Gantt charts are often used to track the schedule of projects, and measure their progress. They’re an easy way to visually understand even complex schedules. Instead of drawing them by hand, you can use a spreadsheet. Let’s learn how to build Gantt charts in Microsoft Excel.
How to Build Gantt Charts in Excel
Excel doesn’t have a built-in Gantt chart feature. But you can still build these in Excel. It just takes a few steps to customize a stacked bar chart to form a Gantt chart.
You’ll first need to build the project schedule in a series of columns somewhere in your workbook. For example, column A can be used to list specific tasks in the project schedule. Column B tracks how long the project has been ongoing, and column C can list the duration of each specific task.
To start building your chart, click and drag to select the cells containing that information. In this example, the cell range is A1:C6. Make sure to include the headers too; these will become part of your chart legend and make it easier to read.
Now, it’s time to start working with your chart. Go to the Insert tab on Excel’s ribbon. Near the center, you’ll see the Charts group. Click on the Column dropdown, and look at your options. The closest thing to a Gantt chart built into Excel is the stacked bar chart. Click on its thumbnail.
Excel will insert a stacked bar chart onto your worksheet. You’ll see two different colored bars – defaulting to blue and orange. There’s also a placeholder for your chart title. It works like any text box. Click into it, highlight the text inside, and replace it with your own words. Alternatively, you can press Delete on your keyboard to remove it from the chart, once you have it selected.
Remember that Gantt charts are meant to track task duration. The From Start data helps structure the chart in sequence, but you don’t need to visually track that particular metric. To hide the blue bars, click on one of them to select it. You’ll notice that doing this actually selects all of the blue bars in the chart.
Then, with the bars selected, go to the Format tab on the ribbon. Click on the Shape Fill dropdown, and choose No Fill.
The blue bars will vanish, leaving only the orange ones visible. This means that you can now delete the chart legend at the bottom. Click to select it, then press Delete.
Notice also that the tasks are listed backwards, with the final task – launch – appearing first instead of last. This is easy to correct, and ensures that your Gantt chart lists the project scheduled tasks in a logical order.
To do that, click on the list of tasks inside your chart to select it. Then, right-click and select Format Axis from the dropdown that appears. On the Axis Options tab, underneath Axis Position, check the box beside Categories in Reverse Order.
You’ll see the sequence of tasks reverse, now properly reflecting the correct order. As you can see, it’s easy to build a simple Gantt chart in Excel. Although not a built-in feature, you can customize other chart types to create a compelling visual.
How to Customize Gantt Charts in Excel
Once you’ve built your Gantt chart in Excel, you have plenty of customization options available to you. These really help you style the chart to fit your needs. You can even match the colors to your branding, for example.
Although the remaining bars default to orange, you can add a custom color. Repeat the same steps used to remove the blue fill. Go to the Format tab, and choose the Shape Fill dropdown again. Instead of selecting No Fill, explore the other colors available to you. Excel offers a wide variety of themed and standard colors. Additionally, you can hover over Gradient and apply sleek, nearly 3D fills to your Gantt chart.
Many other options exist on the Chart Design tab, also found on Excel’s ribbon. From the Add Chart Element dropdown on the far left side, you can quickly add new details to your chart. These include axis titles, gridlines, and many other options.
The gallery of thumbnails in the center really lets you drive the look and feel of your chart. Clicking on any thumbnail instantly rearranges the visual style of the chart. Keep in mind – this will often unhide the unwanted data. You may have to repeat the earlier steps of choosing No Fill to hide the start date data, for example.
Why Use Gantt Charts?
Now that you’ve seen how to build a Gantt chart easily in Excel, you may be wondering why you should use these illustrations. Consider the following benefits of Gantt charts:
- Simplicity. Complex timelines can be reduced to easy-to-read visuals.
- Communication. You can engage key stakeholders to keep them informed of project status.
- Accountability. You can ensure momentum is maintained and any delays are identified.
- Versatility. Building Gantt charts in Excel helps you create more unique and compelling reports to drive project completion.
As you’ve seen, Excel makes building custom Gantt charts very easy. That this isn’t a built-in feature is no handicap. Thanks to Excel’s robust chart-editing tools, you can rapidly take your data and transform it into compelling graphics. This helps ensure your projects stay on time and on track.