Starting a project can be intimidating; keeping it on track is even more difficult. Whether it’s a creative project or extensive campaign, project management is crucial to the success of a project. Having the right tools at your disposal can make managing your project far less complicated. Gantt charts are one of the most popular ways for project teams to break a project into easily manageable sections that can not only improve efficiency, but make it easy to visualize both delegation and progress.
Created in the mid-1890s and further revamped in the early 1900s, Gantt charts aren’t a new concept. Initially used to plan out engineering projects, these management visual aids have since been adopted for a wide variety of purposes. Gantt charts are very involved and look complicated to make, but once you break down the steps, these handy charts can make all the difference when managing large projects.
Get Tiny: The Beginning Phase
In the beginning stages of the project, it may seem like there’s an overwhelming amount of work to do. It’s important to start breaking it down as soon as possible to help not only get a solid grip on what’s going to be required, but also the number of team members who will be needed to complete the project. As pointed out by Lionel Valdellon of Wrike, “Gantt charts help you break down big projects into small chunks so that tasks can be delegated and responsibilities shared.”
When breaking down the project, it can help to start big and then go smaller. As each component is broken down, take notes of the different parts and the bigger groups they belong to. This will help when you start assembling the overall chart. Smaller chunks could include hiring a copywriter, doing research, and choosing design elements.
By breaking everything down into smaller chunks, it can help you and your project team get into the detailed mindset necessary to successfully build a Gantt chart and help you get a grip on the breadth and depth of your project.
Watch the Clock: The Second Phase
Small-sized chunks can help management get a better overall view of the timeline, which is one of the main strengths of Gantt charts. As a visual timeline, Gantt charts will help you see how changes will affect the overall project. Forbes’ Melani Haselmayr points out that Gantt charts are one of the most helpful, comprehensive choices for time-sensitive projects that benefit from establishing a timetable.
It’s important to keep realistic time frames in mind when creating your chart. Gantt charts utilize bars to create a visual of timelines, so it’s possible to change them later, but it’s easier to start off with a realistic timeline than having to shift everything later. Valdellon recommends noting changes in your timeline on the Gantt chart itself so that “you’ll see how every tiny change affects the timing of the entire project — which means more precise planning and accurate deadlines.”
Start Your Build: The Third Phase
Image via Flickr by jean-louis Zimmermann
Now that you have your project broken down into manageable pieces and you’ve established a realistic timeline, it’s time to start building your Gantt chart. Gantt charts consist of phases, tasks, and the overall schedule. The Gantt chart is made up of bars, which indicate “which period a particular task or set of tasks will be completed,” as noted by Project-Management.com. The bars can be color-coded to make it easier to follow with team member names listed next to the bar.
The nice thing about Gantt charts is that they show what is known as the critical path, which is “the sequence of tasks that must individually be completed on time if the whole project is to deliver on time,” according to Mindtools. The critical path looks at the relationship between the different tasks and the overall timeline and can be useful to further delegate tasks. In order to make the critical path clearer, SmartDraw recommends that creators “use lines to connect a task to another if they are dependent on each other. If the completion of one task will trigger the beginning of another, draw a line from the end of the first to the beginning of the second with an arrow pointing to the second to show that it can begin after the first is finished.”
To create the actual overall chart, we recommend using Excel templates or any number of online services that provide Gannt chart programs. By doing it on the computer, it’s easier to keep track of changing timelines and tasks. In addition, you can upload the chart to a cloud server, which makes it accessible to all the team members, or print it out and place it in a common area for everyone to reference.
Keep It Up: Phase Four
Now that your Gannt chart has been created with broken down tasks, delegations, and timelines, it’s time to keep it up. As tasks are completed, mark them complete on the chart to give the team a visual of how far along they are. If new tasks come up, upload them to your chart if you’re using a computer-based one or make space for them on your physical chart to help keep it accurate.
As the project goes along, it becomes more obvious that, as Valdellon points out, “the Gantt chart is an evolving document, one that changes as people complete their parts of the job on time or past their due date.” Updating it regularly can help keep your team on track and make it easier for everyone to see when their tasks are coming due and if any adjustments need to be made to the timeline.
Organizing major projects, like advertising campaigns and media efforts, are far easier when you’re able to break them down and make a visual aid to help track progress and the necessary tasks in order to keep to a realistic timeline. Gantt charts are just one of many organizational aids available, but its strong visual components make it a solid, easy-to-follow tool.