Why Your Project Needs a Good Gantt Chart
Gantt charts are great way to illustrate and share project schedules. A well designed Gantt chart is still the best way to show the dependencies between the tasks and deliverables that make up your project. A good Gantt chart should also make sense to the wider team - it should give everyone an overview of the project and the sequence of tasks and deliverables that need to happen before the project is complete.
How do you create a good Gantt chart?
- Understand the project. Break down the project into smaller parts - you want a manageable sets of tasks and deliverables. A lot of project managers start by creating work breakdown structure. Break down each major component of the project into smaller constituent parts, keep going until you can sensibly estimate the time required complete each task. The Prince2 project management method uses product breakdown structures - similar to work breakdown structures but with more emphasis on actual deliverable components rather than activity.
- Understand your audience. Who’s going to look at the Gantt chart? A project manager will understandably want to see more detail than the wider project team. It’s good to be able to create a simpler, higher level summary Gantt chart that gives interested stakeholders a digestible overview of the project.
- Build in some contingency and don’t forget to take into account team availability when scheduling tasks. Holidays can have a big impact - particularly if your project runs over the summer months. Don’t assume full-time team members will do 5 days a week on the project.
- Get the level of detail right. Detail is important but very fine grained project plans are difficult to follow and hard to keep up to date. Step back and think about the tasks and deliverables that really matter to you. Don’t try to micromanage the project - it’s too easy to get lost in the detail when you should be looking at the bigger picture.
- Get the right mix of tasks and milestones. Sometimes it’s good to think in terms of deliverables - actual completed bits of work - rather than process. Put the deliverables into the Gantt chart as milestones (zero day durations) that show something tangible that should have been produced by a particular date. Get a bit more focused on deliverables.
- Identify owners for tasks and put that information on the Gantt chart. Make sure everyone knows who is responsible for what.
Modern project management software takes a lot of the pain out of creating and updating Gantt charts. MS Project works for the power user - it‘s a good choice for any project manager who wants to integrate project planning with resource scheduling and tracking. Newer Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions such as Smartsheet are simpler to use and make it easier to share up to date plans with colleagues.