2 Crazy-Fast Ways to Make a Gantt Chart in PowerPoint

Today’s PowerPoint Speed Training task is quickly turning your Excel data into visual PowerPoint layouts in minutes, rather than hours.

The first technique we’ll cover is an insanely clever PowerPoint hack (that few know about);

And the second is an awesome add-in you can get to do all of the heavy lifting for you.

If you don’t have a lot of time, click here to download the cheat sheet, which will walk you through 2 ways to do this in minutes, rather than hours.

And this adheres to the Golden Rule of Speed Training:

Never Do Anything Manually That PowerPoint Will Automatically Do For You

Whereas most people would insert shapes and copy/paste and/or retype their text, moving from Excel to PowerPoint, we’re going to focus on getting PowerPoint to do the heavy lifting for you, because…

The less manual-mumbo-jumbo you have to do to build your graphic, the more you can get done!

For this PowerPoint tutorial, I’ll focus 100% on creating Gantt Charts or timelines, but the same rules and hacks apply to any other Excel data you might have, BUT…

Let’s first get this out of the way.

Yes…your Gantt Chart data is easy to type up and hold in Excel (what I call listy-Excel).

Gantt Chart 1 - Excel Spreadsheet small

But it looks 1,000% better when presented properly in PowerPoint (what I call vsual-PowerPoint).

That’s why I advocate taking your Gantt data from Excel and pushing into PowerPoint, AND…

I’ll show you how to do it (see the graphic below) in less than 12 minutes with pure PowerPoint skills, and then how to do it 24x faster (in less than 30 seconds) using an add-in.

Gantt Chart 2 - PowerPoint Slide

And the two main obstacles you need to overcome when moving form listy-Excel to visual-PowerPoint are:

Obstacle #1: Getting Started Without Going Crazy

Getting your Excel information in PowerPoint shapes that you can then fully manipulate is a no-starter for most people…

BUT it doesn’t have to be!

What can take most people 10, 20 or even 60 minutes to pull off, I’ll show you how to do in just a few minutes.

Obstacle #2: Updating the Data After the Fact

This is the classic Excel to PowerPoint challenge. How do you quickly update your information without spending hours re-manipulating your objects or having to start all over again?

That’s where these two clever techniques come into play…

The first is an insanely clever PowerPoint hack (that few know about); and the second is an add-in you can get to do all of the heavy lifting for you.

And even though you will fall in love with the add-in (covered below), the first hack is something EVERY PowerPoint Ninja should know, so don’t skip ahead just yet.

Technique #1: DIY Your Gantt Chart

This first technique is a PowerPoint hack that every professional should know, as it makes moving between Excel and PowerPoint almost too easy.

This is the fastest way I know of (other than the add-in) to turn lists of data into Excel, into visual layouts in PowerPoint. This is PowerPoint Speed Training at its best!

Visual learners can watch the video below, otherwise skip the video and read on.

>> (Mac 2011) Watch me build the whole thing out in under 12 minutes

Step #1: Copy your Excel spreadsheet data

From PowerPoint, navigate to Excel and select the range of data that you want to turn into individual shapes in PowerPoint.

Note: This works best for single columns. If you have multiple columns, you will need to repeat these steps multiple times, but don’t worry…it’s fast and fairly painless.

Gantt Chart 3 - Copy your excel data

Step #2: Paste your column of data into PowerPoint as text

After copying your information in Excel, hit ALT+TAB to flip back to PowerPoint and hit CTRL+V to paste…

And immediately notice that you have a Paste Special icon in the lower right-hand corner of your pasted object.

Note: The icon below only shows up when you first paste something into PowerPoint. If don’t see it, delete the object on your slide and hit CTRL+V again.

Gantt Chart 4 - Paste your excel data into PowerPoint

Open up the Paste Special dialog box and select the last option, Keep Text Only.

Gantt Chart 5 - Paste your excel data as text

Although it doesn’t look like you have a lot at this point, bear with me…

Step #3: Convert your list of text into SmartArt

Select the text box on your slide (so that you have a solid outline around it), navigate to the Home Tab, open up the Convert to SmartArt dropdown and you want to focus on two options here.

This is VERY IMPORTANT.

Gantt Chart 6 - 2 SmartArt Graphic Options

Option #1: The Vertical Bullet List

Selecting the Vertical Bullet List option turns your graphic into a vertical column of shapes. In this case, the Vertical Bullet List is perfect for the categories and dates beneath our timeline.

Gantt Chart 7 - Vertical Bullet List

Option #2: The Organizational Chart

Selecting the Organizational Chart turns your list of text into a horizontal column of shapes. In this case, the Organizational Chart is perfect for the horizontal milestones that we will place on top of our timeline.

Gantt Chart 8 - Organizational chart

Pick either one of these (I will continue on with the vertical layout).

If you’ve never seen that before, that should already explode your mind…but we are just getting started.

Regardless of which of the two different layouts you use, just make sure you don’t stop here. Next you want to…

Step #4: Break your SmartArt graphic

Select your SmartArt graphic and hit the ungroup shortcut (CTRL+SHIFT+G) twice.

  • CTRL+SHIFT+G the first time breaks the graphic into a group of objects
  • CTRL+SHIFT+G a second time breaks the graphic down into individual objects

Gantt Chart 9 - ungroup SmartArt graphic

Doing so gets all of your Excel data into individual rectangles that you can then work with which is much faster than trying to retype it yourself.

Step #5: Repeat for the other columns of Excel data

Repeat the same process for whatever additional columns of Excel data you need to convert to PowerPoint shapes for your Gantt chart graphic.

Gantt Chart 10 - turn excel data into powerpoint shapes

Again, make sure you choose the correct SmartArt graphic to get your shapes started in the correct position.

Note: For the dates, I used a custom excel data format “mmm – dd” to get the month’s name and the actual date.

Step #6: Rearrange, format and align your objects

From here, you will need to rearrange, format and align your objects.

This is something we focus heavily on in our PowerPoint Speed Training course as it represents 50% or more of your time in PowerPoint. To learn more about what we mean by Speed Training, check out our free Save 40 Hours in PowerPoint Mini-Series.

Gantt Chart 11 - resulting Gantt chart powerpoint slide

If you are really quick, the layout above should take about 12 minutes to pull off. Don’t believe me? Watch the following video to see the full build-out in real time:

There are 3 major downsides to this technique

Downside #1: Manually Arranging and Formatting Your Objects

Although the SmartArt Ninja trick for turning your Excel data into PowerPoint objects is awesome, you still need to manually update, format and align your objects.

How long it takes you depends on how much speed training you’ve had.

Downside #2: The Timeline is Not 100% Exact

Let’s face it, if you are manually moving things around in PowerPoint for a timeline, things will not be 100% exact.

In the graphic above, I guesstimated where the dates start and stop…I didn’t not figure out the exact place where Sept-8 should line up with the Sept rectangle, for example. In this case I think it’s fine, but if you want 100% precision, you want the add-in I’m about to show you next.

Downside #3: Updating the Gantt Chart

As the graphic is manually built by you, updating your Gantt Chart requires you to do it manually. There is no way to dynamically link the Gantt Chart up with your Excel spreadsheet.

On the flip side, there is an add-in that will do ALL of this heavy lifting for you.

Technique #2: The Office Timeline+ Add-in

Now let’s look at the big guns for building Gantt Charts quickly – the Office Timeline+ add-in.

If you build lots of project charts and timelines like this, you simply need to get the Office Timeline+ add-in which does ALL of the heavy lifting for you including:

  • Building the entire graphic for you
  • Allowing you to quickly change elements within the graphic
  • Allowing you to quickly update the data sets
  • Building the time sequence for you and keeping it all exact (and I mean PERFECTLY exact)

Visual learners can watch the video below, otherwise skip the video and read on.

If you have a lot of Gantt charts to create and manage, you’re going to want the Office Timeline+ add-in as it will not only make building the original Gantt chart easier…

But will also allow you to dynamically update the Gantt chart after the fact, which is super cool!

You can download a free version of Office Timeline add-in here, just note that to paste from Excel to PowerPoint, as I show you below, you will need the paid version.

That said, we think this add-in does SO MUCH, that the price is a big time steal!

Step #1: Start a New Office Timeline+ graphic

Office Timeline Step 1 - Launch the wizard

Select the Office Timeline+ tab in your Ribbon (1). Then, select New, in the upper left-hand corner (2).

Next, select your graphic style, I’ve selected the Metro style here (3). And finally, select the arrow to advance to the Milestones tab (yes, it’s that easy!) (4).

Step #2: Copy and paste your milestones

Hit ALT+TAB to toggle to Excel (if you already have it open). In your Excel sheet select your milestones (make sure to include the dates as well) and hit CTRL+C to copy them.

Office Timeline Step 2.1 - Copy your milestones in excel

Now ALT+TAB back to PowerPoint, and in the Milestones window, paste in your milestones using the paste Icon (1).

NOTE: Use the icon as shown below, don’t just CTRL+V to paste them in…it won’t work.

After pasting, click on the right arrow to navigate to the Tasks tab (2).

Office Timeline Step 2.2 - paste excel data into the wizard

Step #3: Copy and paste your tasks into the wizard

Hit ALT+TAB to go back to Excel and copy your tasks, making sure to include the dates.

Office Timeline Step 3.1 - Copy tasks in Excel

Once more, hit ALT+TAB to jump back to PowerPoint and using the paste icon up in the upper right-rand corner, paste in your task data (1).

Now click the check-mark to finish (2).

Office Timeline Step 3.2 - paste tasks into wizard

Step #4: Appreciate your chart!

Holy smokes, this chart was created in less than 30 seconds! That is the fastest way to make a Gantt chart in PowerPoint that I know of.

The add-in will insert a new slide (it’s a special Office Timeline+ slide that helps run the graphic), so you’ll need to add your Title and/or Subtitle back, but that’s a small price to pay for all of the time savings.

Office Timeline Step 4 - enjoy your Gantt chart graphic

Step #5: Format your graphic

At this point there is a TON you can do to format and customize your graphic. To see my 5 favorite formatting features of Office Timeline+, including how to turn your graphic into a table, check out the 5 Favorite Office Timeline+ Tricks blog post.

Next Steps for Your Gantt Chart or Timeline

Before we get to formatting the graphic, let’s look at what we have accomplished.

Instead of manually adding shapes to your PowerPoint slide and copying/pasting or retyping your text, which violates our Golden Rule of Speed Training:

Never Do Anything Manually That PowerPoint Can Automatically Do For You

Instead we looked at:

#1: How to turn your Excel data into PowerPoint shapes using and breaking SmartArt graphics. Remember, you can stack your data both vertically and horizontally.

#2: How to use the Office Timeline+ add-in to crank out Gantt charts and timelines 24 times faster than you could on your own.

And the truth is that, using the Office Timeline+ add-in…

The fun has just begun!

Once your information is within the graphic, there is a TON of formatting the graphic can AUTOMATICALLY do for you, all of which I cover in the following post.

>> Check out out these awesome 5 Office Timeline+ Formatting Tricks