Project management as a concept is old; we can trace it as far back as 2570 BC! Ancient records show for example, that the Great Pyramid of Giza had managers overseeing the completion of each of its four faces. And although there has been some type of project management since our early civilization days, project management in the modern sense started in the 1950s.

Gantt chart vs. roadmap - what’s the difference?

Two major breakthroughs in managing projects came with the invention of Gantt charts and roadmaps. Question remains; are they different ways of viewing the same thing? We know both tools display information related to completing a long-term project, alongside its milestones, but do they function the same way?

In general terms, a Gantt chart is a bar chart that displays a detailed, linear schedule of tasks related to a project while showcasing task dependencies; a roadmap, on the other hand, serves as a high-level, strategic plan that reflects your vision and goals.

But let’s look at this in more detail!

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What is a Gantt chart?

The Gantt chart was named after management consultant Henry Gantt, but its story goes all the way back to 1896.

Gantt chart - a brief history in project management
History of Gantt Charts

The basics of a Gantt chart

A Gantt chart is a project management tool in the form of a bar chart that displays a detailed schedule of tasks related to a single project. There are many tools you can use to create a Gantt chart, but the basics are always the same:

  • left column: is a list of tasks with dependent subtasks
  • header: represents time units in a linear schedule
  • each line: corresponds to a task; it’s either represented by a rectangle based on its duration, or a diamond if it’s a project milestone.

In other words, a Gantt chart helps cross-functional teams understand the work required of them, and the order in which it is to be completed so they can move on to the next stage of the project.

Advanced Roadmaps is a Jira Gantt chart
Jira Gantt Chart - Advanced Roadmaps

A Gantt chart is basically useful for setting up a plan that details how the team will complete a project. On the other hand, a roadmap will help them define and communicate why they should complete that project. Makes sense?

For more on Gantt charts and how to use them, check out this glossary article!

What is a project roadmap timeline?

A project roadmap offers project managers (and other stakeholders) a high-level overview of project initiatives, goals and deliverables; for any project. A roadmap is basically a bird’s eye view of a project, allowing managers the ability to align all stakeholders with respect to milestones and objectives.

Swanly roadmap: Jira timeline to track stages
Track progress with Swanly Jira roadmap

A product roadmap on the other hand, is a plan of action for how your product will grow over time. Product owners use roadmaps to outline future product functionality and when new features will be released. Now, when we say roadmap timeline, we’re looking at something that kind of falls in the middle between a roadmap and a Gantt chart!

Roadmap and roadmap timeline

Similarly to a Gantt chart, the timeline view on a roadmap provides stakeholders with a visual representation; not just of time required for every task, but also, of how resourcing will change throughout the project. What really differentiates this timeline view from the usual Gantt chart view however is the fact that you can filter your data based on theme, status, owner or whatever you see fit.

You can even represent multiple fields on the roadmap; for example in the Swanly roadmap timeline image above, you can clearly see what projects are on, what stage they’re at, how long until completion and so on. All in one viewing of course. Keep in mind however, that with a roadmap (as opposed to a Gantt chart), you’re not forced to represent your project in a waterfall fashion; based on how you play with your data, you can represent your timeline differently.

The basics of a roadmap

Roadmaps have two defining elements:

  1. they focus on high-level plans (not details)
  2. they communicate the strategic thinking and objectives behind those high-level plans

What’s the difference between a project roadmap and a plan?

The main difference is that the roadmap is a high-level view of your project, while an effective project plan will get into the details of what must happen for the project to be a success.

Your project plan should provide granular answers to these questions:

  • What is the value proposition?
  • How is the project scope being managed?
  • How much budget is allocated to this project?
  • What are the risks, and what contingency plans are in place?

The project plan also deals with project details like client names, training requirements, schedules and so on, while your roadmap is the big picture. It takes all your project plan details and brings out relevant info to stakeholders.

Why would you need a project roadmap?

If a meticulous project plan can give you the context you need for key stakeholders with very specific questions, then why go for a project roadmap? See, not every project member wants to go through pages of documentation; they simply want a summary of when they can expect deliverables.

More often than not, stakeholders just need a quick check-in on when a deliverable is due or what the status of task x is. A roadmap speeds up this process by providing a streamlined and focused version of the project plan. A roadmap is what you want to present in your recurring project syncs so you can quickly get everyone aligned on timelines and milestones, without getting caught up on details.

For those who need more details, the project plan is readily available for reference.

What is the purpose of product roadmaps and Gantt charts?

Roadmaps help you visualize a set of objectives and the work needed to achieve them; they offer big-picture direction and timing for daily work. And though they’re often used for strategic product planning, roadmaps can also be used in many contexts: for managing marketing campaigns or a portfolio of projects for example!

Gantt charts, on the other hand, visualize a timeline for work that needs to be completed by a fixed date (linearly). The Gantt chart will have every detail to keep cross-functional teams on schedule.

Roadmaps vs. Gantt charts - main differences infographic

What are the components of roadmaps and Gantt charts?

Roadmaps look at the 3 w’s: ‘why’, ‘when’ and ‘what’!
‘Why’ is about your vision, initiatives and goals that can be measured; ‘when’ is a high-level time frame for implementing your strategy; and ‘what’ can be anything - such as the features you want to develop with every release!

Gantt charts look at ‘when’ and ‘what’, but in a more profound way.
For example, your roadmap will show a general end date while a Gantt chart will include all the phases of work needed from every team involved in this project, as well as milestones and dependencies between tasks.

Which is more agile, Gantt charts or roadmaps?

In an agile environment, when comparing between a Gantt chart and a roadmap timeline, the former turns out to be less flexible. See, Gantt charts make the assumption that work is completed linearly; they fail at illustrating how work changes with every iteration.

Agile concept in Jira
Agile Illustration

The roadmap is more flexible than the Gantt chart

A roadmap timeline will provide the backdrop for your team's everyday work; it’s as important to an agile team as it is to a waterfall team because it offers context while being responsive to change.

Now it’s true that agile organizations use Gantt charts, but these charts don’t necessarily support the agile framework. See, when it comes to building products, Agile is all about flexibility and adaptability; teams are encouraged to iterate and push out new versions as often as possible. Gantt charts don’t fit with that agility; on the contrary, they emphasize linear work and task dependencies, not to mention they map out every little step in your project before you even start.

Roadmaps capture only the high-level strategic plans and desired outcomes of a large initiative, such as building a product. Because roadmaps maintain focus at the high-level, they offer cross-functional teams a lot of freedom when translating strategy into tasks, timelines, priorities, and resources.

A misconception of the Gantt chart

To be fair, there is a misconception that Gantt charts are useful for Waterfall projects only. The Gantt Chart can roll up any data attribute for you to visualize actual progress against planned progress, but only if you structure or map your chart correctly to visualise actual progress against planned progress. It’s a cumbersome process to say the least!

Why roadmaps are better than Gantt charts for Agile teams

For project managers whose biggest challenge might be managing expectations on timelines and deliverables, the timeline view in the roadmap provides a snapshot of how the project’s key initiatives should unfold. Milestones can be used to explicitly show the team what is due, when.

Pivot and filter data

Similar to a Gantt chart, this view provides team members with a visual representation of not only the anticipated length of tasks, but how resourcing will evolve across the project. What really differentiates this view from your traditional Gantt chart though is the fact that you can pivot and filter your data based on the fields you choose (status, owner and so on).

Jira release stage dropdown in Swanly roadmap timeline
Jira roadmap release with stage dropdown

You can have multiple fields represented in your roadmap. For example, in the roadmap above, you can clearly see what projects are on and the stages they’re in, and if you click on any of the tasks in your roadmap swimlane, you get a more granular look. With this, project managers can easily track and share the status of a project, while helping their team members understand the bigger picture, and be held accountable.

Represent project timelines together

A roadmap doesn’t force you to represent your project in a waterfall fashion; based on how you pivot your data, you can represent your timelines simultaneously.

The main thing to keep in mind is that your roadmap is your big picture, not your detailed breakdown; basically, it doesn’t replace your project plan. It’s there as an accompanying piece,  helping you visualize the important components of your project plan so you can push your team and project closer to the finish line.

Why Swanly is the ultimate Jira roadmap timeline

The thing about Swanly is that it’s not just a Jira roadmap; it’s a roadmap timeline, with a list view that is similar to a Jira Gantt chart, and a report view that you can access for drilled down information. Swanly basically acts as a roadmap timeline, project plan and Jira Gantt chart, all in one app!

Roadmap view

Swanly Jira roadmap timeline with cross-project releases
Roadmap view in Swanly 

For project managers who are more concerned with status over deadlines, Swanly’s swimlane view gives high-level visualization of project tasks. It’s an ideal view when you want quick status updates or random stakeholder syncs in an environment that shifts often (i.e. Agile), or you’re dealing with long-term projects that don’t have fixed dates.

Report view = project plan

Jira roadmap release view
Report view in Swanly roadmap

While the roadmap gives big picture access to all your work in Jira, the deliverable itself is connected to all the data that pertains to it. Swanly’s Report View gives you a granular overview of every issue or release, with graphs that can be created on the spot and shared across departments!

Swanly cross-project report view for Jira release
Report view for Jira release

List view = Gantt chart

List view in Swanly is like a Gantt chart for Jira
Swanly list view = Jira Gantt chart

Swanly offers full access to high-level data such as name, status, type, progress, description, and start & end dates, all in one list where you can track progress across multiple issues, releases and projects. Of course, it’s a simpler version of the Gantt chart!

10 Reasons why teams love using Swanly Jira Roadmap

Here’s a really good video by Biro, on why you should consider Swanly as your go-to roadmap in Jira, but to iterate:

  1. The timeline is super easy to navigate
  2. It allows for cross-project reporting
  3. You can plan work according to your team’s needs
  4. You’re allowed to work with any type of issues
  5. Work templates help you save time by standardizing stages and duration
  6. Aggregated reports offer all stakeholders the visibility they need
  7. Progress reports are easy to share across the organization
  8. Everyone is kept in the loop while every stakeholder gets the report they need
  9. Swanly’s list view is a centralized hub for all your Jira work components
  10. Swanly is the only tool you’ll need to manage work in Jira - it does it all!

For more on why Swanly is your best bet as far as Jira roadmaps go, and why you should choose it over a Gantt chart in Jira, check out this article!

Also, if you’re interested in comparing Swanly features with Advanced Roadmaps (a Jira Gantt chart built by Atlassian), this is a good article to dig into.

What roadmaps like Swanly do is that they take your vision, objectives and initiatives, and put them together as you communicate:

  • what you’re building
  • why
  • your objectives
  • the problems you’re trying to solve

And so, with a roadmap timeline in place, you can move the discussion from “when is the next feature” to “these are our tasks, and here’s why”! This shift is not to be overlooked as it helps bring better communication with customers and teams, all the while building trust and transparency.