Category Archives: Excel Training

How to Build an Automatic Gantt Chart in Excel

An easy to update Gantt chart in Excel

Building a Gantt chart in Excel is pretty easy. But what if you needed to update any of the tasks? This would usually mean lot’s of time consuming manual editing of cells.  But there is an easier way….

Step in Excel and the ever flexible conditional formatting function! Yes by deploying some neat conditional formatting tricks you can produce a presentable usable Gantt chart in Excel.

Recap: A Gantt chart is made up of task bars, one for each of the tasks required to complete the project in hand. The task bars typically have start and finish dates and therefore have different lengths on duration.

By using Excel’s Conditional Formatting feature we can create our project task bars for our Gantt chart. We will be able to different colour task bars conveniently managed by conditional formatting. An example is shown below on how cell colours can be changed; sales figures green if they exceed a target figure of 1200.


Let’s create a Gantt chart in Excel

By using conditional formatting we can easily create the following.

Gantt Chart in Excel

Creating the conditional formatting rule

Step 1. Start by selecting the range of cells where bars are to be displayed. In the above example range F2:T11.

Step 2. Select the Home tab then choose Conditional Formatting.

Step 3. Pick New Rule then Choose a formula to determine which cells to format.
In the empty box box (format values if formula is true) enter the formula:


This formula returns True if a task Start Date is before or equal to the chart date (entered in row 1) AND the Finish Date is after or equal to the chart date.

AND means both conditions within the brackets must apply. The $ sign before a letter means keep that column fixed when applying the rule to the range of cells. Similarly, the $ before a number means fix that row when applying the rule.

Step 4. Now click the Format button and choose a fill colour then OK.

In the example all cells that obey the rule are coloured blue.

Adding more rules

Additional rules can be added for example if certain tasks are designated critical by typing CT in the C column then colour the bars pink.

Project Chart

To do this create a new rule as before but include a third condition where the type is CT.


Click Format and choose pink as the fill colour.


For consistency you can choose specific fill colour by selecting Fill, More Colours, Custom then entering 255,153,255 for Red, Green and Blue.

Adding a white top and bottom border as part of the Formatting rule can help to separate the bars when touching.

To make changes to colours or to formulas you must highlight the exact range containing the conditional formatting then select Conditional Formatting, Manage Rules. To help do this quickly select Home, Find & Select, Conditional  Formatting.

Conditional formats can be copied using the Format Painter.

Additional Resources

Present your data in a Gantt chart in Excel

Pro tip: Create a Gantt chart in Excel


Data Visualisation in Excel

By Ann K. Emery

With an estimated user base of 500 million people worldwide, many of us use Excel at work and personally for home budgets, projects, to-do lists, and more.

It doesn’t take too much use of Excel before you reach the point of trying to express your data visually. This is where Excel charting options and other tools are on hand to help you with data visualisation in Excel.

What’s the right chart for your data visualisation in Excel?

Should it be a pie chart, bar chart, line charts, exploded charts? Well fret no longer, and read on!

In this article, I share four strategies for effective data visualisation in Excel:

  1. Consult a chart taxonomy
  2. Surround yourself with visualization inspiration
  3. Sketch plenty of drafts by hand
  4. Explore preliminary patterns via computer

Your data will shine, you can stop banging your head against the wall, and your viewers will applaud the visual clarity you’ve provided.

Strategy 1: Consult a Chart Taxonomy

First, gather inspiration from a chart taxonomy. By taxonomy, I mean diagrams that classify chart types and help you decide which one to use.

Excel’s Insert Chart Menu

This is the easiest taxonomy to use—the classic menu of Excel’s chart options that you’ve probably seen a million times before. The only problem is that some of these charts are, well, pretty rotten. Excel will suggest awful charts like 3D exploding pie charts and radar charts that are impossible to read and interpret. But, this menu is still a good starting point. And that’s where the additional taxonomies come in—to fill in the gaps.

Excel's Insert Chart Menu

Chart Suggestions—A Thought Starter

Andrew Abela has a well-known Chart Suggestions guide on This guide is wildly popular because he groups charts by function: comparison, distribution, composition, and relationship.

Andrew Abela's Chart Suggestions--A Thought Starter

The Graphic Continuum

Jon Schwabish released the Graphic Continuum in 2014. The project began as a large poster—you can see him holding it up. He also created 8.5 x 11 inch laminated reference cards.  Both the poster and reference cards are available on

Jon Schwabish's The Graphic Continuum

Essentials Chart Choosing Tool

A year and a half ago I started designing my own chart taxonomy. I sketched all the charts I use on a regular basis on 3.5 x 5 inch index cards.

Then, I sorted, sorted, sorted, and sorted. I thought about which charts were best for displaying patterns over time, which charts were best for part-to-whole dynamics, and so on.

Ann K. Emery's "Essentials" Chart Choosing Tool

I tried rearranging my thoughts into a handout, a PowerPoint slide, and even mind-mapping software. I wasn’t satisfied with the static versions I produced. Last fall, the Essentials chart choosing tool was born.

You can use the filters to explore the chart types on your own, just like I had sorted the index cards on my living room floor. You might focus on charts that are ideal for patterns over time, or for graphing a dispersion or spread of data, or on charts that can be made within Excel.

Data Visualisation in Excel - using the essentials chart choosing tool

Then, you can click on icons that interest you. Each chart has a separate page with a description, examples, and links to tutorials.

Strategy 2: Surround Yourself with Visualization Inspiration

Data visualization experts are constantly on the hunt for good examples.

On Twitter, I follow @NYTgraphics, @PostGraphics, and @PewResearch to ensure that my feed is full of strong visualizations.

On Pinterest, I store examples of everything from bar charts to computer-free visualizations, like charts made from stones, fruit, and paper.

I also print full-page, full-colour charts and tape them above my desk. When I’m beginning a new project, I glance up at my gallery to get ideas for chart styles.

Taping chart examples above your desk for inspiration

Strategy 3: Sketch Plenty of Drafts by Hand

I also sketch, draw, and doodle plenty of drafts before I create anything on the computer.

Here’s how it works:

  • Grab some scrap paper and markers, and then step away from the computer. Give your brain some creative time away from the screen rather than staring at a blank monitor.
  • Set the timer for 10, 20, or even 30 minutes. Doodle as many drafts as you can. I aim for at least 10 drafts of each dataset. Only the best one will survive the editing process.
  • Share drafts with colleagues early and often. Gather as much feedback as you can.
  • Next, create one or two of those promising drafts on the computer.
  • Edit, edit, edit! I adjust Excel’s default settings so that my charts follow the best practices outlined in the Data Visualization Checklist.
  • Put your easiest-to-follow chart in your final presentation or report.

The importance of sketching graphs on paper before sitting down to a blank computer screen

Strategy 4: Explore Preliminary Patterns via Computer

I also use quickie computer strategies, like Excel’s spark lines and conditional formatting, to help me narrow down the focus of my charts.

Spark Lines

Spark lines are miniature within-cell bar charts and line charts. They’re available in Excel 2010 and higher on both PCs and Macs.

To insert spark bars or spark lines, highlight the row or column that you’re interested in, and then head over to Insert > Spark Line.

It takes a lot of mental energy to read each and every number in this table, so spark lines provide an instant glimpse at the highs and lows in my dataset. I use these insights to think about which patterns I might want to visualize in my final product.

Using Excel's spark lines and spark bars to explore preliminary patterns in your dataset

Conditional Formatting

Conditional formatting is one of my favourite features of Excel. These features allow you to automatically colour-code your cells based on their contents.

To apply conditional formatting, highlight the rows or columns that you’re interested in, and then head over to Home > Conditional Formatting.

In this example, I turned my regular table into a heat table using Colour Scales. The larger numbers automatically get coloured in with darker colours and the smaller numbers get coloured in with lighter colours. Now, I can spot the highs and lows in my dataset instantly.

Sometimes I use these heat tables as inspiration for future charts, that is, to locate patterns that should get emphasized in other bar charts or line charts.

Other times, these heat tables are my final product. As shown below, I added a title and made this table printer-friendly. Then I can print the colour-coded table and share it as a handout at a meeting.

Using Excel's conditional formatting (automatic color-coding based on the cell's contents) to explore preliminary patterns in your dataset

What are your strategies for selecting the right chart for your dataset? Please share your tips in the comments section below.