The Gantt Chart: Already Dead Or Still Alive?

Posted by Martin Karlowitsch on Sep 7, 2011 2:52:00 PM

In a recent discussion, one of my friends turned to me and asked: “You took over a Gantt software company? Wow, Martin! You should have told me before. Good old Henry Gantt is dead since almost 100 years, and virtually his charts are too.” – I did not reply, but decided to give this statement a thought.
Thinking about something that is assumed to be dead automatically implies it had been alive before. As we are not talking about a person here, but about a visualization technique, dead and alive in other words mean that this technique had a value in the past, but is no longer needed nowadays. So let’s have a look back into the good old days when a Gantt chart not only was seen as valuable, but also as revolutionary tool.


The environment, for which Henry Laurence Gantt invented his charts, was the production/ manufacturing industry and the prime use case was the improvement of managerial decision-making in the scheduling process. The design of the Gantt chart followed the question which information a foreman or supervisor needed to see to quickly understand whether a production was on schedule, ahead of time or running late. Gantt introduced the idea to use time and resource usage and no longer quantity as a yardstick for making scheduling decisions, and created various types of charts depending on the individual needs of the production managers. These managers at that time had to manage bottlenecks, were supposed to deal with uncertainty and needed to cope with all problems resulting from the still high degree of human contribution to industrial production. For this environment, Henry Gantt created a chart that summarized all relevant information to make profound scheduling decisions.

In a nutshell, the Gantt chart had been alive when the following characteristics were met:

    • Production environment, where

    • decision support for scheduling processes were needed

    • and required context-sensitive information (“for individual needs”) at one glance

    • taking into account time and resource usage as crucial determinants.

What has changed since then to declare the Gantt chart dead?

Although we are heading towards the so called service society, the cumulated net output of the manufacturing industry still counts for more than 25% of the global GDP (source: World Bank). Undoubtedly, this sector still has its relevance. With ever increasing competition, and also the ongoing commoditizing of many products, the margin pressure especially in the manufacturing industry has been growing as well. This allows making the initial assumption that scheduling processes have become even more important, and as such the tools providing decision support for scheduling tasks (like Gantt software).

This assumption can be endorsed by three core evidences:  First, there is virtually no publication about production challenges that does not name time as a core success factor (which by the way becomes also evident when looking at KPIs such as time-to-market or production methodologies like just-in-time). So: what could be outdated about a time-focused scheduling tool? Second, since the good old days of Henry Gantt, the ratio fix costs to variable costs has been becoming more and more fix cost-savvy; also and even in production environments. In fix cost-intensive areas, people typically have to put a high emphasis on the best possible resource usage to make maximum use of the fix cost-driving capacities they built. Again: why should a resource-focused visualization to support scheduling decisions be outdated in such a scenario? Third, let’s look at decision support itself. Especially in the light of the tremendous data growth, delivering only context-sensitive information has arisen as one candidate for becoming a new paradigm for the design of decision support systems. Once more: this is what Henry Gantt intended to create. A context-sensitive tool to improve time- and resource-based scheduling decisions. Can such a tool really be dead nowadays?

The opposite seems to be true: There is more need for a Gantt chart than ever before. At least, in the production industry and it is the task of the software industry to provide Gantt software tools that also cope with today’s production scheduling requirements. Finally and fair enough: many of “the Gantt is dead” advocates come from the project management industry. This potential use case of a Gantt chart has not been analyzed here. The focus here was to prove that the Gantt chart as Henry Gantt invented it, still is alive and needs to alive. I feel, this question has been clearly answered.

Hence, I would like to know your thoughts about Gantt chart in production: is it alive or dead? And in the meantime, I will “noodle” about the Gantt chart and its role project management … ;-)

Topics: Production Scheduling, Planning & Scheduling Insight, Gantt Chart Fundamentals