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A Gantt chart is the creation of engineer and management consultant Henry Gantt, who needed a visual tool to plan projects and subsequently monitor their progress. Although the exact look and feel of a Gantt chart can vary, they all contain two essential components. The first is a set of data fields that contain all of the task information for the project and the second is a display window that gives a visual representation, typically a bar chart, of the tasks and their relationship to each other. A Gantt chart can vary in size from just a few tasks, such as for a bathroom renovation in your home, to the tens of thousands of tasks that would make up an interstate freeway construction project. It is the primary tool used in modern project management and is essential for complex projects.
A Gantt chart allows project managers to quickly see what has been completed and which tasks remain. With internet networks and cloud computing, several project managers can even work simultaneously on one Gantt chart, which serves as a living document showing the state of the project at any given time.
Before the advent of project management methods, a majority of large projects would inevitably suffer from some amount of schedule or budget “creep”. One small delay would lead to delays in all subsequent tasks, resulting in a domino effect that cause the project to fall further and further behind schedule. Delays in scheduling typically lead to increased costs as well, since workers may have to wait around until their delayed task can begin adding on more billable hours.
Gantt chart advantages
A Gantt chart helps to avoid schedule delays and budget increases in two ways. The first is by requiring the project manager to thoroughly think through a project in order to enter all of the required information into the Gantt chart. By going through the process of identifying every task and determining their chronological relationship in order to create a WBS and a network diagram (the recommended prerequisites for creating a Gantt chart), the project manager “walks” his or herself through every stage of the project and often uncovers tasks or conflicts previously overlooked. The second way a Gantt chart helps to avoid schedule delays and budget increases is by serving as a living document that shows the current state of the project at any given time. If there is a change in any element of a project, the Gantt chart will instantly show how that one change impacts every other aspect of the project. The project manager can then move around other tasks or change the cost structure to attempt to meet the project’s original goals. Since every project is subject to delays and last-minute changes, a Gantt chart allows a project manager to build some buffers into the project to absorb the negative impact of these changes. It allows you to build in some wiggle room up front.
Creating a Gantt chart
Before a Gantt chart can be created, two other project management documents should be completed. The first is a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS), which is a pyramid diagram that visually breaks the project down into its individual tasks. A task should take no more than a day to complete; if more time is required, it can likely be broken down further. The process of creating a WBS is an essential mental exercise since it identifies every unit of work that will be required, often bringing overlooked tasks into plain sight. Once all tasks are identified in a WBS, their relative relationships should be recorded, followed by chronological ordering, in a Network Diagram. Establishing precedence and successor relationships for every task will allow the project manager to identify start and end dates for each task, which is essential for calculating an accurate project completion date, not to mention accurate resource requirements.
Although a rudimentary Gantt chart can be manually created using spreadsheet or word processing applications, the majority of Gantt charts for large projects are created with project management software such as Microsoft Project®, Basecamp, or Zoho Projects. The list of available software products is seemingly endless and provides options for every type of user and every type of budget. There are many advantages associated with advanced project management software, such as Microsoft Project®, including the ability to easily set task precedence, to allocate resources, to have several contributors working off the same version, and to generate impressive reports. The disadvantage is the learning curve for a new user, although many software options offer free tutorials to quickly bring new customers up to speed. There are also tutorials for sale and consultants who offer specialized training services; these may be beneficial to a new user who has a specific type of project in mind.
For more information on project management documentation and Gantt charts, please contact Bioedge Consulting for a free consultation.