Project timeline (Gantt chart)

think-cell Gantt chart example

Icon in Elements menu: image
A project timeline (sometimes called Gantt chart) visualizes project activities. The scale of a project timeline is a calendar. The duration of activities is represented by bars or process arrows, whereas singular events are represented by milestones.
Calendar scale
Rows (Activities)
Timeline items
Date format control
Language dependency
Date format codes

13.1 Calendar scale

Naturally, in a project timeline the scale is based on dates. With think-cell, you can quickly change the visible date range. The appearance of the scale is initially automatic, but can be manually modified if needed.

13.1.1 Modifying the date range

When inserting a new project timeline, the calendar is initially scaled to show some time before and some time after the current date. There are two ways to change the date range that is shown.

You can open a calendar and select the dates you want:

  • Double-click on a scale, e.g., the bar showing months, to open the calendar dialog.
  • Alternatively click the image Open Calendar button in the chart menu.
think-cell date-picker for Gantt charts
  • Today’s date is marked red.
  • Select the desired start date with a single click, and select the desired end date with another click while holding down Shift. You may also just hold down the mouse button and drag the mouse along to determine a range. In the upper right corner you will find additional information about the selected period.
  • Alternatively, you can use the cursor keys and Page up Page down to select a different date range. To expand the range, hold down Shift while moving.
  • To edit a date range you can grab its beginning or end and drag it to the desired date.
  • To scroll the calendar one line at a time, use your mouse’s scroll wheel, click the scroll bar arrows, or drag the scroll bar handle. To scroll the calendar one page at a time, click onto the scroll bar above or below the handle.
  • To jump to an arbitrary date, select the desired month and year using the controls in the window’s toolbar. You can simply type in the desired year, if you do not want to use the control’s up/down buttons. The calendar immediately scrolls to the desired position.
  • You can vertically resize the window to see more months at a time, and you can horizontally resize the window to adjust the font size. The width of the window does not have an impact on the calendar layout: One line always represents precisely one month.
  • When you are done, simply return to the PowerPoint slide by clicking the calendar window’s OK button or by clicking on the slide. The selected date range will then be applied to the chart. If you want to discard your selection and keep the current setting, click Cancel or press Esc.

Alternatively, if you only need to adjust the beginning or the end of the range, you can simply change these values with the mouse:

Select a scale, e.g., the bar showing months.
Click and drag the handle that appears on the selected scale. The current date is displayed as a tooltip while you drag.
When you drop the handle, the chart is rearranged to accommodate the new date range.

While dragging the handles, they snap to integral units of the selected scale. You can quickly expand the chart to cover a large date range by dragging the handles of a scale with large units (e.g., years or months).

think-cell Gantt chart scale handle

13.1.2 Scale display


When changing the date range or the size of a chart, some scales as well as vertical separator lines may appear or disappear. Based on the range you select, together with the chart size and font size, think-cell suggests appropriate scales and separators to show. To make good use of this function, you should first select the desired date range before manually adding or removing scales or separators.

Altogether, there are five scales available in the project timeline chart: Years, quarters, months, weeks and days. In addition to showing or hiding scales, think-cell supports several options to change the look of the calendar. All of these settings are available in the menu Scales, located in the floating toolbar of the Gantt chart or one of the currently visible scales.

The Scales menu offers the following options:

  • Using Scales..., show or hide each of the five available scales (years, quarters, months, weeks, days). Depending on the chart’s current size and date range, some scales may not be available because there is not enough room to show their units. Once you decide to show a scale it will not hide again automatically, even when the chart’s size or date range is changed.
  • Using Separators..., show or hide vertical separator lines for each of the available scales (years, quarters, months, weeks, days).
  • Enable or disable Automatic Scales/Separators.... When enabled, think-cell shows appropriate scales and separators depending on the date range, chart size and font size. Once you explicitly show or hide a scale or a scale’s vertical separator lines, this option is disabled. When you enable it again, think-cell reverts to the scales and separator lines shown automatically.
  • Enable or disable Workweek Only. When enabled, weekends are not shown in the chart.
  • Enable or disable Weekend Shades. This option is only available if Workweek Only is disabled.
  • Week Starts... lets you set the day that the think-cell calendar will use as the start of week.
  • Weekend...: Here you can choose the days that match the weekend in your country.
  • Fit Scale to Data: The chart’s date range is adjusted such that all bars, milestones and brackets become visible.

Each scale supports various ways to display date information, e.g., the months scale may show month names like “September” or numbers like “09.” You probably want to choose the appropriate format depending on the available space.


To do so, select the scale with the mouse and use the floating toolbar that appears to select the desired format. Since the dropdown menu is actually a date format control (see Date format control), you can also type in arbitrary date format strings.

Note: As with other labels, you can add arbitrary text to the scale labels, such as footnote markers or short comments.

13.1.3 Scale labels and separator lines

Each scale supports an optional label and optional separator lines. To use these features, open the context menu for the desired scale with a right-click.

think-cell Gantt chart scale menu

Note: Primary and secondary separator lines are automatically assigned different styles.

The scales’ context menu offers the following buttons:

image Delete (Shortcut Delete)
Delete the selected scale. You can show the scale again using the Scales menu from the toolbar. When you deleted a scale it will not show again automatically, even when the chart size or date range is changed.
image Open Calendar (Shortcut double-click)
Open the calendar dialog (refer to Modifying the date range).
image Add Vertical Separator Lines
Explicitly add or remove vertical separator lines for the selected scale. You can also remove separator lines by selecting them and pressing the Delete key. The software automatically adds and removes these lines unless you are making an explicit choice.
image Add Scale Label
Add descriptive text to the selected scale. The label contains language-dependent predefined text which can be replaced as needed.

An example for a typically used scale label is to write “Week of” to the left of the week scale if the first day of each week is shown in the scale labels:

Enable the week scale in the Scales menu.
Select one of the labels in the week scale and change the date format to include d or dd to show the first day of the week in the label.
Choose image Add Scale Label from the scales’ context menu.
Week of is the default text of the week scale label.

13.2 Rows (Activities)

A project timeline is made up of rows, each representing a certain activity that is named in the label to the left. The rows, in turn, contain timeline items such as bars, milestones and brackets.

You can explicitly select an entire row to change its look, add or remove labels, drag it to another location or use Shift+Alt and the cursor keys and to move it.

think-cell Gantt chart row menu

Note: There is a special row below the chart reserved for the most important milestones. You cannot add bars to this row, you cannot move it by drag-and-drop, and you cannot delete it. Otherwise, it is just an additional activity row which is always there.

13.2.1 Adding and removing rows

To insert a new row, select an existing row and use the image Insert Row button in the think-cell context menu. Alternatively, press Alt+Insert. If all other rows are deleted, there is still the extra row left at the very bottom of the chart which you can click to open the context menu and create new rows.

The keyboard shortcut Alt+Insert also inserts new rows while editing labels, and the first label of the newly inserted row is automatically selected. This way you can add rows and keep typing without reaching for the mouse. Likewise, you can use Alt and the cursor keys to move the cursor across labels.

You can also use the image Delete button in the think-cell context menu to delete an entire row. The keyboard shortcut for deletion is Delete.

13.2.2 Row features

Each row not only contains timeline items – bars, process arrows, milestones, brackets – but can also have up to three labels, a horizontal separator line, and row shading. The labels and decorations are added and removed using the think-cell context menu. To open the menu, move the mouse outside of the chart’s date range area and right-click on a row when it highlights.

Note: When you right-click a row inside the chart’s date range area, another menu opens that allows for insertion of new timeline items. Refer to Adding items for more information.

The row’s context menu offers the following buttons. You can apply all of these buttons to one or multiple selected rows:

image Delete (Shortcut Delete)
Delete the selected row.
image Insert Row (Shortcut Alt+Insert)
Insert a new row after the selected one. If the selected row is the one below the chart’s bottom line, the new row is inserted before.
image Add Activity Label Column (Shortcut F2)
Add or remove the activity label column. A headline for the column is added which you can overwrite or remove if necessary. With F2 you can edit the selected row’s activity label.
image Add Responsible Label Column
Add or remove the responsibility label column. A headline for the column is added which you can overwrite or remove if necessary.
image Add Remark Label Column
Add or remove the remark label column. A headline for the column is added which you can overwrite or remove if necessary.
image Add Row Shade
Add or remove shading. You can change the shading’s color and also add or remove the shading using the fill control in the think-cell toolbar. Shading works also well for multiple successive rows.
image Add Row Separator
Add or remove a separator line above the selected row.

13.2.3 Row labels

Each row supports up to three labels, resulting in up to three text columns next to the actual timeline. The default headlines for the three columns are language dependent (see Language dependency), with “Activity,” “Responsible” and “Remark” used as the default English headlines. You are free to overwrite or remove them if necessary.

The labels to the left are intended for names of activities. These labels are shown by default and each label belongs to exactly one row. If you already have the text for the labels available in some other place where you can copy them to the clipboard, you can quickly paste an entire label column (see Pasting text into multiple labels).

Note: Unfortunately, selecting multiple shapes in PowerPoint or labels in another Gantt chart does not work in this regard. Lines of text in a word processor, text editor or email or multiple cells in an Excel worksheet can be copied to the clipboard and pasted into activity labels as described above.

You can organize activity labels in a hierarchy using PowerPoint’s Decrease/Increase List Level buttons in the Paragraph ribbon group on the Home tab or hold down Shift+Alt and use the arrow keys and . The vertical space between indented labels is reduced to show that they are grouped.

You can add up to two more columns if required. The labels for the headlines are automatically added when a column is created. The labels in the additional columns can refer to multiple rows (see Labels spanning multiple rows).

Initially, a newly created label column is empty except for its headline. Move the mouse over the label column to discover label placeholders, which you can select just as any other features in think-cell. Use the placeholder’s context menu to create either a text label, or a checkbox, or a Harvey ball. To quickly create a text label, you can simply select a placeholder and start typing. Similarly, you can recreate the headline labels, if you deleted them.

The row label’s context menu shows the following buttons:

image Delete (Shortcut Delete)
Delete the selected label.
image Switch to Checkbox
Use a checkbox instead of a text label (see Checkbox and Harvey ball). If the selected label already contains text, the text will be discarded.
image Switch to Harvey ball
Use a Harvey ball instead of a text label (see Checkbox and Harvey ball). If the selected label already contains text, the text will be discarded.
image Switch to Text Label
(Shortcut F2 or start typing) Use text for this label. Select and overwrite the placeholder text that is inserted when you click this button.
image Add Bracket
Add or remove the selected label’s bracket. Brackets are added automatically to labels that span more than one row (see Labels spanning multiple rows). This option only applies to responsibility and remark labels. Since activity labels always refer to precisely one row, these labels do not need brackets.

To remove a label, use its context menu or simply delete all text from the label – it will then disappear. To remove multiple labels at a time, it is often convenient to select all desired labels using the mouse together with Shift or Ctrl keys (see also Multi-selection). Then, choose the delete option from the context menu, or press the Delete key to remove all selected labels.

13.2.4 Labels spanning multiple rows

In both responsibility and remark columns, each label can refer to more than one activity. Drag the handles that appear next to the label when you select it, to determine the activities it refers to. You can only drag a label’s handles across rows that do not already have a label in the same column, and you cannot drag the handles across horizontal separators.

Labels spanning multiple rows in think-cell Gantt chart

A bracket will automatically appear as soon as a label spans more than one row. In this case, you are free to remove the bracket by selecting it and pressing Delete, or via the bracket’s or the label’s context menu.

Multi-row labels in think-cell Gantt chart

13.3 Timeline items

There are several types of items used in a project timeline to visualize periods of time and events. The following items are supported by think-cell:

  • Bars show the duration of some activity.
  • Process arrows are similar to bars but contain text. They grow and shrink vertically with the amount of text they contain. To create an aesthetically pleasing layout, all process arrows of a Gantt chart are resized to the same height, if possible.
  • Milestones mark singular events.
  • Brackets are used to label periods of time which typically comprise multiple activity bars.
  • Shades are used to visualize non-working times such as weekends or holidays. They are usually labeled by an additional bracket below the chart.

13.3.1 Adding items

To add an item to the chart, move the mouse across the chart’s date range area. A crosshair helps you to track the row and date you are pointing at, and a tooltip provides precise date information.

The dates that can be selected depend on the chart’s date range and size, and on your current zoom level. If days are too small to be pointed at individually, the crosshair snaps to firsts of weeks and firsts of months. If even weeks are too small to be distinctively selected, the crosshair only snaps to the beginning of months.

Wherever the crosshair appears, it is possible to insert a new item. When you move the mouse over existing items, the crosshair disappears and the tooltip reflects that item’s date or date span.

think-cell Gantt chart inserting titles

With the crosshair highlighting, click the right mouse button to open the context menu.

think-cell Gantt chart insert menu

Note: If you want to open the row’s context menu to insert a new row or to add some row label or decoration, you must right-click on the row outside the chart’s date range area. Refer to Row features for more information.

The context menu for insertion shows the following buttons:

image Delete (Shortcut Delete)
Delete the selected row, separator line, or milestone line.
image New Bar
Create a new activity bar beginning at the crosshair position.
image New Milestone
Create a new milestone at the crosshair position.
image New Bracket
Create a new bracket beginning at the crosshair position.
image New Shade
Create a new shade beginning at the crosshair position.
image New Process
Create a new process arrow beginning at the crosshair position.

Note: You can also create new items by clicking and dragging existing items while holding down the Ctrl key. A copy of the original item is created at the new location.

13.3.2 Moving items

There are several ways to move existing items to another date or row. Obviously, you can drag one or multiple selected (Multi-selection) items with the mouse. If exactly one item is selected, you can also drag its handle(s) to adjust the date, or anchor it to another item (see Anchoring items).

You may double-click an item to open the calendar dialog for easy date selection. The current date of the selected item is pre-selected. For bars, process arrows, brackets and shades, select a date range as described above (Modifying the date range). For milestones, simply click on the desired date; the calendar dialog will close immediately and the selected date will be applied.

13.3.3 Milestone positioning

Bars and process arrows are positioned to begin at 0:00h on the start date and to finish at 24:00h on the end date. The default position of milestones, however, depends on the currently viewed date range and the visible scales:

  • If the day scale or the vertical day separator lines are visible, then milestones are positioned at 12:00h on the appropriate day;
  • If the day scale and the vertical day separator lines are not visible, then milestones are positioned at 0:00h on the appropriate day.

The default positioning of milestones is usually correct but can be overridden, if required, by the use of anchors (Anchoring items). Anchoring a milestone to the end of a bar, for example, will ensure that the milestone is always aligned with the end of the bar, regardless of the currently viewed data range or visible scales.

13.3.4 Anchoring items

Using the handles of bars, process arrows, milestones, brackets and shades, you can attach these items to other items. When you click a handle with the mouse, the available anchors highlight. Drag the handle within the current row to set the selected item’s date manually, or drag the handle onto an anchor of some other item to attach it to that item.

Anchoring items in think-cell Gantt chart

Items remain anchored while they are being edited. For instance, when you anchor a milestone to the end of a bar, this connection enforces that the milestone is always at the same date as the end of that bar. In particular, whenever you move the bar afterwards, the location of the milestone will be updated accordingly.

Attaching to anchor in think-cell Gantt chart

For another example, inserting a shade implicitly creates an additional bracket which is anchored to the shade. When you move the shade, the attached bracket moves along. Still, you can detach the bracket, move it to a different location, or delete it.

Note: Items can be anchored across different rows. When you drag an item’s handle, the date changes but the item remains in its row. To move an item to a different row, drag the item itself, not its handles.

13.3.5 Changing the chart’s appearance

You can change the color of bars, process arrows, milestones and shades using the color control in the floating toolbar (Color and fill). The background color of the chart can be changed by selecting the whole chart and choosing the desired color from the floating toolbar.

By way of the context menu, you can further configure the appearance of timeline items. The context menu for timeline items comprises the following buttons (depending on the type of the selected item):

image Delete (Shortcut Delete)
Delete the selected item.
image Open Calendar (Shortcut double-click)
Open the calendar dialog for the selected item (refer to Moving items).
image Set Solid/Dashed
Toggle the appearance of the selected bar or process arrow between solid and dashed.
image Add Date Label (Shortcut F2)
Add or remove a label for the selected item. By pressing F2, you can edit the label’s item, or create it if it does not yet exist. By default, the label contains the item’s date which is updated when the item moves (see also Item labels).
image Set Diamond/Triangle Shape
Toggle the shape of the selected milestone between triangle and diamond.
image Add Milestone Line
Add a milestone line to the selected milestone.

13.3.6 Item labels

Bars, process arrows, milestones and brackets can have labels, while shades are usually labeled by means of an additional bracket below the shade. Use the think-cell context menu to add a label to one or more selected items. If exactly one item is selected, you can press F2 to add a label to this item or edit an existing label.

By default, an item label contains the item’s date or date span. This information is maintained in a text field (see Text fields) and is updated whenever the item is moved. You can add text to the label or replace the default content with custom text.


If you deleted the text field you can always re-insert it into the label. Select the label and choose the desired field from the label content control in the context-sensitive toolbar (refer to Label content).

In particular, think-cell allows for large multi-line labels even in a relatively dense chart. All activities are automatically arranged to make the text fit. Moreover, most labels can be dragged to place themselves below or besides their respective item.

Moving item labels in think-cell Gantt chart

13.4 Date format control


You can freely set the desired formatting for date values that appear throughout the labels of a project timeline. By convention, all item labels of a chart share the same date formatting, so when you change the formatting for one label, all others will change accordingly.

When you select a label that contains a date field, or select a date field within a label, the date format control appears in the floating toolbar. It works similar to the number format control (see Number format).

The dropdown menu facilitates one-click selection of the most commonly used date formats. Its contents depend on the feature that is selected, e.g., each scale offers a different set of predefined date formats.

The edit box reflects the current setting and allows entering of arbitrary date formatting. The format codes used by Excel and Graph are supported, and some more codes were added for the particular purposes of the project timeline (see table below). Also, up to four of your most recently used custom formattings are available in the dropdown box.

Date format codes are case-insensitive. You can insert a line break with the backslash character \.

You can mix the format codes with arbitrary text and delimiters. If your custom text contains characters that can be interpreted as format codes, i.e., d D w W m M q Q y Y \, you must enclose the text within single quotes '. It will then be displayed “as is.” To use the single quote character itself, type two single quotes ''.

13.5 Language dependency

The project timeline chart is language dependent: The display of full or abbreviated month names, as well as names for weekdays, the default headlines for the activity labels and the default text for scale labels, depend on the proofing language setting for Office. This setting’s value is used at the time when the elements are inserted.

You can alter the language used for language dependent elements as follows:

Alter the setting to the desired language by
clicking into a text box,
choosing Review > Language > Set Proofing Language...,
selecting the desired language in the dialog,
clicking on Default... and confirming with Yes,
closing the dialog with OK.
Use the appropriate context menu to remove and then re-add the language dependent labels that you wish to update.
Use the Scales menu to first hide and then re-show the scales that you wish to update.

13.6 Date format codes

Code Description Example
d day of month 5
dd day of month (two-digit) 05
ddd day of week (abbrev.) Mon
dddd day of week (full) Monday
ddddd day of week (single character) M
w week of year 7
ww week of year (two-digit) 07
M month number 9
MM month number (two-digit) 09
MMM month name (abbrev.) Sep
MMMM month name (full) September
MMMMM month name (single character) S
q quarter (decimal number) 4
qq quarter (upper-case roman number) IV
qqq quarter (lower-case roman number) iv
yy year (two-digit) 04
yyyy year (four-digit) 2004
\ (Backslash) line break, e.g., ddd\dd
'...' Insert custom text, e.g., 'Quarter' qq Quarter IV
'' The actual single quote character, e.g., 'W'ww''yy W07'04