You know that a Gantt chart is a horizontal bar graph that, at a glance, shows you the tasks your team needs to work on, how long it’ll take your team to do them, task dependencies, and when activities will start and end. What you might not know, however, is that Gantt charts may not the right tool in every situation.
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Why go Gantt?
You might have a reasonable size project in your organization. The activity of the project might occur over several months and have several tasks. Typically, some tasks are dependent upon another. That is, some of the tasks cannot start until other tasks are finished. You can write this down in words but sometimes it can be hard to grasp the meaning of a document that sets out a project like this. The chart provides you with a simple pictorial method of managing your project.
Used across all industries and by companies large and small, the Gantt chart is simple in principle :
- Task names: Written at the leftmost part of the Gantt chart
- Activity bars: They represent the duration of the tasks
- Time scale: The topmost part of the Gantt chart represents points in time that correspond to when the tasks take place
As you can imagine—and may have experienced in action—these charts can become quite sophisticated and complex. For small businesses, you want to avoid this. The purpose of having the chart is to try and make things clearer and simpler for the people that are involved in the project. Too much complexity produces information overload and people will feel overwhelmed.
Just like any tool, Gantt charts have their strengths and limitations. Let’s talk about both sides of the coin so you can discern if using it is right for you.
Feeling overwhelmed already? There are some very good applications that can tame the potential complexity. Check out our article Top 5 PM Software with Dynamic Gantt Charts.
Advantages Of Using A Gantt Chart
Complex Information At A Glance
Once you add all your tasks and activity bars to your Gantt chart, you’ll instantly get a bird’s-eye view of your project activities including deliverables, due dates, and the length of time each will take. Laying these pieces of information on a Gantt chart makes it easier to track dependencies and spot conflicts. It’ll also help you trace your critical paths, milestones, and progress, vital to making good decisions when you need to fast-track or crash your projects.
Clear Layout of Dependencies
To make a Gantt chart, you’ll first need to list down all your project activities, estimate them, and structure the sequence you’ll follow, considering your resources. This enforces a discipline that pushes you and your team to follow an organized workflow. While this can feel grueling at first, the structure will help you track, align, and communicate more efficiently as you execute your plans.
Increased Schedule Accuracy
Estimating project milestones can be tricky. You’ll need to consider tasks that can be done simultaneously and tasks that can be done sequentially. For this, dependencies are important to note.
Using a Gantt chart ensures you can spot issues and conflicts, ensuring that your plans are more reliable. This will help prevent unrealistic client commitments and avoidable crunch if those commitments can no longer be adjusted.
High Visibility For Stakeholders
Gantt charts are very easy to understand once you know how they work. Their straightforward nature makes them usable for professionals and laypeople alike. Project managers and owners often rely on Gantt charts to promote project visibility to their team, management, community, and other stakeholders.
Gantt charts can be high-level or project-specific.
High-level charts monitor massive initiatives that can comprise several smaller projects. Time intervals are usually in months or quarters. For example, your HR office can keep a year Gantt chart where the tasks on the left are your company parties’ preparation times and execution days throughout the year.
Low-level charts monitor projects that may involve multiple teams. Time intervals can be weeks, days, or hours. Building on the previous example, a low-level chart can be the Gantt chart for your Halloween party preparations. Tasks include decor, mechanics for the costume contest, booking the venue, etc.
Disadvantages Of Using A Gantt Chart
Can Grow Too Complex
It can be tempting to make your Gantt chart’s scope as large as possible and make your tasks as granular as possible. However, this can result in an overwhelmingly complex graphic representation of the work that’s as difficult to use as it is to manage.
Instead of building a massive Gantt chart to capture the entirety of the project, consider making a chart that covers the project at a macro level, then create separate charts for individual elements or deliverables. Alternatively, you can set your software to filter or minimize elements based on the audience.
Your Gantt chart can carry an enormous amount of information: your tasks, task duration, persons in charge, critical path, dependencies, etc. However, it fails to represent other important factors: the resources you’ll need to accomplish the tasks, their level of difficulty, etc.
While it can be handy in scheduling, it’s important to note these limitations when you assign tasks (so you won’t accidentally give a critical task to a neophyte) or plan for resources.
Consider working with team leaders familiar with your team’s competency levels or other stakeholders who can supply the information you’re missing for these activities.
Can Be Challenging To Adjust And Maintain
Because of how tasks are connected, there may be times that moving activities around will require you to adjust the rest of your future project task timelines. Without good software with proper automation, the Gantt chart can be challenging to manipulate. The takeaway here is to pick user-friendly, flexible software for developing your Gantt charts.
Should You Use A Gantt Chart?
Gantt charts are powerful tools for professionals across all industries. It effectively visualizes complex project activities in a digestible format.
As a project manager, this can help you plan your projects, align your teams, and keep your stakeholders updated on your progress and project status. At the same time, maintaining and adjusting a Gantt chart can pose challenges in mid-production. So it’s important to consider and mitigate these disadvantages as well.
Approach tool selection with a craftsman’s mindset: weigh its advantages and disadvantages, hold them against your project goals, and decide from there.
Recommended Project Management Software
If you’re interested in learning more about top-rated project management software with powerful Gantt chart creation capabilities, the editors at Project-Management.com actively recommend the following: