How to manage your projects hassle-free with Gantt charts
When working on a project in more or less large teams, balancing all the incoming tasks can get tricky real fast. From balancing different stakeholder needs to managing the progress on certain things as they happen in order to kick off other steps in the chain with that as its prerequisite, project management is definitely a skill of its own that is of the utmost necessity in almost every industry.
With the working world so quickly changing in terms of market players, operational strategies, and even industry best practices, you’re going to need to be agile with your projects and capabilities in order to properly manage your resources.
Saying this is, obviously, easier than doing it. Keeping an eye on all the moving parts of a project can be dizzying, even for the most experienced manager. Large corporations can add complexity by including parallel processes that need to be done alongside the main tasks, like compliance and legal necessities. Hence, having an orderly system to keep tabs on different things can be incredibly helpful in edging you along the project’s progress.
But to-do lists and calendar notifications can only do so much for you when juggling different responsibilities and tasks. This problem is especially seen when you manage numerous projects at once, risking crossing wires with two or more separate initiatives. So having a centralized work order flow of your project can help you better understand where the project is currently in its entirety. That’s why in this article, we will be talking about the much-favored project management tool: the Gantt chart.
Gantt Charts: An Overview
The concept of utilizing charts and different tabulated data sets have been thrown around in project management for a while now, with Gantt charts being a particularly popular choice for task organization and maintenance. But when the Gantt chart was first introduced into this space, it was considered one of the utmost revolutions to take the world of project management. While there have been previous “prototype” Gantt charts before, such as the likes of Karol Adamiecki’s harmonogram, it was Henry Gantt who developed the first official version of it between the years of 1910 and 1915.
A strong management consultant in his own right, Henry Gantt was also considered one of the leading minds in scientific management. Working around the overarching problem of how best to let managers know whether a project was ahead of schedule or falling behind, Henry Gantt would develop the Gantt chart alongside many other different tools. It was with Gantt charts however that most other workers best resonated with as it showed them productivity and efficiencies from an easy visual perspective.
Benefits of a Gantt Chart
A Gantt chart’s main feature was its ability to showcase what Henry Gantt understood as work “balances”. These balances fell within two main focuses, that of “man’s work” and “daily balance of work”, which essentially compares the work that has been done and is to be done by individual workers and the work in the day that is done and to be done in totality.
What managers saw useful from this setup was the essential high overview perspective that Gantt charts allowed them to have. They would be able to see the entire project’s progress from a vantage point that allowed them to pinpoint where exactly they can get more efficiencies and where stand to improve.
Gantt charts are designed to be fairly intuitive, with most of the major features being relatively self-explanatory when it comes to what information it is conveying. Smaller details and specific readings can be easily taught as well, with many new Gantt users able to pick up at least the key beats they need to begin organizing their tasks better.
As Gantt charts remain relatively intuitive to understand, the wealth of efficiencies it creates for your team isn’t something to downplay either. A primary Gantt chart function is to provide ease of tracking for the manager, and having these charts made can help users find bottlenecks in processes as well as resource constraints that might affect successive steps in the chain.
Alongside these hurdles, you can also begin finding overlaps and cross-dependencies that you might’ve missed in your initial planning session. It’s likely that when you build your initial Gantt chart, you’ll miss out on some details that can have a material impact on your project, such as additional compliance checks or requirements to be reviewed by a third party. But on the flip side, you’re likely to uncover some overlaps that can better create efficiencies once you realize you can scrap one task as it’s already completed by another.
Gantt Chart Alternatives
For completeness' sake, it’s important to also understand that Gantt charts have their own shortcomings as well, especially when they are used incorrectly. Despite all its benefits, Gantt charts do still need a bit of training in order to be properly utilized in the real world. This can make Gantt chart usage time-consuming at a set-up as well as be overly complicated for some first-time users.
For those who aren’t so familiar with Gantt charts yet or would like to avoid bombarding people with too much information, you can use a pared-down version of a Gantt chart known as a project timeline. The essential aspects of tracking can be seen in a project timeline, but the exact duration information, people involved, and other more granular details are left out.
On the other hand, if you want to have some more control and even more information regarding each task in your project, a PERT chart might be a good alternative or supporting tool in your project management endeavour. PERT charts have a larger focus on the different interdependent tasks that can help you properly prioritize what you should be covering at any given time.
Using Gantt Charts: A Quick Guide
Gantt charts, especially when starting to use one, can feel daunting for most new to the tool. Luckily, with the ubiquity of online platforms and project management software, you can likely find a useful Gantt chart template that can help you get started on your project management without having to fiddle around too much with the format and layout of the sheet. You can also find some more or less advanced project management templates, which are often made in a dynamic way to reflect any changes you’ll need along the way, saving you time and effort as things move along the project’s progress.
For a better mastery of the tool, it’s best to get used to the following key steps so that you can get started on using Gantt charts with as few barriers as possible.
First, you’ll need to identify both the list of essential project tasks as well as the relationship between the tasks. Indicate how long each task will take as well as identify any tasks that work as a pre-requisite for another as this will have a great effect on your planning process.
Next, you’ll want to put all these tasks in order of a timeline on a project management software or standard data processing spreadsheet. For a better overview, start with the earliest starting tasks and the last final task plotted. Each in-between task can then be inputted based on your team resources, capacity, current status, etc. All these different tasks make up the various rows on your Gantt chart, which will then have their corresponding durations noted in visually highlighted spaces under appropriate dates. Note that if you use a blank spreadsheet you’ll need to highlight and colour cells manually based on duration, as well as format the columns properly to reflect an accurate period of dates with equal spacing. Using project management software can help lessen the manual effort it takes to lay out a Gantt chart.
Essential Information for Gantt Charts
You can have as much information as you’d like on your Gantt chart to better help you understand where you are at any given point in the project, but it’s key to always have specific data points on hand when designing a Gantt chart. Without certain information, a Gantt chart may end up just looking like a project timeline.
You’ll always need to properly define your project start and end dates as these are guard rails to ensure that your project stays on track within a specific period of time. Further defining each project is imperative as well and should have at least a naming convention and clear description attached.
Timeline-wise, you’ll need to properly delineate the different starts and end dates for each task and ensure that the relationship between said tasks is properly identified as well. All tasks should have some sense of connection if there is a task with no relationships it might be considered a “hanging” task, which can delay the progress of your project without actually contributing to it.
There are roughly four different types of task relationships that occur between independent tasks. First is the Finish to Start relationship, which is one of the most standard forms of task relationship as it indicates that one task must be finished before beginning another. A less common one would be Start to Start, where a task can be started in conjunction with another task, either as a requirement or in terms of general efficiencies.
Next is Finish to Finish, where one task cannot be entirely done without the completion of a task previously. You’ll often see this relationship when pertaining to tasks with nested steps, with the main task finishing up after all the sub-tasks are completed. Last is Start to Finish, which is likely the least common task relationship you’ll come across as it covers the relationships where one task cannot conclude unless one is started. You’ll likely encounter this relationship in scenarios of shift schedules across manufacturing jobs.
Things to Avoid with Gantt Charts
With all the great things about Gantt charts, it might be easy to underestimate the importance of utilizing the tool in the correct way to get the most efficiencies out of it. But mistakes do happen, so to best avoid any inefficiencies we’ve also listed some of the most common ways a Gantt chart falls short due to common errors in its usage.
One of the first and most likely overlooked mistakes a project manager can do is to initiate the Gantt chart usage with a lacklustre kick-off. The Gantt chart itself already is a heavy load of information for some, so proper buy-in with your team and a well-made introduction to the tool is key to ensuring everyone is on the same page as you.
Next, a common problem has to do with the identification of relationships between tasks.If you don’t properly understand the different dependencies tasks have with each other, it can be easy to mix up deadlines and create delays in execution. Part of this error can also include the mistake of not properly handing off tasks. If you don’t define how certain tasks are related, then those managing these specific tasks will likely not be sure where to go next and to whom to deliver their results.
Lastly, an all too common issue that occurs with Gantt chart users, especially first-time ones, is that people simply lose track of project progress over time. Gantt charts are incredibly powerful tools to use to better manage your projects, but without consistency through management, you’re likely going to be right back at square one with your project.
Ensure you follow these best practices and avoid the common pitfalls with Gantt charts, and you’ll find your way toward a better management process in the long run.