When starting a major project—like implementing new software or hardware—it can be difficult to keep track of all the moving parts. From selecting the technology to hiring consultants to training or educating staff members on how to use a new system, there’s a lot on your plate.
One handy tool can help you figure out not only how the trains will run on time, but when they start–and who’s conducting them. A Gantt chart, named by their creator, Henry Gantt, is a graphic representation of a schedule in which activities are displayed in date-placed, horizontal bars expressing duration. That’s a pretty academic definition—I think of it more like a train yard. Each row in the chart is like a set of rails, which is a task, process, or other part of your project. The columns—which could be a week, a month, etc.—are like the train cars. And then you draw a bar, which is your train, to see how many cars are on each train for each process.
OK, maybe this train metaphor is running out of steam. But Gantt charts will not–they’ll see you through your entire project, and there are a few different methods at your disposal to create them. Sure, you could try to draw it out on paper, but that’s not very 21st Century, and since this is a tech blog, I’m going to jump straight to the technology.
The cheapest solution is the DIY method: simply create your Gantt chart by hand in a spreadsheet, using Microsoft Excel or Google Drive. This can certainly work for many situations, as you either already have the software or can get it for free. You’re also not limited in how many charts or projects you have, or how you want to format the chart. On the other hand, if you’re not familiar with how to create a Gantt chart, this method won’t hold your hand, so there will be a bit of a learning curve.
If you prefer, there are a number of online tools you can use to create Gantt charts to be shared with or edited by other staff members working on the project. Most tools will offer a free trial, and pricing will likely depend on the number of users, how many projects you can create at one time, or how many resources you can manage. Below are a few lower-cost options you might consider:
Ganttic (http://www.ganttic.com/). Ganttic has a free version that allows charts with up to 10 resources, and paid plans start at $14/year/resource.
SmartSheet (http://www.smartsheet.com/product-tour/gantt-charts). SmartSheet’s pricing starts at $14/month, and higher tiers offer reporting, the ability to see how your staff members are allocated, and additional users.
TeamGantt (https://teamgantt.com/). TeamGantt’s pricing starts at $29/month for the Basic plan, with up to five users and 10 concurrent projects.
If your organization frequently needs to manage large projects, consider a project management system like Basecamp or Central Desktop. In addition to providing a central space for everyone working on the project to share and collaborate on documents, create a central calendar, and assign tasks to individuals, some also provide some form of Gantt chart tool, either included in the product or as an add-on. If your organization already uses a project management tool, it’s worth checking to see if it includes Gantt charts before seeking out another online tool.
So, there you have it, the Gantt Chart Express. If you haven’t used a Gantt chart before when planning a project, now you know how. And if you already have, then thanks for sticking around through the remedial course.