What are the cons of Gantt charts

Attention: Beware of Gantt charts when planning a project!

A Gantt chart can be a useful project planning tool. All planned tasks are shown in an overview so that everyone involved can see which work has to be completed by what point in time. But as good as Gantt charts are for some projects, the more problems they cause for most others. Why is that?

There are a few uses for Gantt charts. However, the points against them are in the majority:

  • Gantt charts can quickly become confusing, especially with complex projects
  • A linear representation makes no sense in many projects
  • If you are not working with software, the diagrams must be constantly adapted
  • As soon as several participants can adapt the diagrams, chaos is inevitable
  • Especially with large projects, legibility is poor and changes are barely noticed

The explanations of the individual points and alternatives can be found in this article.

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Where do Gantt charts come from?

The Gantt chart was invented around 1890 by Karol Adamiecki, a Polish engineer who operated a steel mill in southern Poland. A short time later, the bar plan was first used by Hermann Schürch (1881–1957) for construction projects.

What are Gantt Charts?

A Gantt chart, also Bar plan called, is a project management instrument that graphically depicts the chronological sequence of activities in the form of bars, which represent the start date, the duration and the end date.

About 15 years after Adamiecki, the American mechanical engineer and management consultant Henry L. Gantt adapted the idea and gave the diagram his name. Since then, Gantt charts have been widely used in project management. They're considered an effective way to view activities (tasks and events) based on time ... and they have some advantages too.

What are the advantages?

Gantt charts are particularly suitable for the sequential and parallel presentation of progress in a project. They offer a good graphical overview and quick orientation for small to medium-sized projects. The duration of individual activities is easy to see as long as it does not exceed a certain length. In itself, the Gantt chart is easy to understand and the procedure is very intuitive. However, this only applies to projects that are easy to understand per se and in which the dependencies follow one another in a nicely linear manner and step by step. This can be the case with mechanical engineering projects - but it is not the case with most projects.



What are the downsides?

As well as Gantt charts are suitable for smaller projects, the less suitable they are for depicting complicated dependencies and interrelationships. There are several reasons for this:

1. Complexity

The overview that is praised for smaller projects is easily lost in more complex projects. In large projects with many employees and different teams involved, the Gantt chart can quickly become too extensive. The presentation of many tasks with different lengths can quickly become complicated and difficult to understand.

The displayability is therefore limited for many processes and the Gantt chart is only helpful for small to medium-sized projects with no more than 30 activities.

2. linearity

In order to be able to use Gantt charts successfully, you need an idea of ​​what the end results should be before the project starts. In addition, all the necessary steps should be known. Scheduling all processes may sound logical when you're building a house, but it's much more difficult to accomplish when you're on a team of web developers working on an assignment for which there is no specific end result.

3. Workload

More complex projects in particular rarely have a linear course and therefore have to be constantly adapted. As a result, the responsible project manager would have to constantly update and change the Gantt chart - a task that is much easier with project management software.

4. Multi-user friendliness

In a project, the workload increases disproportionately with each additional sub-project. And even the best project manager cannot have all the project components in mind and always plan the dependencies perfectly. The whole thing doesn't get any easier when several project participants are working on a project with Gantt charts at the same time. Multi-user project management can hardly be done with Gantt charts, since a change in one place quickly shifts the whole diagram without this being wanted.

5. Readability and interpretability

At first glance, Gantt charts are super readable, right? But this is only true if all project parts have approximately the same scope. If a project part takes a lot longer (e.g. 10-12 months) and all other project parts only a few weeks, differences are lost and shifts in the small project parts are hardly visible. In addition, only limited conclusions can be drawn from shifts in the bars. By then at the latest, the project manager has to pick up the phone and find out why which activities lead to delays.



What we have learned from practice

As much as we like Gantt charts ... we had to learn that the funny and often colorful charts are great for planning projects once. But after a short time they gather dust in the project folder and are never touched again. Because most of the time the changes are so serious that the initial chart is completely outdated.

What are the alternatives?

Since the Gantt chart is only suitable for less complex projects, we have put together alternatives for you to display complex dependencies and interrelationships.

Burn-up chart

The Burn Up Chart is a line or area chart that shows you how much work has already been done and how much has to be done in total. Because the representation includes the variability of the scope or the scope, the Burn Up Chart is suitable for monitoring the entire project. Especially when the project is still pending and things change, the Burn Up Chart is great. Because it effortlessly takes this into account.



Kanban

Kanban has grown in popularity significantly over the past few decades. The method has its origins in production at Toyota until it was later mainly used by software developers. Due to its great advantages, Kanban has been used for some time in a wide variety of business areas for a wide variety of projects.



The simplest Kanban board has three columns - "To do", "In progress" and "Done". Additional columns can easily be added as needed. The various tasks then move through the workflow. The visualization of the workflow ensures clarity and possible bottlenecks and problems quickly become visible. The advantage of Kanban is that it can be easily introduced into any project and no extensive changes are necessary. This makes Kanban particularly useful for parallel work, as is now common in projects.

The good old table with aggregation

For smaller projects, the tried and tested table, in which the project status and activities are recorded, may be sufficient. In it, responsible persons, due dates, priorities and the project status can be easily queried. The possibility of adapting the table to the current project status with just a few clicks, as well as the multi-user friendliness, which is given in contrast to the Gantt chart, make the table better than its reputation in the project.

Status reports and dashboards

Gantt charts and Kanban are good tools to keep track of your projects, but not necessarily to communicate your project status to your stakeholders.



When you need to communicate your progress with a client, your project sponsor, or other team members, an easy-to-understand status report is your best bet. With the right project management software, this can be generated with just a few clicks of the mouse and can save you valuable time and energy. In addition, real-time dashboards can help to capture the current status of your project from several views and to get an overview.

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