- Gantt charts are a convenient way to visualize project tasks and their relationships, and were developed in the 1890s by Karol Adamiecki.
- Gantt charts help keep projects organized and running smoothly by allowing you to see task durations, overlaps, and deadlines at a glance.
- Gantt charts show how tasks relate to each other, overlap, and when they start and end.
If you’re part of a team working on a project or even managing the team itself, it’ll be fairly easy to see the benefits of using a Gantt chart to visualize your progress and organize the workload. But the process of creating one of these charts may not be as obvious. While they have their uses, Gantt charts can be rather counterintuitive, especially if you’re not too familiar with spreadsheets. In this article, we’re going to explore what Gantt charts are, why they’re useful, and explain in plain English how to create a Gantt chart in Excel.
What Are Gantt Charts, and What Are They Used For?
Gantt charts are a convenient and easy-to-follow way to visualize the tasks involved within a project, including how they relate to each other, overlap, and when they start and end. They were developed a long time ago, in the 1890s, by an engineer called Karol Adamiecki. However, 15 years later, Henry Gantt came up with his own version, which became more popular and the name stuck.
Keeping your finger on the pulse of your project is critical to its overall success. It’s easy to miss a deadline, forget a task, or start one too late, especially if many people are collaborating together on the same project. The last thing you want is for your productivity to suffer. One of the best ways to keep your project organized and running smoothly is by using a Gantt chart.
In simple terms, the tasks involved are listed along the vertical axis on the left of the chart, while the duration of each task is listed along the horizontal axis at the top. In essence, a Gantt chart is a type of bar chart, so each task or activity is represented by a horizontal bar.
How to Create a Gantt Chart in Excel in 9 Simple Steps
Using a Gantt chart, you can quickly see all the tasks within a project when they start and finish, and how much they overlap with each other. So, without further ado, let’s get into how to create one.
Step 1: Open Excel and Enter Your Data
The first step is to open Excel and enter and format your data. The easiest way to do this is by listing all your tasks in one column, the start dates in a subsequent second column, and the durations in a third and final column. It’s simplest at this point to enter your start dates as numerical values, e.g., 0 for the first date, 6 for the fifth date, and so on.
Step 2: Highlight Your Data
Next, you need to highlight your data, starting with the tasks column (including the heading) and ending with the last cell in your durations column.
Step 3: Create a Stacked Bar Chart
After that, click the “Insert” tab along the top, then navigate to the chart section. Click the drop-down arrow to reveal more options, and select “Stacked Bar.”
Step 4: Enter Your Chart Name
It’s a good idea at this stage to pick a name for your chart so that its purpose is clear. You can do this by double-clicking on the title field of your chart and typing the desired name.
Step 5: Reverse the Task Order
By default, the order of tasks will be in the wrong order, with the last task coming first. To rectify this, double-click on your chart to bring up the formatting sidebar. Open the “Vertical Axis” tab, and click the checkbox for “Categories in reverse order.” This will reverse your tasks so that they make sense.
Step 6: Remove the Unnecessary Bar
We used a stacked bar chart so that the proportions of the durations would be correct, but we don’t actually need to see the start date bars, as this just complicates matters. To remove these, double-click on the bars to open the “Series ‘Start Date’” tab. From here, click the “Fill” button, and select “No Fill” at the bottom. This will make the bars disappear.
Step 7: Scale the Chart to the Finish Date
Your chart will probably have a horizontal axis that’s unnecessarily long. To correct this, double-click on the horizontal axis to open the “Horizontal Axis” tab. Next, change the number in the “Maximum” field under the “Bounds” section to your last numerical date plus whatever the duration of this task is. In our example, our last task has a start date of 19 and a duration of 1, so we’ve entered 20 here. This will shorten the horizontal axis so that the finish time of the last task lines up with the end of the axis.
Step 8: Delete the Legend for Clarity
Naturally, Excel charts automatically populate themselves with a legend, representing the titles of each axis. However, we don’t really need one to see what the Gantt chart is about, and it just makes the rest of the chart smaller. To remove the legend, simply double-click it and press the delete or backspace keys.
Step 9: Change Minimum Bounds to Visualize Dates
The last step is a little tricky, but will make your chart a lot easier to understand. As a quirk, Excel calculates its first-ever date as January 0, 1900. To change your start duration to the correct date, you need to calculate how much past Excel’s first date it is numerically.
For our example, our start date is July 1, 2023, which is 45108 days after January 0, 1900. Therefore, we enter this in the “Minimum” field under the “Bounds” tab, and this changes our horizontal axis to the correct dates. Since you know July 1, 2023 is equal to 45108, you should be able to adjust this to your date relatively easily, i.e., by adding 365 for each year, or 30, 31, 28, or 29, depending on the month. After that, simply add the remaining days to get to the correct day of the month. It should be noted that you don’t need to change the maximum bound at this stage, since it’s already correctly proportioned in relation to the minimum bound.
To summarize, creating a Gantt chart in Excel is a relatively simple process, once you know what steps to follow. It’s crucial to organize your data correctly, as well as choose the stacked bar type of chart. By removing unnecessary elements, i.e., the legend and the start date bar, and by formatting the dates, you can easily visualize your project at a glance. Using Gantt charts is a great way to keep an eye on the duration of the tasks in your project, how they overlap each other, and when the overall project is completed. You can adjust your durations as time goes on, as well as add new tasks as and when you need to. Understanding how to create Gantt charts in Excel will help you keep your projects organized and your teams working together effectively.