Two karate fighters facing off in an outdoor park - Kanban vs Gantt Charts concept
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Since the introduction of agile, project management has evolved from a linear methodology to a more dynamic model. We are now seeing the same thing with project management software, in which the tools are currently based on Gantt charts and/or Kanban boards. 

To help project managers determine the best use case for each methodology we compare both approaches with input/advice from industry experts.

What Is Kanban?

Kanban is a project management methodology that utilizes agile principles. It was first utilized by car manufacturer Toyota to help project managers track the progress of work using a visual board, which is now referred to as the “Kanban board” and is adapted by software development teams. This visual board separates tasks into different categories, and each category represents the different stages of a task. The most common set up is “to do,” “in progress” and “complete.”

The purpose of Kanban is to establish a continuous workflow, said Archie Sharma, director of strategic partnerships at Wrike. “Kanban project management represents individual tasks as cards that are moved along a board divided into the different stages of production. This puts the focus on a continuous flow of a small number of tasks, preventing teams from overcommitting or getting distracted by less important tasks,” Sharma said.

Related Article: Agile vs Scrum vs Kanban Weighing the Differences

What Are Gantt Charts?

Gantt Charts are seen as the more conventional way of managing projects. A typical Gantt chart is comprised of a horizontal axis and a vertical axis. The horizontal axis shows the timeline of a project, and the vertical axis highlights where the individual tasks should take place. This setup allows the project manager to get an overview of how long a task, as well as the project as a whole, should take. “Gantt charts are a staple tool in project management. They've achieved this status because of their ability to visualize the timeline of a project and the resources needed for it,” said Sharma.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Kanban

Nikolay Tsonev, marketing specialist at Kanbanize, said the main benefit of utilizing Kanban is it allows project managers to break down “complex projects into smaller work items” and prioritize accordingly. Additionally, the Kanban board can help project managers keep tabs on different tasks since it is all visually represented.

But the main benefit, according to Tsonev, is that Kanban can increase output. “On a Kanban board, managers can set up work in progress (WIP) limits, which restrict the number of items that team members are working on. This helps them focus their attention on the most important work at a specific moment so they can make sure they complete it.”

However, despite hailing the benefits, Tsonev said that successful implementation of Kanban involves a cultural shift. “Probably the biggest disadvantage of Kanban is its complex structure, which makes it harder for implementation. This is because the method requires a culture shift in the entire organization to which some employees might not respond positively.”

Tsonev added that since Kanban is focused on WIP, it may not be suitable for result-driven projects.

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Advantages and Disadvantages of Gantt Charts

The main benefit of Gantt charts, according to Sharma, is it allows project managers to set more accurate deadlines. “[With Gantt charts] you are able to easily determine the total amount of time it will take to accomplish a project, [and] projects can be broken down into bite-sized tasks,” said Sharma. He also added that a Gantt chart can help you identify dependent tasks and track them as well.

Since Gantt Charts provide project managers with a definitive start and end date of the project, it gives them a clear overview of the project and allows them to plan their resource allocation ahead of time. However, “a disadvantage of Gantt Charts is that they rely on setting up deadlines based on estimation. This is often a huge problem in project management because, many times, what has been initially conceptualized does not come to pass. As a result of this, end customers get enraged and remain unhappy with the service that has been delivered to them,” said Tsonev.

“Gantt Charts are also not suitable for big projects. With the addition of too many tasks and assignees, they can turn into a complicated structure where different team members are disconnected from each other and the process turns into chaos,” added Tsonev.

Kanban or Gantt Charts? Which One Should Project Managers Choose?

Both Kanban and Gantt charts have their advantages and disadvantages, but how should project managers decide which is best for their team? 

Peter Peterka, founder and CEO of Global Six Sigma, said it essentially boils down to whether your goal is continuous improvement or getting an end result. If you are after the former you should choose Kanban, and if you’re after the latter you should opt for Gantt charts. “Brands should use Kanban if they want a simple, visual overview of a workflow process in real-time and want to get the latest status. It is also good for achieving small steps towards continuous improvement [and] great for encouraging leadership at all levels,” said Peterka. “Gantt charts should be used when you want to see projects on a timeline and get a defined overview of the project, with deadlines and priorities outlined. It is perfect for those brands that have results-driven projects in mind.”