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Gantt Charts – What are they? And why use them?

The History – The first Gantt chart was devised in the mid 1890s by Karol Adamiecki, a Polish engineer who ran a steelworks in southern Poland and had become interested in management ideas and techniques. Some 15 years later, Henry Gantt, an American engineer and management consultant, devised his own version of the chart and it was this that became widely known and popular in western countries. Consequently it was Henry Gantt whose name was to become associated with charts of this type.

Gantt charts were originally written by hand; each time a project changed it was necessary to amend or redraw the chart and this limited their usefulness, continual change being a feature of most projects. Today, however with computers and project management software, Gantt charts can be created, updated and printed easily.

What are Gantt charts? – A Gantt chart is a bar chart commonly used in project management to track project schedules. On the left of the chart is a list of the activities (tasks or events) and along the top is a suitable time scale. Each activity is represented by a bar; the position and length of the bar reflects the start date, duration and end date of the activity. This allows you to see at a glance:
  • What the various activities are
  • When each activity begins and ends
  • How long each activity is scheduled to last
  • Where activities overlap with other activities, and by how much
  • The start and end date of the whole project

In other words they display exactly what has to be done and when. Below we show a very simple example of a Gannt chart.

7 Reasons to use Gantt charts

  1. Gantt charts are highly visual - By providing a visual overview of milestones and other key dates, gantt charts offer a more understandable and memorable method of maintaining timescale-based tasks and deliverables whether tracked on a daily, weekly, monthly or yearly basis.
  2. Keeps project on track - Stakeholders throughout an organization can easily understand where teams are in a process while grasping the ways in which independent elements come together toward project completion. Everyone involved in the project is therefore on the same page.
  3. Communication – Gantt charts communicate status updates – all teams can clearly see task progress and how each task relates to each other. This in itself helps communication between teams.
  4. Resource allocation – by being able to look ahead on the Gantt chart, users can clearly see where resources need to be anticipated and allocated. The more closely the chart is followed, the better chance there is of keeping project costs within budget while also better assuring on-time completion.
  5. Flexibility – the ability to amend or create new Gantt charts as the project evolves lets you react to unexpected changes in project scope or timeline (which is almost guaranteed in every project!)
  6. Efficiency – visualising resource usage during projects allows managers to make better use of people, places and things. Team members have the ability to leverage each other’s deadlines to maximise efficiency.
  7. Time management – scheduling is one of the major benefits of Gantt charts. By understanding the impact of project delays, teams work better together on their task organisation. Decision makers can also look further ahead to ensure each given project is working towards achieving the organisations strategic objectives.