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Project Calendars and Gantt Charts: What's the difference and when to use them?

Project Managers use a number of tools to keep projects moving and deliver a solution to the client on time and on budget, with scheduling tools being one of the most important. While there are a variety of options,Wrikestates that the two most common are traditional project calendars and Gantt charts. AnarticlebyKat Boogaardsays that the tools are similar and neither is necessarily better than the other; however, there are three distinct differences: appearance, usability, and function.

The difference in appearance is obvious — a project calendar looks like a traditional calendar where Gantt charts provide a visual representation of the project timeline. Naturally, then, usability follows as the next distinction since Gantt charts are less intuitive. Using a Gantt chart can create extra work in getting a team up-to-speed, especially when some are unfamiliar with the format. Function is the more complex difference, as Boogaard explains that each can have its own purpose. Here is what she recommends:

Use a Project Calendar When:

  • You only need an overview of key ideas:It’s easy to clearly notate things like go-live dates, meeting dates and crucial milestones.

  • You want something simple to share with other stakeholders:For example, the board of directors may just need to know a few select dates or the client might only have time to a quick glance for the crucial facts.

  • You need to schedule a meeting:Meetings are a necessary evil in projects but rarely displayed easily on a Gantt chart.

Use a Gantt Chart When:

  • You need to understand dependencies between tasks:It’s important to know what tasks will impact others for you to plan a realistic schedule.

  • You need to identify your project’s Critical Path:A traditional calendar simply can’t trace the longest line of dependent tasks. Gantt charts make it easier to know where you have wiggle room.

  • You need to manage multiple projects at once:Say good by to multiple calendars and layer different projects to get an understanding of how they overlap.

Again, the author highlights that neither of these tools are superior than the other, they just need to be used at the appropriate times. In fact, Boogaard suggests that they often complement one another and recommends using both. If you’re a Project Manager, which do you prefer to use? Or, when you’re working on any project, which do you prefer your PM shows to you?