If you’re already familiar with spreadsheets, Excel Gantt charts can provide a simple way to manage project tasks with software you already understand.
But is it the best solution?
Even if you know Excel well, it’s a little clunky for project management, even with a pretty, color-coded Gantt chart.
Let's explore the best way to create a Gantt chart in Excel and then dive into better alternatives.
What is a Gantt chart?
A Gantt chart is a graphical timeline similar to a bar chart. It's a visual representation of project timelines showing tasks or activities against time. This makes it easier to visualize task duration and overlap.
Most Gantt chart tools will give you an overview of project progress and show when certain project milestones should be achieved.
What is the purpose of a Gantt chart?
For project managers, Gantt charts help to visualize project timelines and coordinate teams while providing transparency and accountability.
Gantt charts provide a graphical representation of your entire project schedule. The colored bar charts offer an easy way to visualize project timelines, task dependencies, and overlapping tasks so everyone understands what needs to be done (and when).
Imagine you’re a project manager in an IT service company planning a new software rollout. This highly visual method of presenting project timelines helps your team better visualize deadlines and prioritize development tasks effectively.
Gantt charts facilitate team coordination by displaying tasks and timings in a simple format. This helps managers to decide which tasks to delegate to team members and when.
For example, a software tester in your IT company must test each element as the project develops. Knowing when each milestone starts and finishes makes assigning testing tasks at the right time easier.
3. Progress tracking
Gantt charts allow real-time project tracking. As team members work on tasks, they update their progress. The chart represents this progress by visually filling or shading a proportional amount of the taskbar. That way, you can see project progress (and identify tasks that are stuck).
Suppose a software developer is stuck at 70% progress on their task. You can recognize this quickly and jump in with suggestions to move the task along.
Team members are assigned to each task on the chart, fostering accountability and transparency. Everyone knows who's handling each particular task and who to speak to if there’s a delay in task completion.
This also lets you pinpoint exactly where problems might be holding up that new project and help course-correct the issue.
How to create a Gantt chart in Excel in 4 simple steps
While Excel doesn't have a built-in Gantt generator, you can create a Gantt chart from scratch in Excel using the stacked bar chart option.
Follow this four-step tutorial:
1. Set up your project as a spreadsheet
To start, type your list of tasks in the first column of your blank spreadsheet. These should correspond to the tasks you want to track.
In the next column, add your start date. In the third column, add the end date. This project table helps you see when your tasks will start and end to calculate task duration.
Next, create an adjacent table. List the task names again in the first column.
In the next column, add the number of days from the start of the project that each task will start. Next, add a column with the task duration in days. For example, if the task starts on August 5 and ends on August 8, the duration would be three days.
2. Insert and format your Gantt chart
Select the second table, click the “Insert” tab, and find “Charts.”
From the drop-down menu, select the horizontal stacked bar chart.
Even though Excel doesn’t feature a built-in Gantt chart template, the stacked bar graph template can be used as one.
Once the chart appears, click on the chart title to customize it with your project name.
Click on the chart, and the chart customization menu will automatically appear on the right of the screen.
The chart may automatically list your tasks from the final task to the initial task. To fix this, go to the “Vertical Axis” tab and select the option to display “Categories in reverse order.”
Next, click the “days from start” series on the chart and change the fill color to “No fill” in the right-hand menu.
Then click the legend at the bottom that says “Days from Start” and “Duration (Days)” and delete.
Finally, head to the “Horizontal Axis” tab in the chart menu and change the “Major Units” and “Minor Units” to “1” to represent one day.
Your final Gantt chart will show only the duration of each task and the days on which the tasks start and finish.
3. Update tasks as you go
If anything changes, you can update your Gantt chart by changing the table values. For example, you can change the task duration if a deadline changes. This will automatically adjust the Gantt chart.
If you’d like to add extra tasks to the chart, you’ll need to add these to the bottom of your table and repeat the steps to create a new Gantt chart.
4. Keep your team in the loop
Updating your Gantt chart doesn't automatically update your team.
To ensure everyone knows about the changes, you'll need to manually update the team members affected by the changes.
Pros and cons of using Gantt charts in Excel
Creating Gantt charts in Excel can be a cost-effective way to visualize project timelines. However, the tool is limited. Here are the benefits and drawbacks of using Excel in this way.
Pros of Excel Gantt charts
Using Excel to create Gantt charts can help organize and track your time. The main benefits are:
Improved project/time overviews: The Gantt chart format can help you visualize your tasks and timelines easily, especially for projects with many action items. Where traditional calendars simply list tasks, Gantt charts use colored bars to show task start dates and duration. This visual distinction is particularly beneficial as everyone can quickly see the order and priority of tasks.
Ubiquity: Excel is a staple in many offices. If your team already uses Excel, incorporating Gantt charts into a familiar tool can save training time and effort.
Low cost (for Office users): If you already have an Office subscription, there's no extra cost for creating Gantt charts in Excel. This enables you to improve project management without hitting your budget.
Cons of Excel Gantt charts
While Excel Gantt charts can improve your current project management processes, there are limitations to the tool, which may require you to use a specific Gantt chart tool instead.
Time-consuming: Creating basic Gantt charts in Excel can be labor-intensive.
Manual task creation and alteration can significantly slow down fast-paced organizations that must manage tasks expediently.
No easy way to track progress: An Excel Gantt chart will only show you the task durations. It’s difficult to indicate task progress (without using an Excel template).
Can't indicate responsibility or status: Since Excel bar graphs only allow you to change the bar colors of an entire series, there's no easy way to indicate individual task status or responsibility visually.
Not user-friendly: Since this isn't a built-in tool, it's not straightforward to set up and manage Gantt charts in Excel. You're repurposing basic stacked bar charts to try and fit the Gantt chart format (which could be more intuitive).
You may spend lots of time creating and managing the perfect Gantt chart, which detracts from your business operations.
Limited collaboration: Real-time collaboration is essential to managing fast-paced projects with many stakeholders. Unfortunately, Excel doesn't make it easy to collaborate in real-time.
While you can add comments and annotations, team members must continuously check the spreadsheet. This can feel disjointed and often leads to miscommunication and missed information. Alternatively, teams may communicate across other tools or in email threads, which can be confusing and inefficient.
Not scalable: As businesses grow and take on more clients, managing projects in Excel can become cumbersome.
Not only is it time-consuming to update bar charts manually, but they also become cluttered and hard to read. Tasks can then slip through the cracks.
Lack of alerts: Notifications help keep projects on track by updating everyone on changes and progress. The need for alerts in Excel can be problematic. Team members may miss essential changes, leading to incorrect work and deadlines.
No integration: As businesses scale, integration between tools becomes critical. Excel doesn't easily integrate with your team’s calendars. Instead, tasks must be manually added to each team member's calendar.
A better solution: let Motion manage time for you
While Gantt charts are excellent for visualizing project timelines, there are more efficient ways of managing projects. With complex projects, you'll need effective ways to manage changes and keep your team updated quickly. Here's how Motion helps.
Automated scheduling: let Motion take over
While Gantt charts display your tasks and deadlines, you must manually set staff schedules.
Motion cuts out this manual effort using artificial intelligence (AI) to create efficient schedules for all team members. That way, your teams can focus on the tasks rather than getting bogged down in the logistical details of scheduling new work.
If any changes are made to deadlines or priorities, Motion will automatically reshuffle tasks and synchronize calendars to accommodate these alterations.
Real-time updates: stay flexible with Motion
If you change your Gantt chart in Excel, you’ll need to update each team member manually. This is time-consuming and can lead to miscommunication or missed updates.
Motion ensures everyone stays on the same page by automatically updating team members about changes to their task schedules. That way, teams can respond quickly to change without missing a beat.
Team collaboration: Motion upgrades communication
To share project details in your Excel Gantt chart, you’ll need to add a comment to the cell. This is a clunky way of communicating important information and can leave the spreadsheet looking cluttered.
Not only does Motion automatically notify your team of new tasks and changes, but you can also include details inside each task card. That way, all task-related information is at everyone's fingertips (in real-time).
This reduces the risk of misinformation or missed updates that'd otherwise take place in other communication tools (email, messaging apps, etc.).
Teams can communicate via task comments, tagging only relevant team members. This way, the team isn't bogged down by irrelevant notifications and ensures that those involved in each task know precisely what's happening.
Scalability: Motion adapts to your model
Motion scales up and down with project and team size. Whether you’re scheduling projects for a team or two or an enterprise-level organization, Motion can automatically schedule and reschedule based on shifting priorities and team availability.
If a team member unexpectedly quits, no problem. Motion can reschedule someone else’s calendar to accommodate the workload.
If five urgent jobs suddenly appear, it’s not an issue. Motion will reprioritize schedules to meet these deadlines.
If your business hires 20 temporary staff overnight, Motion can handle it. It'll schedule tasks for these staff and de-scale when they're done.
Integration: Motion streamlines your tools
Motion integrates seamlessly with a number of important tools to speed up processes and prevent mistakes in a way that Gantt charts can’t.
For example, imagine you run a sales team. Since your junior sales representatives cannot access senior salespeople’s calendars, they’re accidentally double-booking agents.
Motion integrates with your team’s calendars to prevent schedule clashes and automatically alerts senior reps of new calls. Now, no one’s overbooked or misses sales calls.
Try hassle-free project management
Excel Gantt charts were great for a while, but it's time to move on (and free up some time).
Instead, embrace an AI-powered solution like Motion.
Let it handle your time and project management in a highly intelligent, transformative way so you can focus on innovation in your core business.