Microsoft’s spreadsheet application Excel, found within the Office suite of programs, allows users to input, analyze, and create pictographic representations of various types of data. The most basic and often-used parts of Excel is the spreadsheet, containing various cells into which data may be entered, then analyzed, but just below the surface of this application, there is a plethora of charts, graphs, and other methods of analyzing data, and the one we will be discussing today is the Gantt chart, created by management consultant Henry Gantt in the 1910’s. This bar chart allows the user to break down a project into its component parts, then formulate a schedule, illustrating start and finish dates, as well as various relationships between project activities.
Today, we will tell you a bit about Gantt charts, how to create one in Excel, and some of the benefits of this handy tool. If you happen to be new to the world of Excel, we have a course for newbies that will introduce you to the aspects of this program.
Gantt Chart Basics
As mentioned before, a Gantt chart is used for project management when there will be a significant amount of work needed over a long course of time, weeks, months, or even years. If you’re interested in finding out exactly what a project manager does, we have two articles that can tell you: this one shows you what they do, and this one shows you how they do it. Gantt charts allow you to differentiate between dependent and independent components of the project, indicating to those using the chart whether one aspect has to wait for another to finish, or if it may start in conjunction with others.
As convenient as Gantt charts are for specific situations, they may not be for everyone. Below are some of the positive and negative aspects to using a Gantt chart.
- Clarity This is a huge factor, and perhaps the Gantt chart’s biggest advantage. When beginning a project, there are many seemingly disparate levels to it, and the Gantt chart puts them all together on one page and illustrates how they all work together to achieve a single goal. Not only can the chart show how the independent parts function, but also how teams and other dependent components are reliant upon each other for the greater good. This alleviates confusion and keeps the team working on the same page.
- Illustrates Task Relationships From the project manager on down to the waste management team, everyone will be able to look at this chart and understand what tasks can be started now and which ones need to wait for other tasks to be done. This results in smoother work flow, and increased productivity, all necessary factors for a timely and on-budget project completion.
- Visibility It may prove necessary for a project manager to put up this chart so everyone can see it and be on the same page. When all workers can see where they’re needed now and in the future, there should be no reason to hit a snag. Interested in project management as a possible profession? Our course in project management essentials will show you the ropes.
- May Get Too Complex If a project becomes a bit too large, necessitating multiple people to manage a project, it may prove a bit unwieldy for a smaller business, which may used to only one person managing things. There are specific programs out there that are meant to deal with more complex projects, leaving the more basic ones to the Gantt chart. If your project might just be a bit much for a Gantt chart, this course on Microsoft Project can teach you this program for more complex projects.
- No Indication of Workload The bars that show how long a specific task should take, but does not provide details as to how complex it is. Special attention should be paid to this, so that man power is not doled out according to bar size, but task complexity.
- Needs Updating Because things are always changing and popping up, the Gantt chart often needs to be updated to account for any changes in plans, budgets, output, etc. It’s necessary to be able to quickly and easily change any information.
How to Set Up a Chart
Excel does not have a built-in Gantt chart option, so Excel users who want to put project information into this format must customize one of the ready-made charts to their needs. Here we will provide a step-by-step process of how to construct a Gantt chart in Excel, along with accompanying screenshots.
- Because Excel doesn’t have a Gantt chart option, you must use data that you have already entered into the standard spreadsheet. To do this, first open a blank spreadsheet, then list on the left side the tasks to be completed, along with pertinent information regarding when and how long these tasks will take.
- Next, this data must be entered into a bar chart. To do this, select the Insert tab from the top of the page. Then, click the Bar chart icon, and from the drop-down menu, choose Stacked Bar Chart, after which, a blank chart will appear onscreen.
- Now you must add the information from the spreadsheet into the chart you just created. Do this by right-clicking the newly added empty chart, and click Select Data.
- Add the two series you desire to the Horizontal Axis Labels box – in this example, the series we want to add are Start Date and Duration. Click OK.
- Next, get rid of the legend by clicking on it and pressing Delete. Then, fix any problems with the order of tasks or any other formatting issues by right clicking on the tasks, then clicking Format Axis. If the tasks are backwards, click Categories in reverse order. Click close.
- In this example, we want the red portion of the bars gone, so right click the red bars, then click Format Data Series, then Fill, then No fill. Click Close.
- Format your chart any other ways you prefer. You should end up with something that looks like this:
Now that you are familiar with Mr. Gantt’s nifty chart, you may want to make use of it should you happen to have a potentially complex project needing your attention in the future. As mentioned before, you have to create your own chart from existing data, and if this seems a bit daunting, this course on Excel charts will get you started creating them. Otherwise, get started whipping up this convenient project helper, and get the most out of Excel and the most out of your team.