Before we explore Excel Gantt chart templates, it would be worth your time to consider your needs and goals to make sure that this solution is right for your needs.
Many times people chose Gantts because they are not aware that there are better solutions available today that can solve their needs to deliver faster and better results, making them more productive, saving them valuable time, hassle, and money.
In this article, we will discuss what Excel Gantt chart templates are, how they are used, when you should use them (with an adaptable template), and when you should use something else (especially when you’re trying to run multiple projects in parallel with cross-funtional teams and dependancies).
What are Excel Gantt Chart Templates?
Firstly, before Microsoft came out with Excel in the mid-80s, it’s important to note that the history of the Gantt charts goes back to the mid-1890s. Its purpose was to help production lines be organized in their process, where one step follows the next.
When Excel and their spreadsheets came out, the Excel Gantt chart was born and quickly became the standard project management visual aid.
Gantt charts, in the simplest form, is a bar chart representation of tasks over time, which can be visually created using spreadsheet applications, like Excel.
Hence, it comes as no surprise that Excel Gantt chart templates are so common these days. In fact, when we typed “Excel Gantt chart template” into Google, we got nearly a million results!
How To Use Excel Gantt Chart Templates
Microsoft Excel is a spreadsheet program–it’s intended for calculations and, well, spreadsheets. Using them for Gantt chart templates is a bit out of their intended use…but not as far as you may think.
Gantt charts, stripped to their essence, are bar chart schedules. It’s a pictorial representation of time for ease of understanding. But there’s more to project management than charts! You’ll be making plenty of calculations – and having the spreadsheet handy will be helpful.
What are you calculating? Hours worked. Budgets. The spreadsheet layout helps segment data, too, allowing you to tease out the data you need (filters and search are your friends!) at a click.
The hardest part of using Excel as a Gantt chart template tool is creating the actual Gantt chart. And with Excel templates, you don’t need to worry about that. You can turn MS Excel into a free Gantt chart.
All in all, using Excel Gantt Chart Templates is easy, and a way to connect the data in your spreadsheet to a visual project schedule.
Trends: Who Uses Excel Gantt Chart Templates?
People search for “Excel Gantt chart template” the most from February through May: the new year brings new endeavours, and with those new undertakings comes the need for new project plans. As organizations approve new projects, and they move into the planning phase, people start searching for online Excel Gantt chart templates.
There’s one other peak time for this search term, and that is in late September/early October. When PhD students start their studies, they are asked to submit their proposed timeline to write their thesis. Voila, they turn to the internet to look for an Excel Gantt chart template.
The theme behind the trend? People searching for free Gantt charts. Whether that is a vote on cost, or something else, remains to be seen.
Why Use Excel Gantt Chart Templates?
If you are managing a simple project, Excel Gantt chart templates are wonderful. They save time, money, and let you jump right into your project.
If you’re a PhD student submitting your thesis plan to your adviser, being able to put together a Gantt chart quickly, and for free, is a big help! If you’re plotting out a private side project, you can avoid the task management SaaS options and their costs with an online search. Maybe you need to slap together a Gantt chart for a presentation somewhere, and it’s more of a progress report than a project plan. Presto – a few clicks, some data entry, and your presentation are good to go.
If this describes you and your need for a Gantt chart, stop reading here. Download this Gantt Chart template, use it, and live happily forever after. If it doesn’t, keep reading.
Why Are There Free Excel Gantt Chart Templates?
An eagle-eyed searcher may notice that many of the results in a “free online Gantt template” search are from project management software companies. There is a reason these companies are giving you an alternative to their product for free.
1) Excel Gantt chart templates don’t work.
Excel Gantt chart templates are simple, straightforward, bar chart graphs. Unless you are a spreadsheet wizard, the most you’ll get out of it is the most basic of project plans. For small businesses, or PhD students, this might well be enough. When you get to modern and complex projects, though, using Excel Gantt chart templates is like using instant soup mix for a fancy dinner for three hundred people.
It might get the job done, but it will leave a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.
When it comes to project planning, the Excel templates are just not up to the task.
Especially for complex projects.
The Gantt chart templates lack the basic tools project managers need. Excel lives in a vacuum. There is no team collaboration with an Excel spreadsheet. Even if you use an online Gantt chart template, which allows for team members to input progress or changes, you’re still lacking basic tools like team loading and planned vs actual tracking.
What all those project management software companies are hoping for is that you’ll download their template. And when you realize that Excel isn’t the right way to manage your project, you’ll come back to them and use their software instead. You already like them, because they gave you something for free and tried to be helpful. It’s brilliant marketing!
2) Excel Gantt Charts are Not Really “Free”
“Free” is rarely free. As the old adage goes, “you get what you pay for” is quite accurate. What you save in money you will often spend on time or quality.
Using free Gantt chart templates seems to save you money, but in actuality, it will cost you extra time in chasing after the team for progress updates, and following up on task management, and in basic project management functions, like workload balancing.
3) Task Management Becomes A Black Hole
Speaking of taks management, you have your Gantt chart in your Excel spreadsheet set up for it. Great.
But how exactly will you manage your team’s workflow and tasks? On a second tab in the spreadsheet, listing the tasks? Manually, tracking everything on your own?
How will you get progress updates and input them into the project plan? Are you hoping for the “modern” Gantt chart solutions are going to display a working timeline that will help you and your task owners focused?
The sad news is that they won’t. Those beautifully designed task management solutions that are popular today are a bit misguiding when they tout that they have a “timeline” feature. The truth of the matter is that it’s not a collaborative timeline that you can view a project portfolio on, which is counterproductive for project portfolio managers or project managers of multiple projects.
4) Tracking Project Progress Is Impossible
How will you track delays and identify upcoming problems in the project?
How do you track planned vs. actual progress for the project?
The Elephant In The Room
The elephant in the room–Gantts and Gantt-based solutions are outdated and not appropriate for elaborate projects and project portfolios with multiple elaborate projects. The outdated mental model of a production line still reigns supreme in project management, where tasks are the organizing principle of a project.
Gantt charts plan projects around tasks, but today’s projects are not task-based. Project management in the modern work environment has evolved. Modern projects, like modern organizations, are focused on people instead of tasks.
Gantt charts are a hundred years old. It was created to optimize manufacturing lines. That is why tasks are its organizing principle! For linear, input-to-output processes, the Gantt chart is a pretty solid tool.
Modern projects don’t have outputs, they have goals. They have inputs from far flung places, only some of which are direct inputs. Far from linear, modern project management resembles an airline route map, with the project manager as the hub connecting all the various spokes. A Gantt chart is a woefully inadequate tool for modern project management.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is simple. The free online Excel Gantt chart template you are looking for is of limited value.
- It cannot manage complex projects
- It cannot be used for task management
- You’ll be lacking basic project management tools
- Measuring project success will be difficult, as reporting on project management metrics will need to be done by hand
- Excel lacks collaborative capabilities
- Excel Gantt chart templates are not capable of managing modern projects
- You might be saving some money, but there is a massive time expense instead
Don’t waste your time. Use the proper tools built for project portfolio management and project management with a clear and easy way to plan on a collaborative timeline that works for you and your team.
Want help with that? Here’s a project management tools list that you can use to identify the best fit for your team or organization.
Or jump straight to the top, and see why organizations like Sodastream, Verifone, the World Anti-Doping Agency, and American Railcar are using Proggio.