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How to find the best gantt chart tool
for your project

Gantt Chart

Gantt charts are a core part of the project planning process. Which functions do they offer and how do you find the right application to fit your requirements? In this article, we'll cover all the important questions relating to gantt chart tools on macOS.

Definition: What is a gantt chart?
When to use a gantt chart
Gantt charts on macOS
Checklist: How to find your perfect gantt chart tool

Definition: What is a gantt chart?

A gantt chart can be defined as a traditional project management tool to visualize the project schedule and to monitor the progress of project activities.

In a gantt chart all activities are displayed as bars in separate rows. You enter activities in the first column of a spreadsheet. As the first row marks the timeline your activities are displayed as a bar more left or right in its row depending on its start and end date. The bar is smaller or langer according to its calculated duration. In the end, you will get a good overview of all activities and their position in the context of the project as a whole.

You can easily find overlapping activities as their will be apparent as overlapping bars. Different colors are used to visualize if a task is still to be done, is work in progress or completed. Normally, it is also possible to highlight the critical path, i.e. those activities which affect the completion date of the project.

The name gantt chart refers to the American mechanical engineer Henry Gantt who did not invent this methodology but used and optimized the approach and made it popular during the 1910s.

When to use a gantt chart

Gantt diagrams can be used as planning tools for every kind of project. In contrast to other project visualizations, i.e. work breakdown structure, gantt charts can be created rather quickly with no time consuming training.

Gantt charts are especially handy when managing small and middle sized projects. As the tend to get confusing, if too many activities shall be displayed. However, with the right degree of detail even complex project can be displayed just fine. It's a challenge to find a balance between visualizing bigger work packages to keep the chart informative meanwhile neglecting details and to display small work packages while loosing a comprehensive view over the whole project.

Gantt charts on macOS

For a long time, Microsoft Project was the only serious project management application on the market. As the software is only available for Windows computer, Mac user had no choice than to create gantt charts with Excel or other spreadsheet applications.

Today, user can choose from a wide range of gantt chart tools for Mac. There are free applications as well as fee-based services, tools for beginners and professional users. Not all applications satisfy the minimum requirements you should set. The features and usability of different gantt chart tools varies quite a lot.

Free vs. fee-based applications

Why should you buy a gantt chart software if there are free applications available? At least, high software quality not always correlates to high prices. However, free gantt tools often come with a very minimal range of functions and lack customization options. You do not have to deal with those problems when investing a small amount in professional gantt chart software.

If you have little experience working with gantt charts or if you cannot dismiss the possibility of evolving requirements, it is usually a good idea to consider a professional software. You will save yourself unnecessary stress and time you need to switch to a better solution later on.

Cloud applications vs. local applications

Today, there are lots of saas applications you can use directly from your browser with no need of local installation. You don't need to worry about your IT infrastructure of the limitations of your operating system. That's for advantages. But cloud applications pose a huge security threat as they save confidential data on servers outside the company's direct control. This risk can be avoided if companies use local software and sync their data via secure server to share them with others. In this way, they benefit from the same flexibility saas applications offer but without the downsides. Besides, local software takes advantage of macOS' strengths and fits in well with the general usabilty. Both factors contribute to an efficient workflow and a short introduction phase.

Checklist: How to find your perfect gantt chart tool

  • Scheduling: The schedule is at the core of every gantt diagram. You should be able to display previous and following tasks as well as dependencies. Moreover, you should be able to plan activities without fixed due date so that start and end date will vary depending on the progress of previous tasks.
  • Different views: A gantt chart is not always the best view to manage a project. Many applications allow you to switch between different views like mind maps, PERT charts or WBS.
  • Customization: You should be able to customize the software according to your needs, i.e. you can color bars, set reminders for upcoming deadlines, attach documents, add comments.
  • Usability: Check if you can navigate the user interface intuitively. Can you access important commands via short cuts or are they hidden in the depth of the menu? Are you able to assign different authorizations to adjust views according to the team member's status? Does the program offers a comprehensive help andn easy to access resources?
  • Import/Export: Not every software supports file formats that can be easily opened and edited on different operating systems. However, compatibility is especially important for professional and longer projects and should be included as a key feature.
  • Collaboration: Check if the application fulfills your requirements for team work. Is it possible to work with multiple users at the same time in one document? Can you open and edit a project file via mobile device or web browser? Can you track comments and changes back to individual users?
  • Synchronization:If your team is spread over different locations, make sure you can access the gantt chart software from mobile devices.
  • Reporting: Which reporting functions are indcluded? Clear and compelling reportings are important for effective project controlling.
  • Templates: Many applications offer templates for gantt charts, some of which are free. They can speed up the planning process significantly. Check if the software has relevant templates for your field of use.
  • Demo version: Every professional software should offer a free demo version for customers to test functionalites and usability before the actual purchase.

Merlin Project and Merlin Project Express fulfill all mentioned criteria. For small projects, Merlin Project Express is a good fit. For complex and professional use, Merlin Project is the application of choice. You can download both versions and try them free for 30 days.

If you have any questions or problems, contact our support team.

Posted by Paul Henkel on January 22nd, 2018 under Project Management

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