Gantt Chart Roadmaps: Explanation, Guide, and Template
Gantt charts vs. roadmaps: are they different? Not necessarily—you can use Gantt charts as product roadmaps. Here’s how—and why you might not want to.
I love roadmapping—I Gantt get enough of it!
… I’ll see myself out.
Gantt charts are a bit controversial in product management, maybe because they represent a kind of traditional, stuffy way of organizing work and timelines. They’re an older tool that feels a bit out of place with the fresh, agile world most of us work in.
Gantt charts feel like roadmapping in suits, while many of us are looking for a well-fitting pair of jeans.
Look, most articles on Gantt chart roadmaps will tell you that Gantt charts aren’t product roadmaps. They’re there for organizing details, not plans. They’re project management, not product management.
I get it, and sort of agree: in my opinion, Gantt charts aren’t the best way to organize product development processes for software—at least for my teams.
But at the same time, I’m a big believer that you should do what works for you. If creating your product plans using horizontal bars that represent the amount of time it takes to complete a feature or product initiative is your version of the good life, fill your boots.
In this article, I’ll describe what Gantt charts are, their pros and cons for product managers, and how best to use them for a product roadmap.
What is a Gantt Chart?
A Gantt chart is literally just a horizontal bar chart that represents a project schedule. The horizontal bars indicate the start and finish dates of a feature or a project element. Modern Gantt charts also display dependencies between project pieces.
An example Gantt chart. Source.
Gantt charts have been one of the “most widely used project management tools” for decades. They’ve also made their way slowly into product management, with some PMs using them as a way to organize product plans and roadmaps.
What is a Gantt chart roadmap?
A Gantt chart product roadmap is just a Gantt chart that is used as a product roadmap.
Product roadmaps are visual documents that communicate your high-level plans for a product to your colleagues and stakeholders. They typically include your product goals, the features you’ll build, dates and timeframes, and metrics to evaluate progress.
When that roadmap planning document takes the form of a horizontal bar chart, where each feature, functionality, or product improvement has a bar that represents time frames, it’s a Gantt chart roadmap. Gantt chart roadmaps can also specify important milestones like release dates.
Gantt roadmap examples
Here’s an example of a Gantt chart product roadmap. You’ll notice that each of the bars represents a piece of the overall product. Their corresponding bar tells you how long it’s expected to take to complete and also the progress that’s been made.
An example Gantt chart product roadmap. Source (and template) here .
Is a Gantt chart roadmap right for you?
Choosing the right tool for product management depends on several factors, and Gantt charts can be an excellent choice for some projects and less so for others. Here are some considerations for deciding if a Gantt chart is appropriate.
Pros of Gantt chart roadmaps
Gantt charts are popular for a reason—they have several advantages. Here are some of the benefits of using them to organize your product planning:
Visual overview. With its visual format, a Gantt chart provides a clear overview of the individual components that your product requires, plus the expected timeline for each. It presents all that information at a glance.
Improved task coordination. Gantt chart routing displays task interdependencies—which pieces need to be done before you can do others. That can promote better coordination among team members and help prevent bottlenecks.
Real-time progress tracking. Gantt charts enable real-time updates on project progress. When you can track progress as you go, you are better able to spot delays or issues promptly and adjust plans accordingly.
Cons of Gantt chart roadmaps
While Gantt charts have many advantages, there’s a reason they’re heavily criticized as product management tools. Here are some of the potential drawbacks of using Gantt charts as product roadmaps:
Lack of detail. While Gantt charts provide an excellent overview, they may lack the granularity required for tracking intricate task details. For example, they may not include information about business goals, required resources, or customer feedback data.
Overwhelming. When they do include all the necessary detail, they can become overly complex and unwieldy. This can undermine their main benefit—that they communicate your project information quickly with just a glance.
Limited flexibility. Gantt charts can be rigid, with limited flexibility for changes or adjustments once the project is underway. This isn’t inherent to Gantt charts, it’s more about how your team interprets them. It’s common for teams to interpret Gantt charts as set in stone, rather than flexible, evergreen planning documents.
Over-emphasis on schedules. Gantt charts typically use specific dates. This can create an overemphasis on schedules, sometimes at the expense of other critical project components, such as quality or scope.
When to use Gantt charts as roadmaps?
Given the advantages and disadvantages, when does it make sense to use a Gantt chart as a roadmap? Consider the following factors.
Complexity. If your product has many tasks that need to be completed in a specific order, a Gantt chart may be useful for visualizing the sequence of tasks and their dependencies. However, if the project is highly complex, with many interdependent tasks, a Gantt chart may oversimplify the project and fail to represent it accurately.
Duration. For long-term projects, a Gantt chart can provide a good overview of the project timeline, including start and end dates for tasks, and the overall project completion date. But if the project duration is short, or if tasks are expected to be completed in an ad-hoc manner, a Gantt chart may not be necessary.
Team size and distribution. If you have a large team, or if your team is geographically distributed, a Gantt chart can help everyone understand the project schedule and their individual responsibilities. However, for small teams or co-located teams, regular meetings and discussions might be enough to keep everyone informed and coordinated.
Change frequency. If your project plan is expected to change frequently, constantly updating the Gantt chart may be time-consuming. Agile or iterative projects may benefit more from a Kanban roadmap or a Scrum roadmap, which are designed to accommodate change more easily.
Need for timeline visualization. If it’s really important to you and your team to have specific dates assigned to features or tasks, then a Gantt chart may be a good choice. If you want to give less specific time frames, another roadmap type may be a better choice.
How to make a Gantt Chart roadmap
I’ve provided detailed guidance about making a roadmap elsewhere. But here is a simple guideline specifically for making a Gantt chart for a roadmap.
Step 1: Define your product vision and goals. It’s good practice to start any roadmapping exercise with a solid understanding of your product vision and product strategy. Those are foundational for roadmaps, so get them sorted first.
Step 2: Identify your features. Once you've defined your project's objectives, you should identify all the tasks necessary to reach those objectives. Break down your goals into manageable tasks that can be assigned to team members.
Step 3. Sequence and prioritize the features. Next, figure out which features or initiatives should come first. They may be the ones that are higher priority or just the ones that just sequentially need to come first. This step is crucial for identifying task dependencies.
Step 4. Estimate task duration. For each task, provide an estimate of how long it will take to complete. These estimates will be used to set the start and end dates for each task on the Gantt chart. For this step, consider variables like resources, complexity, and potential obstacles.
Step 5. Assign teams and resources. Assign each deliverable to a person or team. Make sure to take into account the capacity of your resources, and don't overload any one person or team with too much work.
Step 6. Create the chart. With your tasks defined, sequenced, and assigned, start creating the Gantt chart. There are many tools available for this, including MS Project, Excel, and various online tools like Trello.
Guide: Roadmapping tools
You can also draw one by hand if you prefer.
On the vertical axis (y-axis), list all your tasks.
On the horizontal axis (x-axis), create a timeline that represents your project's entire duration.
For each task, draw a horizontal bar that represents its duration, starting on the projected start date and ending on the projected end date.
Indicate dependencies where necessary, usually with an arrow showing one task leading to another.
Step 7. Share and communicate the roadmap. Finally, share your Gantt chart roadmap with all project stakeholders. Clear communication ensures everyone understands the project timeline, their responsibilities, and how their work fits into the larger project context.
Step 8. Monitor and update. As you progress through your development process, use your Gantt chart to track your progress. Update it regularly to reflect actual progress and to adjust for any changes in your project plan.
Constructing a Gantt chart roadmap might seem like a daunting task initially, but once you get the hang of it, it's an invaluable tool for effective project management. It enables better planning, communication, and tracking, paving the way for successful project execution.
Other roadmap types to consider
Still on the fence about the suitability of Gantt Charts for your needs? Fret not, as there are multiple other roadmap styles at your disposal.
Roadmap types by what information is displayed:
Roadmap types by workflow framework:
Roadmap type by design style:
Kareem is a co-founder at Savio. He's been prioritizing customer feedback professionally since 2001. He likes tea and tea snacks, and dislikes refraining from eating lots of tea snacks.
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