Tracking a series of related tasks against time is a process we perform often in both the workplace and in other aspects of our lives (such as that summer project - hint, hint - or to organise that next holiday if you are a detailed planner like I am).
As humans we relate better to graphical representation of data, like charts and pictures. Back in the early 20th century Henry Gantt, an engineer and consultant (although the term 'consultant' probably didn't exist back then) came up with a way to represent this, that we've all become very familiar with now.
The Gantt Chart
Project Managers live in these charts every day, with tools such as Microsoft Project providing detailed views and variations with ease (although a bit of training may be required to navigate a powerful tool like this).
For those of us without the need (or expense account) for full fledged PM tools, we can make use of the easier to reach options such as:
- A 3rd party tool (web based tool or plug-in to an existing application)
- An Excel Add-in
- An Excel Template (someone has already done the hard work)
- Do it yourself in Excel (you do the hard work)
There are more 3rd party Gantt Chart sites & tools than you can possibly count. You may find a great solution in one of these, although there might be a small learning curve and possibly a need to create an account. Some may also provide limited functionality unless a subscription is paid for (they have to earn a living somehow).
Excel Add-ins are an under-rated and lesser known way of doing things in Excel that would otherwise be unachievable for us commoners. Add-ins can be simple macro-style helpers that perform tasks within the sheet, or more powerful interfaces in and out of external systems.
There are some Gantt Chart Add-ins but, similar to the 3rd party sites / tools, can have limitations or costs.
Why you shouldn't do it yourself
The last resort is to do it yourself in Excel, with many well known Excel gurus blogging about how to do this in a small handful of steps based off a bar chart. This is great for having full control over the appearance, but may require some hard work beyond the basic look and feel.
Thankfully, Microsoft have provided a Gantt Chart template we can use in Excel. Launch Excel from your desktop and select New from the left navigation (or if already in Excel, click the File ribbon tab to go backstage then select New).
In the "Search for Online Templates" box type Gantt and press <Enter>.
There are a variety of chart types, for this exercise we'll select the Simple Gantt Chart. Click on this (or your preferred one) and select the Create button when the description box appears.
The template is pre-populated with mocked up data and begins today. For this template there is an "About" worksheet with instructions and links to further help. Also on the "ProjectSchedule" sheet is a series of help comments in column A - you'll see them in the formula bar.
Depending when you create the new file, you may notice the date format is US mm/dd/yy. This is one of the constant battles between the US and UK date formats, and depends on the cell number formatting.
We recommend the very first thing you do is modify this. Otherwise confusion is sure to occur, as you will need to input dates in the system locale (say UK format) but it will display per the number format of the cell !!
For the Project Start Date:
- Select cells E3 to F3 (it's a merged cell so click on E3 or F3 only)
- Right click and choose "Format Cells..."
- In the Type field change the order of 'm' and 'd' so it becomes: "ddd, d/m/yyyy"
For all the dates in the Gantt Chart:
- Select from cell E8 to F33 (assuming you've made no changes to rows / columns yet)
- Right click and choose "Format Cells..."
- You can select any of the other display formats, or just modify the Locale (location) field to be English (Australia) or your appropriate locale
A good practise is to choose a date display that is preceded with asterisk (*). So, it adjusts per the user's locale on their PC.
Then you can modify the chart contents using data entry. Even formulas if you want to link dates or use arithmetic to determine end dates based on duration.
Not every template is perfect so you should try a few to find the one that best fits your needs. Some create a separate chart object while others represent the timeline in a table using conditional formatting (like this one).
And there are limitations in the layout (8 weeks on display horizontally). Which would need manipulation of the sheet to extend further.
Gantt Charts in Excel won't usually feature the rich project management functionality. Of task dependencies, linked start / end dates (although you can do this with formulas) or resource allocation.
If you'd like to learn more about formatting cells, using dates in formulas, condition formatting or creating charts in Microsoft Excel, book at seat in one of our Excel courses.