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Occasionally, I've been asked to produce a Gantt chart for a project.

A lot of the time, I was the only person assigned to that project. This mostly happened back when I was a student, though my coworker is currently in this position.

To my understanding, a Gantt-chart is used for planning out which tasks your resources (usually people) are going to be assigned to at a particular time. This also allows me to define the critical path, and get a sense of the time estimate of the project (e.g. if Bob has 3 tasks that each will take a day, I know that I need at least 3 days to get that part done. Or I can swap in Steve and Alice to do one of the tasks each to get it done in 1 day, but I have to pay 3 salaries).

Subsequently, if I'm creating a Gantt-chart for a project only containing me, it seems a little pointless. Surely everything is on the critical path. I can't do task 1 and 2 at the same time, even if task 1 and 2 have no other resources (apart from me) in common. If they do have some pre-requisite, then all the Gantt-chart will do is nail down the ordering.

By and large, I'm just writing down all the tasks that need to be done in some linear order. At this point, surely I can just have a table of dates and tasks? What value is a Gantt-chart adding for me here?

When presented with something that doesn't make sense, I assume it's me that's misunderstanding something. So: Are Gantt Charts useful for single-person projects? How?

Edit: To clarify, I understand the point of a schedule. I have a little planner that has the tasks next to the deadlines (both external and self-imposed). I also can make time estimates of the tasks (so I know I can't start task B until next Monday because I'm doing task A until then). I could, if requested, produce a Gantt-chart from my to-do list, but it's not going to help organise anything: I'd just have a wall-poster of the stuff I've already got in the planner.

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Yes there is value.

  • Do you know the dependencies of all the tasks?
  • Can you guarantee that you understand the critical path (your comment that "everything is on the critical path" strongly suggests that you don't fully understand the implications of critical path.) Are there alternate ways to organize the tasks that would result in a better delivery date?
  • If task X is delayed by 2 days, what impact will that have on the final delivery date? Is there another task that you can work on during those two days?
  • Have you really thought through each work package? This is the real value of the Gantt chart - methodically going through and defining the quality, constraints and risks of each work package and understanding how the work packages relate.

Update: Critical path is the set of tasks such that a delay of 1 day in any task will delay the final project by 1 day. On the other hand, if Task X is delayed (because resources aren't available), and effort can be switched from Task X to Task Y, then there is no delay in the final deliverable; arguably, there is a new critical path including Task Y. (A great deal depends on the precise structure of the actual Gantt chart).

Allow me to modify my answer slightly; *Yes, there can be value to using a Gantt cart; you should select project management tools commensurate with the complexity of the project. If your project is simple, a todo list may suffice; if your project is more complex, an excel spreadsheet will work. But in the general case, Gantt charts are/can be useful to single person projects."

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    Your comment suggesting that I don't understand the implications of the critical path indicates that I probably don't. Though if I have 5 tasks, and all 5 must be done and are independent of each other, I'm not going to be able to reorganise them to magically make a better delivery date? I can't see how it would be possible even if they weren't independent: Task A still needs B and C to be done? I suppose if doing B made it easier to do C? Feb 6 '15 at 19:18
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    @KidneyChris If task A needs B and C to be done, then it is dependent on both. If task B makes task C easier, I would make C dependent on B. If the tasks are truly independent, it doesn't matter which order they are completed. Having independent tasks allows you to continue work if a task gets blocked. Otherwise, the project would be delayed if you get blocked on a task.
    – BillThor
    Feb 18 '15 at 4:14
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    @KidneyChris, the fact that you can't work on two tasks at once is irrelevant to the true critical path. It may be your resource constrained critical path, but unless you are the only person who could possibly do those tasks, it's always possible to put other resources onto it. This is at least theoretically true even for a project you completely own (like a personal project or where you are a solo business), because you could hire someone to do the other task. Jun 4 at 5:36
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As with everything in project management the answer is "it depends".

The task list you mention would deliver roughly the same value as a Gantt, assuming your project isn't really complex. If your project is complex enough (however you choose to define complexity) a Gantt could be more useful just from the perspective that updating a Gantt will also spit out a revised schedule which can be a lot easier than updating a table manually.

Ultimately you have to decide what makes the most sense for your project to ensure that the management overhead you have is appropriate for the oversight needed.

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Additional benefits of a one-man-band gantt chart:

understanding interfaces: Even a simple project will have interfaces with other people, departments or processes. Are there any approvals, partial milestones, forms, inputs, meetings or reviews in addition to the start and end of the project? Something as silly as a meeting can take more than a week to schedule if participants are unavailable. A gantt chart helps to define them ahead and sequence the work accordingly.

time benchmarking: We all tend to underestimate task duration projects after projects. Project ends are often very busy and too often the close-out is skipped. Having an initial schedule at the end really helps to learn how to better plan in the future.

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I've used a Gantt chart to manage my own personal projects when there were rather complex dependencies and long lead times and the overlap of items had to be carefully managed so that certain dependencies were ready when other things came back. For example, in what was largely a legal/administrative project, I had to file dozens of different requests with entirely different government and commercial entities and some of those depended on the approvals of others. To get this done in the minimum time possible, I developed a detailed Gantt chart.

However, for most of my projects, both personal and professional, I prefer Kanban. Kanban would not have worked for the project I first describe above, without a very high cost tool that could enforce dependencies and that probably would've taken longer to learn than it was worth (I might have been able to use Jira but it would've been way overkill).

However, the main point of the Gantt chart is not to allocate resources but to graphically display the schedule and dependencies. It can show the overall minimum and maximum lengths of the project (including visualization of where resources might be applied). You can't necessarily visualize the critical path from a Gantt chart though, though some tools (e.g. Microsoft Project) have options for that and you can highlight it manually in others (e.g. Excel). However, a PERT chart or a network diagram would be better for identifying a critical path on a complex project.

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