There are a few ways to make a project happen. Creating a to-do list is perhaps the most popular way, followed by using a calendar app, and maybe some sort of a project management software to oversee the tasks done by others. All of these cover certain aspects of a project. But there is one kind of a chart that can handle it all at once — Gantt chart.
What's a Gantt chart?
Gantt charts are an essential part of project planning, and, at first glance, they can seem quite simple, like a bar chart demonstrating a timeframe.
Task A will take from Monday to Wednesday to complete, Task B from Tuesday to Wednesday, and Task C from Wednesday to Friday, all of which come together to hit the final deadline of Friday when everything should be finished. Easy, right?
Some tasks will be that simple, and the Gantt chart is a handy visual for seeing how these tasks overlap. It’s unusual for projects to have just one person working on a single aspect at a time, so Gantt charts are useful for seeing how one individual’s tasks correspond with their teammates’.
But, more often than not, tasks have logical relationships, what we also call dependencies. Within a project, some tasks will affect when others start or finish.
There are four general dependency relationships, which we'll illustrate by using the example of a new room being built in a house:
- Finish to Start: The successor cannot begin until the predecessor has finished. The foundations cannot be built until the planning permissions are finished.
- Start to Start: The successor cannot begin until the predecessor has begun. The walls cannot begin being stabilized until they have begun to be erected. The walls do not have to be finished being erected before they can begin being stabilized.
- Start to Finish: The predecessor cannot finish until the successor has begun. The house is locked overnight (predecessor) and can only be opened when the workers arrive (successor), and so even though the locking of the house occurs first, its status is dependent upon the arrival of the workers.
- Finish to Finish: The successor cannot finish until the predecessor has finished. Gas checks cannot be finished until the gas pipes have been fully fitted. Until the gas checks are marked as safe, and all gas pipes have been fitted, neither task can be completed.
A Gantt chart demonstrates the dependencies of all the tasks within the project. If Task A is completed late, this doesn't just affect the timescale for the person performing Task A, but also impacts Task B, which relies on Task A, as well as Task C that relies on Task B, and so on. Therefore, a Gantt chart is only used to its full advantage if the creator is aware of all the tasks involved in a project, how long they last, and how they depend on each other.
Gantt Chart's Key Features
Gantt charts primarily showcase horizontal bars that indicate the length of time of each task, including deadlines, and demonstrate the overlapping that is expected or required.
- Labels for each task are arranged to the left so that there is a clear overview of exactly what needs to be done
- Dates (or times, if it is a particularly time-sensitive project) are at the top of the chart to monitor the tasks' deadlines
- An intersecting vertical line represents the current time and gives a visual cue for how much of the project has been completed and how much is left.
Who Needs to Use a Gantt Charts?
Unsurprisingly, Gantt charts are popular among project managers across all sectors to prepare and monitor their plans. It's particularly useful for those who have to manage multiple people.
Developers, product managers, entrepreneurs, startup founders, and students can benefit from Gantt charts and effectively manage their time. A student, for example, has numerous milestones as well as a final deadline:
- they cannot begin their dissertation until their proposal has been accepted;
- they cannot research their essay and until they have an idea of what they're discussing;
- and they cannot complete their project until they have completed their literature-review.
How to Make a Gantt Chart
After reading about what a Gantt chart is, who needs it, and its key features, you probably want to make a Gantt chart yourself. Starting with Gantt charts is not difficult at all, and there are a variety of apps to help you do that. Let’s dive into some of them.
Create charts with Microsoft Excel
You can create a simple Gantt chart in Excel: there is no pre-set formatting, so you’ll have to do it yourself from scratch:
- Highlight a table with column A (containing all your tasks), column B (days since start), and column C (days until completion)
- From the Insert tab, select Insert Bar Chart, and from there choose the Stacked Bar option
- Now that you have your chart, you can format it to look more like a traditional Gantt chart. You can add labels, remove the color fill, or flick through the Chart Design tab to find something that looks appropriate.
It’s not a perfect process, and it will require some knowledge of Excel formulas if you want to keep your chart up to date (such as decreasing the “days until completion” cells as the “days since start” increase), but it’s still an option.
Rather than tweaking a customized Excel chart, an easier way is to use dedicated software to create useful and attractive Gantt charts right from the start.
Use simple Gantt charts with Merlin Project Express
For projects around the home and simple workplace tasks, Merlin Project Express offers clear, streamlined project control. There are ready-made templates, so all you have to do is enter your tasks and deadlines, and you’re ready to go. A massive project doesn’t seem as daunting once it has been broken up into manageable tasks.
You don’t have to learn formulas to compare time spent with time remaining: the app will do all that for you. It also features tracking capabilities, so your costs remain up-to-date.
Merlin Project Express isn’t just for the individual: keep track of how employees and partners are performing, and add contacts directly from your Mac address book. Notes and annotations are also integrated, so everything is where you need it at a glance.
Make powerful Gantt charts with Aeon Timeline
Aeon Timeline is perfect for more complex projects. Begin with a ready-made template or customize your own to personalize your presentation. Every detail in the app can be adapted to fit you.
Aeon Timeline is highly skilled at handling dependencies efficiently, and you can assign people to tasks so that everyone knows what they are supposed to be doing. However big your project grows, you can manage the tiniest of details — and if it is in danger of becoming overwhelming, you can apply filters to extract only the information you need. Import CSV files to include existing information, and export data to images, presentations, and PDFs so that everything is where it should be.
Add more Gantt chart fluidity with XMind
If you’re still mapping out a plan and need a less rigid frame, XMind offers mind mapping with an additional Gantt chart function. It includes the ability to add tasks, milestones, dependencies, and deadlines, so you can see your plans begin to take shape as you develop your ideas.
Besides, XMind lets you and your whole team brainstorm together, thinking through ideas, and changing things up on the fly. It’s a perfect solution for teams where variables can change unexpectedly throughout the project.
How Gantt help you plan for the future
It’s estimated that 37% of managed projects fail, with that number rising to 60% for IT projects, and one of the top reasons given for project failure is a “lack of clear roles and responsibilities.”
A Gantt chart not only ensures that every task, including its timeframes, are accounted for, but also assigns them to individuals who can see the effect that not completing the task in time has on the rest of the project.
Not sure which Gantt chart app to choose? Try XMind, Aeon Timeline, and Merlin Project Express free with Setapp, along with more than 120 other high-quality apps for your Mac.