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What is a Gantt chart? A guide to mapping your project timelines

Julia Martins contributor headshotJulia Martins
January 23rd, 2024
12 min read
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A Gantt chart is a horizontal bar chart used to illustrate a project’s schedule and related tasks or events during the project lifecycle. Find out how this type of chart can help you map tasks and keep deliverables on track.

Maybe you’ve heard the term Gantt chart used around the workplace or in a project kickoff meeting. The problem is, you’re not quite sure what that is, how it helps with project management, or how to make one. 

While these charts can get quite complex, the basics aren’t hard to nail. In our guide, you’ll get a clear breakdown of what Gantt charts are, when to use them, tips for creating one, and more.

What is a Gantt chart?

A Gantt chart is a horizontal bar chart used to illustrate the timeline of a project and its tasks. This gives your team a visual overview of project information like your project schedule, upcoming milestones, and overall project timeline.

Each horizontal bar within the chart represents a task, and the length of each bar represents the amount of time that step or task will take. When you zoom out to look at the full picture, these charts give project managers and project teams an overview of what work needs to get done, who’s doing it, and when.

Gantt charts typically include the following components:

  • Tasks

  • Task start date

  • Task duration

  • Task end date

  • Task owner

  • Milestones

Most Gantt charts also offer additional context about how project tasks connect to each other, who they’re assigned to, and what important deadlines and milestones are coming up. With a dynamic timeline, team members have at-a-glance insight into what they’re responsible for and how their work impacts the project as a whole.

Create a Gantt chart template

History of the Gantt chart

Polish engineer Karol Adamiecki created the first iteration of a Gantt chart in 1896, which he called the harmonogram. Adamiecki published his findings in Russian and Poli

sh, which made them difficult to access in English-speaking countries. In 1910, American mechanical engineer Henry Gantt independently popularized a similar chart in the United States, which he devised in order to represent how long factory workers spent on a given task. These two systems have since been merged to create what we know today as the modern-day Gantt chart.

After tracking factory employees’ tasks, these charts became a popular way to track project schedules. Originally, these charts were drawn on paper, which meant that whenever the schedule changed, the charts had to be redrawn. Later, project managers used pieces of paper or blocks to represent the task bars, so they could move them around as needed.

Gantt chart example

Studying this example of a Gantt chart is helpful for understanding how to map out a project lifecycle effectively. 

[Product ui] Gantt chart project, organized timeline view in Asana with dependencies and due dates (Timeline)
  • Initial steps: The project starts with the "Identify key stakeholders" activity, which lays the groundwork for all other tasks that follow.

  • Planning phase and project launch: Tasks like "Map out dependencies" are scheduled alongside "Define project goals," due by December 15 to indicate tasks that can occur simultaneously. While the "Kick off project" action establishes a key milestone and planning deadline.

  • Task management: Tasks such as "Measure performance against goals" and "Assign action items" suggest a cycle of continuous evaluation and task distribution.

  • Finalizing and reporting: Activities that help team members and stakeholders recognize the steps needed as the project culminates to a conclusion include "Prepare presentation" and "Present to leadership." While the final phases of the project are represented by tasks like "Communicate results" and "Complete project," which concentrate on project wrap-up and outcome communication.

While every chart will look different, this example will help you grasp the fundamentals of task sequencing and time management critical for any successful project.

What is a Gantt chart used for?

While you can use a timeline view for a variety of projects and programs, it’s helpful to understand what these charts are commonly used for and why:

  • Build and manage complex projects: The bigger the project, the more tasks there are to manage. Gantt charts can help project managers when scheduling projects by allowing them to easily visualize a project and break it down into smaller tasks.

  • Monitor task dependencies: Project delays happen. Visualizing work in a timeline helps project managers automate task dependencies, which ensures that the next phase or task doesn’t start until the previous one has finished.

  • Keep track of project progress: Track progress and milestones, so you can quickly adjust your project plan if needed.

When to use a Gantt chart

1. Mapping out a marketing campaign

Larger marketing campaigns require a lot of team collaboration and coordination—and it’s easy to lose track of all the moving pieces. That's why it's so important to visualize all of your work as a sequence of tasks with assignees and details about how long each initiative will take. This way, teams don’t just know who’s responsible for what, but also how their work impacts others or the larger goal.

2. Outlining deliverables for a client

When you show clients a timeline of all of your deliverables, you can clearly set expectations around how long each will take. By outlining plans this way, you can give stakeholders and clients a clear idea of the scope of your deliverables, and how long each one will take to accomplish—so they won’t just know when you’re delivering an item, but also the timeframe in which you’ll be working on it.

3. Planning a product launch

For product launches, you might use a timeline to map out the entire plan, from ideation to launch and beyond. By visualizing this in a timeline, you’re then able to more easily spot conflicts before you begin, see dependencies between steps, and get a clear overview of everything that’s happening leading up to the launch and when.

Parts of a gantt chart

Have you ever wondered what makes up a Gantt chart and how each component contributes to effective project management? Understanding the anatomy of a Gantt chart can help you leverage its full potential in organizing and visualizing your project timelines. Here are the essential components of a Gantt chart, each with an example:

  • Task list: A vertical list of project tasks on the left side of the chart, serving as the foundation for plotting the project timeline. For example, a project to develop a new website might include tasks like "design homepage," "write content," and "code website."

  • Task bars: Horizontal bars that represent the duration of each task, showing the start and end dates. For instance, the task bar for "design homepage" might span two weeks in April, visually indicating its planned duration.

  • Milestones: Markers that signify key dates or achievements within the project timeline. An example is marking the completion of the website prototype as a milestone, which indicates a significant achievement in the project's progress.

  • Dependencies: Lines or arrows that connect tasks to indicate the sequence in which tasks must occur. If "write content" cannot start until "design homepage" is complete, a dependency arrow would connect these tasks.

  • Critical path: Highlights the longest sequence of dependent tasks that determine the project's duration. In our website project, the critical path might include tasks such as "code website," directly impacting the project's end date.

  • Resource allocation: Information on which resources are assigned to specific tasks is often included alongside the task bars. An example would be assigning a specific web designer to the "design homepage" task.

  • Dates and time scale: The top of the chart features a calendar or time scale that tasks and milestones are plotted against to provide a temporal context. For example, the entire project might be set against a six-month time scale from April to September. This helps stakeholders visualize the project timeline at a glance.

Each of these components plays an important role in providing a comprehensive overview of the project's scope, duration, and dependencies.

How to make a Gantt chart

While no two Gantt charts look exactly alike, there are some basic steps you’ll need to take to get you off the ground, no matter what project management software you use. 

Create a Gantt chart template

1. Define the time range

Your Gantt chart should be a project with a start and end date. Think of this chart as a way to represent your project over a timeline—your timeline needs a beginning and end point.

Tip: While all projects should have a clear end point, it’s likely that you’ll have some additional follow-up tasks with your client after crossing the finish line, so you may need to add in some dates after the fact for these items.

2. Add tasks with start and end dates

In order to effectively visualize your to-dos, make sure each individual task has a specified beginning and end date—this way they can be easily visualized on a bar chart. If you don’t add task start dates, then your tasks will show up as moments in time, which might be harder to visualize within the bigger picture.

Tip: Clear start and end dates also make it easy for your team to understand when they should begin working on a task. By doing this, they won't be unprepared for a big project that is due tomorrow.

3. Clarify dependencies

With large projects, it’s natural to have some tasks that can’t get started until other tasks are complete. To keep the project running smoothly and every team on the same page, you can visualize dependencies between tasks in your Gantt chart.

In the example below, the ability to publish the product blog post is dependent on reviewing the blog post, which in itself is dependent on drafting the blog post. Similarly, the team can’t launch the email campaign until it’s been drafted. Drawing dependencies between these tasks will help the next team stay up-to-date on what they’re able to start working on in their phase of the project.

Gantt chart product marketing launch

4. Pinpoint milestones

Unlike most tasks in a Gantt chart, milestones are fixed points in time. Think of them as checkpoints to signify that large pieces of work are complete. They help your team know what to prioritize and can be great moments of celebration when they’re completed.

Tip: Milestones often take place at the end of project phases, but there’s no one single way to create milestones for your team, especially since every team and project looks different. Examples of milestones might look like:

  • Meetings

  • Project approvals

  • Task starting points

  • Mid-phase check ins

  • Phase completion points

5. Modify work as plans change

Plans will inevitably change, which is why your Gantt chart software should be able to adapt to your needs. Look for a tool that allows you to easily drag and drop tasks, and that automatically updates dependencies in real time. That way, you can always keep your project on track, even as plans shift.

Gantt chart best practices

When teams first start using Gantt charts, they often encounter a few common hurdles. These challenges can lead to miscommunication, resource misallocation, and ultimately, project delays.

However, with the right best practices in place, Gantt charts become powerful tools for improving project visibility and team coordination. The following Gantt chart best practices are designed not just as tips but as solutions to these common initial stumbling blocks.

Read: What is an implementation plan? 6 steps to create your own

Determine the critical path

Establishing the critical path of a project timeline is key to understanding the sequence of tasks that directly affect the project's completion date. This practice involves identifying which tasks are critical (i.e., any delay in these tasks will delay the project) and which tasks have float (i.e., can be delayed without affecting the project timeline).

By focusing on the critical path, project managers can allocate resources more effectively and prioritize tasks that are essential for on-time project completion.


In a software development project, tasks such as requirement gathering, design, coding, testing, and deployment are mapped on a Gantt chart to identify the critical path. It reveals that delays in the coding phase directly affect testing and deployment timelines. However, tasks like documentation might have some float and can be adjusted if coding needs more time. This insight enables project managers to prioritize coding and allocate extra resources if necessary, ensuring the project remains on schedule despite potential bottlenecks.

Read: Free critical path template

Use a work breakdown structure

A work breakdown structure (WBS) is a fundamental step in project planning that involves dividing a project into manageable tasks and subtasks. When applied to a Gantt chart, a WBS helps organize tasks visually, making it easier to monitor progress and allocate resources efficiently.


Consider a project to develop a new website. By using a WBS, you would break down the project into smaller tasks such as design, content creation, and coding. Each task would then be represented on the Gantt chart timeline, giving team members a clear overview of the project scope that helps them understand their responsibilities and deadlines.

Identify task dependencies

Understanding task dependencies is crucial for creating an accurate Gantt chart. Task dependencies indicate the relationship between tasks and subtasks, showing which tasks must be completed before others can begin. This ensures that the project flows logically and resources are allocated appropriately.


For a construction project involving the building of a structure, it's essential to complete foundational subtasks before advancing to subsequent phases, such as erecting walls. The Gantt chart efficiently maps out these work dependencies to ensure contractors realize the importance of completing the foundation to avoid scheduling conflicts and inefficient resource use.

Read: Understanding dependencies in project management

Allocate resources wisely

Resource allocation involves assigning the appropriate resources, including team members, equipment, and budget, to specific tasks. A Gantt chart with integrated resource allocation allows project managers to see not only when tasks are scheduled but also how resources are distributed across the project.


For an event planning project, a Gantt chart can show that while one team works on venue setup, another is arranging catering. Task visualization ensures that resources are not overstretched and that tasks are adequately staffed. This helps prevent burnout and ensures that all project aspects are covered.

Read: Free resource allocation plan template

Monitor progress regularly

A Gantt chart is not a set-and-forget tool; it requires regular updates to reflect the project's current status. Incorporating dashboards into this practice provides a centralized, real-time view of project progress, task completion, and resource allocation. Dashboards complement Gantt charts by offering an at-a-glance summary of key project metrics, enabling project managers and team members to quickly assess project health and make informed decisions.


During a software development sprint in an agile project, if a sprint is behind, a dashboard updated alongside the Gantt chart quickly highlights delays and resource issues. This allows for immediate adjustments to make certain the project stays on track without extensive meetings or email updates. This streamlined approach keeps everyone aligned and responsive to changes.

Read: What is a sprint backlog? Template and exampleCreate a Gantt chart template

Pros and cons of Gantt charts

While these charts can be helpful, they aren’t always the best for every project. To better understand if this type of project chart is right for you and your project vs. a timeline, here are a few considerations before you leap into creating one.


  • Get a bird’s-eye view of your project timeline: A Gantt chart is a roadmap of your project. This tool helps you track when you should reach each milestone—and whether or not you’re on track to do so. This type of timeline view offers a bird’s-eye perspective on your work, making it a particularly useful tool to present to senior management or clients for a quick overview.

  • See how tasks relate to each other: By adding start and finish dates to each task and drawing dependencies, you can visualize how each piece of work affects another. This helps you identify problems and fix dependency conflicts before you start.

  • Improve team resource management: Adding an owner to each piece of work can help you see who’s doing what and when to better manage individual workloads. Since everything is plotted out sequentially, you’ll be able to see if an individual teammate or team has too much to do at one time, then reassign or reschedule tasks as needed.


  • More time consuming to set up: Setting up a Gantt chart can be time consuming, especially if you’re using a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. Even if you use a template, you might still have to make adjustments to customize it to your team’s specific needs.

  • Difficult to manage the project in the same place you planned it: Traditional Gantt charts are most useful in the planning phase of a project. Once you’ve mapped out your work, you’ll likely need to use a different tool or platform to manage day-to-day activities, making it hard to know where your team’s single source of truth is.

  • Adding more details gets messy: Adding context around deadlines and collaborators to your project plan on a Gantt chart can turn it from easy-to-view map to overwhelming sheet of chaos.

Alternatives to traditional Gantt charts

Fortunately, there are alternatives to clunky charts that still give you a bird’s-eye view of how all your work fits together—without the typical limitations of a traditional, spreadsheet-based chart.

A work project management tool like Asana can help you manage, coordinate, and add details to your work in the same place you plan it—while also spending less time setting everything up.

Read: Introduction to work management

For example, you could set up your project plan using Asana’s Timeline, a view that lets you map out how all the pieces of your project fit together. Like a Gantt chart, Timeline shows you when each step will happen, how long it will take, and who’s responsible. Unlike a Gantt chart, Timeline is easy to set up and maintain and lets your team collaborate on work in the same place you planned it.

Other types of visual project management

[Product UI] Brand campaign project example (Boards)

Depending on the type of work you’re managing, a calendar or a Kanban board could work as a more lightweight and quicker-to-setup alternative to visualizing your project plan in a timeline. With Asana, you can also switch between project views. View any project in either Timeline, List, Boards, or Calendar View, so your team can see their work in the way they prefer. You can test out all of these views with a free Premium trial.

Read: 3 visual project management layouts (and how to use them)

Plan projects like a pro with Asana

Whether you end up using a Gantt chart or a similar alternative, visualizing your project plan is a key step for every team—whether you’re a project manager or not. It allows you to show how all the pieces of your project fit together, share it with your team, and adapt your plan as work progresses to keep everything on track.

Map out your project plan and watch the pieces come together with Asana.

Create a Gantt chart template

Gantt Chart FAQ

What types of teams commonly use Gantt charts? Any team that needs to keep track of task progress can use Gantt charts. Typically, Gantt charts are used by project managers and team leads, but they’re also useful for business owners and C-level executives. Common industries that employ Gantt charts include marketing, software engineering, construction, graphic design, and event planning.

What are the typical components of a Gantt chart? At its most basic, a simple Gantt chart is composed of a vertical axis, which contains a list of tasks, and a horizontal axis, which maps out the project’s timeline. By visually displaying your project plan in a constrained timeframe, Gantt charts help you see at a glance the step-by-step actions you need to take to ensure project success.

What should I look for in a Gantt chart tool? When setting up an online Gantt chart, you should look for a tool with a user-friendly interface and features that make planning and coordinating your work easy, like start and end dates, dependencies, and milestones. Additionally, tools that utilize integrations to connect the chart with apps, like Google Sheets and OneDrive, help streamline workflows.

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