In the early part of the 20th century, Henry Gantt created charts that recorded a worker's progress toward task completion—allowing supervisors to quickly observe if production schedules were behind, ahead, or on track.
Gantt charts revolutionized project management, helping to manage large construction projects like the Hoover Dam and the interstate highway network.
Gantt charts were originally written out on pieces of paper. However, with the rise of computer technology in the 1980s, modern Gantt charts became increasingly complex and elaborate. Today, Gantt charts are one of the most widely used project management tools in modern business.
Utility of Gantt charts
A Gantt chart is a project management tool that illustrates work completed over a period of time in relation to the time planned for the work. It typically includes two sections. The left side outlines a list of tasks, while the right side contains a timeline with schedule bars that visualize work. Gantt charts may also include start and end dates, milestones, dependencies between tasks, and assignees.
Today, Gantt chart makers and tools are often referred to as roadmap tools. To keep up with the demands of modern software development, roadmap tools like Jira Software include features like a collapsible task structure and resource allocation management panels.
This helps teams maintain a coherent project strategy despite the iterative nature of the software development process. Jira includes two roadmap tools to create Gantt charts for your projects: Roadmaps, which create plans around Jira issues assigned to a team, and Advanced Roadmaps, which do the same thing across teams and companies.
How are Gantt charts used in project management?
While there are many examples of Gantt charts, project managers use data from Gantt charts for three main reasons:
Building and managing projects
Gantt charts visualize the building blocks of a project and organize it into smaller, more manageable tasks. The resulting small tasks are scheduled on the same page as the Gantt chart's timeline, along with dependencies between tasks, assignees, and milestones.
Determining logistics and task dependencies
Gantt charts can be employed to evaluate the logistical aspects of a project schedule. Task dependencies ensure that a new task can start only after completing the preceding task. If a task is delayed, the system automatically reschedules dependent issues. This can be especially useful when planning project tasks in a multi-team environment.
Monitoring the progress of a project
As teams log time towards issues in their plan, project managers can monitor the health of projects and make adjustments as necessary. Gantt charts can include release dates, milestones, and other important metrics to better track progress across teams and companies.
Benefits of using Gantt charts
There are two main reasons teams use Gantt charts throughout the project management world. They make it easier to create complicated project management plans, especially involving multiple teams and changing deadlines. In short, Gantt charts help teams plan work around deadlines and properly allocate resources.
Project managers also use Gantt charts to maintain a bird’s-eye view of projects. They depict the relationship between the start and end dates of individual tasks, milestones, and dependent tasks. Modern Gantt chart programs such as Jira Software with Roadmaps and Advanced Roadmaps synthesize information and illustrate how choices impact deadlines.
Gantt charts in waterfall vs. agile planning
Whether you like the waterfall or agile methodology, Gantt charts can be powerful tools for project managers.
Waterfall and Gantt charts
The waterfall project planning model follows a linear approach, collecting stakeholder and customer requirements at the beginning of the project. Project managers then create a sequential project plan with milestones and deadlines for various tasks.
Every component of a project relies on the completion of preceding tasks. Teams that focus on processes, such as construction or manufacturing, favor this approach. It places less emphasis on ideation or problem-solving, as they need to plan out the steps of the entire project in advance.
Gantt charts are typically preferred by project managers using the waterfall methodology. They determine a project schedule by breaking projects into manageable chunks of work and assigning start and end dates.
It’s also helpful in identifying important milestones within a project. Milestones are accomplishments that teams should achieve on time or ahead of schedule. Milestones are optional but highly recommended.
Agile and Gantt charts
On the other hand, agile project management teams value flexibility and adaptability. Instead of creating a full project timeline with set dates, agile teams break projects into two-week iterations called sprints.
At the beginning of each sprint, teams plan their work and schedule it based on project goals. Once a sprint is closed, accomplishments and developments arising over the previous two weeks influence the plan for the following sprint.
A Gantt chart can show how changing one task has the potential to impact the broader plan or product roadmap. This is essential for agile teams since stakeholder feedback is a major component of their methodology.
How to use Gantt charts
Jira Software comes with two different roadmapping features, each with a slightly different focus. Jira Roadmaps track work assigned to a single team, while Advanced Roadmaps track performance for larger, cross-organizational project planning.
Jira Roadmaps: Project-specific Gantt charts
The screenshot above from Roadmaps shows a project-specific Gantt chart commonly used by teams. The chart shows how teams are progressing toward their goals, and the collapsible work breakdown structure allows project managers to get a bird’s-eye view of the crucial stories within a project. Jira offers a free Gantt chart template or project management template that also includes Gantt charts.
Advanced Roadmaps: High-level organizational Gantt charts
Roadmaps offer quick and easy planning that helps teams better manage their dependencies and track progress on the whole project in real time. These project or team-level roadmaps are useful for team-level planning of large pieces of work.
For planning, managing project scheduling and resources, and tracking work across multiple teams or even your entire company, Advanced Roadmaps empower teams at scale.
Programs designed with cross-team workflows offer more advanced tools like capacity management and automatic scheduling features to help create more complex plans. They also offer a variety of view settings—allowing teams to customize Gantt charts to highlight certain aspects of project schedules and plans when presenting.
Project management tools leveraging Gantt charts
Project managers and industry leaders use modern project management software like Jira Software with Roadmaps and Advanced Roadmaps to help companies meet their goals.
Whether planning a complex project or monitoring your company’s project status and progress, Gantt chart tools like these are scalable and equally applicable to the portfolio, large solution, program, and team levels, per SAFe® guidelines.