Basic Steps to Managing Projects with Gantt Charts

A Gantt chart can be very useful in planning and carrying out a project. There are a number of ways to create a Gantt chart: from pen and paper or whiteboard to very complex software programs.

This article will discuss the five basic steps that are required to create a basic Gantt chart. The examples presented make use of the automated tools in SmartDraw to create a Gantt chart.

Step 1: Develop a Work Breakdown Structure

What is a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)? It is a process by which a project is planned by breaking it into easily definable and understandable goals, milestones and tasks. Listing the major components first is the first step in developing a WBS. This can be done by in a word processor, spreadsheet, or using a Gantt chart program.

A key element in the WBS is to plan for intended outcomes, rather than planning actions. That is, understand what the goals of the project are, define key milestones, and then start the process of breaking those pieces down into tasks. If there are fixed dates that need to be met, make sure those are shown in the Gantt chart. This way, as the topics are broken into tasks, it will become clear upfront whether more resources will need to be added to meet these deadlines.

After the major topics are determined, the process of breaking these into tasks is next. Depending on the complexity of each task, the project planner may find it necessary to continue breaking these items into sub-tasks until they are very specific.

For many project planners, a visual model of the WBS is easier to work with than the "laundry list" dictated by the Gantt chart format. A mind map is ideal for this because it lets you easily see the work breakdown. A good Gantt chart software program, such as SmartDraw, will allow you to work in Gantt chart or mind map view, with relational data that automatically updates both views when changes are made in either one.

It is estimated that more than 90% of projects are late. The primary reason for this is that they weren't properly planned with a well-thought-out work breakdown structure. The more detailed the breakdown, the easier it is to plan, organize and schedule a project accurately.

Develop a work breakdown

Step 2: Assign Tasks

One of the most critical pieces in how to build a Gantt chart is the distribution of work. There are several things to consider.

  • Who is most qualified to complete this task?
  • What is their availability vis-à-vis their currently scheduled workload?
  • What is a reasonable expectation of their time needed to complete the task(s)?
  • Will additional people or resources be necessary to get these tasks completed on time?

For our example using SmartDraw to create a Gantt chart, we have two options for assigning tasks. We can either input the name of the person assigned each task directly into the Gantt chart, or we can send any task to an integrated Trello® board.

Assign project task

Step 3: Evaluate Task Dependencies

One of the benefits of creating a Gantt chart for project planning is that it makes it easier to see dependencies. This is a situation where one task is dependent upon the completion or outcome of another. For example, a webmaster can't build a web page unless the copywriter and illustrator have finished their tasks. Identifying these dependent relationships is critical, as delays in the primary steps will almost certainly ripple throughout the entire project. Automated software will allow you to add dependencies as you create your Gantt chart. If you're doing this by hand or using a less sophisticated program, you'll need to remember to do this crucial step manually.

Gantt chart task dependency

Step 4: Share & Evaluate the Plan with Your Team

When the Gantt chart is complete, distribute it to team members for review and feedback. It's important that each member of the project buys off on the plan upfront. This helps to ensure that the plan is accurate and reasonable. It's much easier to allow for contingencies, plan additional resources, or even propose a revised schedule at this stage, rather than at a critical juncture later.

Share project plan with team