The Gantt chart is a powerful graphic tool for visualising all the tasks and activities in a classic project. It has been in use for decades, and it played a key role in the famous Hoover Dam construction project. The Gantt chart is named after American engineer and management consultant Henry L. Gantt, who used it to provide a visual picture of the Hoover Dam project so that everyone involved could see when the individual construction phases were scheduled to take place. Today a cast bronze version of the original Gantt chart can still be seen at the Hoover Dam.
It looks a bit like a bar chart with a horizontal timeline along the top and a list of tasks on the left. It gives project managers a means of illustrating the project schedule and progress in a way that is easy for everyone to understand. Like a project phase plan, the chart shows the individual steps in the project over time and helps the project manager to plan and coordinate the project. Initially the tasks are grouped together for key project phases and then itemised later on in the chart. The itemised tasks are performed independently of the other tasks and specified right down to the tiniest detail. When the task has been completed the project manager receives a task update. As a result of this, the Gantt chart always reflects the current project situation at any one time and the project manager knows exactly how the project is progressing. In other words it’s a very effective tool in the project manager’s arsenal.
Perfect project control
The Gantt chart is a simple and indispensable tool for efficient project management because it provides all the information, including milestones and resources, required for project planning and scheduling. It keeps the project team on track and informed from start to finish. The project manager can also add further information to the chart about efficiency or performance in each project phase.
One of the main advantages of this project management tool is that it is always up to date. Everyone in the project team knows exactly how far the project has progressed, and the project manager benefits from a simple overview of project deadlines and dates. It is this simplicity that makes the Gantt chart suitable for all kinds of projects, from skyscraper construction to building a garden shed. It also differentiates between concurrent activities and tasks that have to be performed in chronological order. So the Gantt chart facilitates the effective management of related tasks in a project. After first being used in the Hoover Dam project, this project management tool was also instrumental to the development of the Ronald Reagan National Airport and the US interstate highway network.
Although creating and regularly updating a Gantt chart is a time-consuming process, this time and effort is more than recouped during the project, and once the project manager realises how valuable the Gantt chart has been to the successful outcome of his project he’ll be happy to use it in future projects. This visualisation tool offers clear benefits to project managers who don’t just want to focus on time and costs, but also effectively manage material and human resources.
Creating a Gantt chart
In small projects it’s easy to create a Gantt chart with spreadsheet software such as Excel, though project managers with IT experience generally prefer to use special software. Another useful function of a Gantt chart is that minor changes can be made to resources and deadlines so that the project manager can adapt the project schedule to the project’s progress, which simplifies the job of managing the project.
The Gantt chart is a widely used project management tool because it provides such an excellent overview of the project as a whole. This is important because, however good the project manager is, delays and unexpected incidents are part and parcel of any project. When they happen, the Gantt chart can be quickly and simply updated, and the new information can be transparently communicated to all project team members. In some projects, depending on their type and scope, the Gantt chart can also include additional data to provide an even more detailed project picture. Obviously, the chart alone doesn’t guarantee the successful outcome of a project because it can only illustrate what the project manager and his team have planned. And it’s important not to underestimate how much work has to be invested in creating a Gantt chart. There are naturally many other effective project management tools.
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