How to Manage a Project Schedule with a Gantt Chart
A Gantt Chart is one of the many tools available to project managers and has been in use (in its present form) for decades. It is a simple way to display and monitor project tasks, their inter-dependencies, their deadlines, changes to tasks and important milestones. There are many more sophisticated tools available to a project manager but this basic tool is the perfect opportunity to get to grips with the techniques and skills required to manage a project schedule without getting bogged down in the functionality of a more complex software tool, which may add little to a project manager's fundamental skill set.
Making the best use of any tool requires a good understanding of project management techniques and it is often better to learn those using simple tools so that you can apply the techniques effectively.
Using a Gantt Chart to plan and control projects
Using a Gantt chart you can map out all of your project tasks in a visual way and use your chart to determine which tasks can be best done at the same time and which are dependent on other tasks to be completed first. This is an essential part of project planning in order to make maximum use of the time available and the resources available. Rarely is there a perfect plan with no slack time between tasks but with a Gantt chart can reap the benefits of project management and minimise that slack time. The way the chart is constructed also makes it simple to demonstrate to senior management how you, as a project manager, are making the most of available resources. This tool has endured in the PM world for so long because it is relatively simple to use, helps you balance the classic scope, cost and time elements of the project, both at initiation and as changes happen throughout the life of the project, and communicate all that clearly to stakeholders and team members.
You can create a Gantt chart in MS/Excel or in software tools with that capability such as MS/Project or Liquid Planner and online with tools like TeamGantt. To create your first draft of a Gantt chart simply follow these steps:
- Set the start date of the project
- If there is a fixed end date add that to the chart
- Add individual project tasks
- Add accurate estimates for each task remembering that often projects fail because of poor estimates in the planning phase
- Allocate people to the tasks
- Determine which tasks can be performed in parallel (i.e. are not dependent on any other task)
- Determine which tasks have dependencies on other tasks and link their end/start dates
- Add start and end dates to tasks
- Add visual markers to show important milestones
- Add a visual representation to show completed and overdue tasks
You will now have a basic project schedule showing the initial time frame in which you can expect to complete it. However, projects rarely stick to their initial plan so changes will happen, but if all dependencies are shown and estimates are as accurate as possible then the chart will be easy to update without impacting the foundation of your schedule.
The advantage of using software rather than a simple spreadsheet to manage your project is that the updates will be easier to manage and control.
The Problem with using a Gantt Chart
Gantt charts are an ideal PM tool when a project is not too complex, they are quick and easy to put together and to update. But if you have a project with large numbers of tasks, a large team/teams and multiple dependencies then some of the benefits of using a chart, particularly the clear visual representation of the schedule and its status, cease to be advantages. Similarly on projects where the priority of individual tasks is particularly important for a successful delivery a Gantt chart does not help to handle and manage task priorities nor show their relative importance to the project and each other.
However, even on very complex projects a Gantt chart can still be used, but it can only be effective if it is used to show high-level activities with the detailed tasks and dependencies scheduled and controlled in a different tool such as a PERT diagram, otherwise its benefits are lost.
Gantt charts and knowledge of Microsoft Excel are inextricably linked. When a project's complexity stretched beyond the possibilities of a Gantt chart, look to an advanced Excel course to develop your skills to new possibilities.
Parallel Project Training has contributed this article for Findcourses.co.uk. Parallel Project Training is an accredited training group specialised in Project Management training solutions and a recognised professional adviser to project managers in the United Kingdom.