A Gantt chart is used for planning, scheduling, and tracking projects. It is a horizontal bar chart that serves as a visual tool for project management.
The primary emphasis is showing what steps need to be done and when. The horizontal bars represents activities and the length of the bar represents the amount of time to complete the activity and the planned starting and end points.
It can also illustrates dependent steps, overlapping steps and the extent of time. The chart is regularly updated to quickly show the status of a project at any given time.
This tool is a form of visual management since it allows quick visibility into the start and finish dates of the terminal and summary elements of a project. A Gantt chart allows you to estimate project duration, the sequence of events, and resource allocation.
Visually representing complex projects can help a Project Manager determine critical path elements, potential parallel path events, model various "what-if" scenarios, and better understand best and worst cases.
The chart was developed by Henry Laurence Gantt, born in 1861. He began his career as a mechanical engineer later becoming a management consultant and social scientist. Gantt charts were likely used in the late 1800's but it was around 1917 that Gantt first applied his chart.
The Gantt chart was used to manage projects like the Hoover Dam and the interstate highway system. The chart focuses on the the timing of the project and serve more effectively as a scheduling tool than a cost management or scope management tool.
It is a not as complex (nor detailed) as the Critical Path Method (CPM) or the Program Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT) that was invented by the United States Navy.
The advantage the PERT chart has over the Gantt chart is the illustration of task dependencies. The added detail can make the PERT chart more difficult to interpret, especially on complex projects. Often project management involves a combination of the tracking methods described above, rarely is only one used especially on complex projects.
As with many tools, they started with simple versions and over time, more advanced and comprehensive versions have been generated.
Some of these are very time consuming to create and maintain and without strong familiarity; be careful biting off more than you can chew initially or you may become a victim of a project pitfall called Paralysis from Analysis.
Some of the variations of Gantt charts are shown at www.ganttcharts.com/Examples
The most important thing is to start by keeping it simple. Begin by creating a basic sequence of events or map out your project's DMAIC cycle and timeline for each phase.
Over time, add more detail and dependencies. This chart will become one of the most important tools in your tool kit and every project should have one.
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