5 Steps

 

Step 1: List Your Milestones And Tasks

To start making your Gantt chart, identify milestones that mark important progress points. Milestones can be status update presentations to management, prototype demos, deliverable submissions, and others. Put them on your Gantt chart using diamonds.

Once you have them there, enumerate the tasks you need to do to achieve them and list them on the left side of your chart. You can group them into tasks and subtasks to make them digestible. 

Step 2: Identify Your Preferred Time Interval

The time interval you use for your Gantt chart can be as high-level as weeks and months or as low-level as hours or days.

As mentioned earlier, Gantt charts can be high-level or project-specific. A Gantt chart for your year-long campaign, for example, can use months as a time interval. Tracking the articles you’ll publish on your blog, on the other hand, could be better monitored with days or weeks.

Step 3: Mark Dependencies

Dependencies are tasks whose initiation is reliant on another task’s output. On the Gantt chart, arrows mark the tasks that connect to one another.

Three things can cause dependencies: shared resources, pre-requisites, or timing.

If you only have one graphic artist in your team, for example, then you’re all dependent on a shared resource. Your artist can’t start your article’s feature image until he finishes making your social media images, and so on.

On the other hand, pre-requisites are outputs needed to start on another task. For example, a writer can’t start working on an article without a brief. This makes article-writing dependent on the brief being finished first.

Finally, timing dependencies refer to tasks that you can only do at a specific point in time. For example, you can only publish a Christmas social media post on Christmas. Another example: you can only interview your resource person when she’s available. 

Noting which tasks you can (and can’t) do simultaneously will help you commit to accurate deadlines and efficiently distribute resources.

Step 4: Pick A Tool

You can make a Gantt chart using Microsoft Excel’s stacked bar feature, or you can use specialized project management software such as Workamajig. Workamajig allows you to create an instant but fully customizable schedule with just a handful of clicks.

While it’s possible to use manual tools to make a Gantt chart, project management software is equipped with features to help you maximize them. 

Step 5: Input Details

Once you’ve picked a tool, you can start typing in your listed tasks and marking your milestones. Then, add the activity bars, mark dependencies, and assign the tasks.

The process can sound straightforward on paper, but it's not always that simple. In fact, you should expect iterations and adjustments as you go. There could be dependencies that you failed to realize. You might need to renegotiate some deadlines, or your team might need more people.

Don’t be alarmed if this happens. This is the beauty of the Gantt chart and its ability to be adapted to such changes. Of course, it’s always better to spot issues sooner than later.

Advantages And Limitations Of Gantt Charts

Gantt charts are incredible tools. But they also have strengths and weaknesses.

Why Use A Gantt Chart?

Visualize Project Activities

Gantt charts can display massive amounts of information at a glance: your critical path, progress, and milestone deadlines, to name a few. This birds-eye view of your project’s activities can help you make better calls and improve your communication with your stakeholders.

Structure Your Activities

The need to break milestones and deliverables down to actionable tasks pushes you and your team to inspect, evaluate, and organize your plans. This supports alignment and helps ensure clarity. 

Make Accurate Schedules

Contrary to an outsider’s perspective, schedules can’t be deduced by simply adding all your estimates and dividing them according to the number of people you have in your team. 

You need to consider dependencies, and Gantt charts can help you keep them in view. Having this information on hand as you commit deliverables with your stakeholders will help you plot realistic schedules and deadlines.

Engage Teams And Stakeholders

Seeing tasks structured on a Gantt chart is an excellent way to help your team see how their day-to-day activities contribute to the bigger picture. Its digestible format makes it easy to align with stakeholders as well.

Manage Changes And Scope Creep

Scope creep and overservicing your clients are massive contributors to project failure. When stakeholders inquire about new requests, your Gantt chart can help you communicate how it’ll affect your production schedule. Handing over this piece of information will enable them to evaluate if it’s still worth adding and agree on a reasonable compromise.

What Are The Disadvantages Of A Gantt Chart?

- Can Grow Complex

Gantt charts are handy while they remain tidy and organized. Without proper filtering, they can grow cluttered, distracting, and eventually, incomprehensible.

To manage this, pick software that allows you to group, filter, search, and organize tasks with ease. These features can help you ensure that your Gantt chart is helping your team stay focused on the proper milestones and priorities.

- Limited Information

Your Gantt chart can show a large amount of information. But it can’t show you all of them. While it can effectively display your schedule, manpower assignments, and task durations, it can’t show the tasks’ level of difficulty, and the resources you’ll need to accomplish them. 

Avoid making major decisions solely on what you see on your Gantt chart. Support it with documentation and trackers that can help provide additional context so you can stay duly informed.

- Can Be Challenging To Adjust And Maintain

As task lists grow, adjustments become more complicated without proper automation. Overlooking dependencies or failing to notice minor overlaps can cause a snowball effect on the rest of your project. This fact emphasizes the need for robust systems, processes, and checks and balances whenever you apply changes.

Gantt Chart Best Practices

Note Non-Working Days

Weekends and non-working holidays are vital considerations when plotting your work schedule. But they’re not the only non-working days you have to take note of.

Coordinate with your building administration and operations teams: Are there scheduled closures and maintenance services? Consider your office location: Are there days in the year where you frequently experience heavy rains or snow? Check-in with your teammates: do they have planned leaves and vacations for the year?

You can’t anticipate every work interruption. But with enough diligence, you can proactively prepare for the possibility of these external causes of delays. 

Use Colors To Your Advantage

Colors can be easy to dismiss as superficial upgrades. But used well, they can help make your Gantt chart more readable and easier to use. Here are a few suggestions:

 

  • Designate a color per milestone or deliverable so you can visually distinguish where your tasks connect to
  • Assign a color per person so your team can spot the tasks assigned to each of them at a glance
  • For easy reporting or troubleshooting, color each task according to its status (Example: Green if going well, yellow if it needs extra attention, red if it’s already overdue, etc.)

 

Adding dashes of color to your Gantt chart isn’t just good for aesthetic purposes. With the right system in place, they can add new layers of organization that you, your teams, or your stakeholders can benefit from.

Pick The Right Software

Maintaining a Gantt chart can be tedious, but it doesn’t have to be. The best way to manage this is by picking software that fits your needs.

Sorting, grouping, searching, and filtering should be hard requirements. Automation is a major plus. The right ones can make moving things around so much easier. Finally, consider how easy it is to learn and use. 

With the right system and software in place, you can maximize your Gantt chart’s strengths and mitigate its weaknesses.

Conclusion

Gantt charts are powerful tools that are used across many industries. For marketing professionals, they provide a way to organize and align teams and projects. 

 

At a glance, it can offer massive amounts of information such as tasks, estimates, assignments, milestones, dependencies, and progress. Ensuring that you have a sturdy system and tool its creation and maintenance can help you increase project visibility, improve productivity, and engage your team and stakeholders.

Workamajig has integrated Gantt charts and other project management features to help you stay on top of all your campaigns, teams, and initiatives. 

Learn more about Workmajig’s project management tools to see how they can help you optimize your workflow and supercharge your productivity.

 

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