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Gantt Chart vs Timeline – When to Use Each One (With Examples)

Gantt charts and timelines are both useful project management tools. However, they can be confused with each other or even used in the wrong context. That’s why this blog offers a brief explanation of each tool and the differences between of Gantt chart vs Timeline, before showing some examples of when you might choose one over the other. 

Learn more about Gantt here – What is a Gantt Chart?

What is a Timeline?

A timeline is similar to a calendar. It gives a clear and simple overview of a project or multiple projects suitable for all project stakeholders, particularly those managing a team, a project, or a portfolio of projects. 

A timeline view helps to visualize time-related metrics, spot potential delays, and synchronize projects and teams. This is particularly helpful for tracking overall project progress against agreed deadlines or assigning teams to specific projects. In essence, a timeline view is a high-level view of projects that’s useful for resource planning where you can compare several projects and see the dependencies between them.

As an example, here’s a mockup of a timeline view of a space mission. Within the mission, there are several separate, inter-related projects, all of which need to be tracked, from designing the rocket, to building the rocket, training the fight crew, testing the rocket, to the launch. 

Here’s how those inter-related projects would look on a timeline view in Teamhood:

gantt chart vs timeline

What is a Gantt Chart?

A Gantt chart is used to visualize the tasks required for a project as building blocks. Each block represents a crucial task, and its length indicates how much time has been allocated for its completion. The longer the bar, the longer you have to complete the task.

Gantt charts are useful for planning and tracking the details of specific projects. You can view each task’s progress, the overall project completion rate, and the schedule. A Gantt chart can provide you with the time estimates for multiple tasks, automatically rescheduling tasks when you make adjustments to your project schedule.

Perhaps most useful, a Gantt chart tracks all of your project’s dependencies. A dependency is a relationship between each task. Each individual task is dependent on several others so those tasks must be completed before you can move on to the next. A Gantt chart dependency is a way of clearly representing these relationships between tasks.

To visualize the difference, let’s go back to our space mission above. In this Gantt chart view, you can clearly see the projects outlined in the timeline broken down into their individual and dependent tasks, in much more detail. With this view, you can see the dependencies, milestones, and how each task relates to the others in each project:

gantt chart vs timelines

Difference Between Gantt Chart vs Timeline

Hopefully, this explanation has clarified what the difference is between these two project management tools. However, it is common to find statements online such as “a Gantt chart is an upgraded version of a project timeline”. Statements like this suggest that Gantt charts are better than timelines. 

This is not the case, however. When comparing Gantt chart vs timeline both have their uses, and both are valuable for different aspects of project planning. A timeline is more of an overview of everything that’s happening across multiple projects. Gantt gets into the details of what’s going on with each individual project task. 

If you’re running two or more large projects that are related, you’ll want to look at a timeline to see the basic overview of how everything is connected and on schedule. Gantt allows you to see the specific project and specific tasks, which tasks are blocked or delayed, which are on track, and where you need to assign more resources. Put simply, you look at the timeline to see if there are any issues and then go to Gantt to see what the issues are and how best to resolve them. 

When to Use a Timeline

Project managers and project management offices will typically rely on timelines for:

  • Portfolio management
  • Project and program planning
  • Roadmapping

Release managers will use timelines to:

  • Create an iteration or release schedule for teams
  • Plan and track progress across multiple releases

QA managers will use timelines to map test plans for a test run, while other managers will use timeline to plan allocations of people and skills across projects. 

When to Use a Gantt Chart

Project managers and PMOs will typically use Gantt charts to:

  • Create a project outline
  • Plan and schedule individual tasks
  • Track project progress at the task level

Timeline and Gantt Chart for Effective Project Management

While Gantt charts have more features and offer more granularity of detail than timelines, you need both. Not every stakeholder in your organization needs to go into detail on the tasks of each project, but they do need to be able to track project progress at a glance. For this, timelines are ideal. They are also the best tool for tracking the interdependencies between multiple related projects – something that would be way too complex if attempted in a Gantt chart. 

Gantt charts meanwhile are essential when it comes to tracking individual project progress, as we’ve seen. Both tools are needed, but not always fully understood, so it’s important to be clear on how best to use each one to get the most out of them. 

Ready to get started on designing your own Gantt charts and timelines?

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