Project Timelines, a step in the right direction

Project Timeline

A project timeline is a visual list of tasks or activities placed in chronological order, which lets project managers view the entirety of the project in one place. Building timelines allows the project manager to visualize and collaborate on projects. Typically taking the form of a horizontal bar chart, where each task is given a name and a corresponding start and end date. It also provides an in-depth overview of the entire project from start to finish.

A project timeline can be priceless for a project team, but they can be challenging to make by hand or even in Excel. Fortunately, project timeline software can create an interactive timeline in just a few clicks.

Project timelines provide an opportunity to:

  • Organize their tasks
  • Show when in the project the tasks start
  • View task deadlines
  • Link dependent tasks
  • Break the project into phases
  • Identify team members assigned to a task

Project timelines are very important for the successful delivery of a project; the following are steps for a thorough project timeline,

  • Write a project scope statement: A scope statement outlines the tasks, milestones and deliverables for the project. It’s an essential part of the project management plan and it has all the information needed for a project plan timeline.
  • Make a work breakdown structure (WBS): Use this graphic tool to break down the project scope into smaller work packages. The WBS provides a visual and organizes the project’s tasks, milestones and deliverables by hierarchy to establish a chronological order
  • Identify task dependencies: Once tasks are identified, determine which of those activities are dependent on other tasks to start or end
  • Estimate task duration: Make a reasonable time estimate for each task. This is a critical step to create the project management timeline, and determine the time required to complete the project
  • Define deadlines: Determine how much time the team can spend on each task
  • Set milestones: Milestones are important dates that mark the end of one phase and the beginning of the next, which makes them an important component of a project management timeline. Milestones are reached by completing task sequences and deliverables

Project management timelines can take many different forms with varying levels of efficacy. They can be drawn by hand, or on a whiteboard, but this method is inflexible and large changes to the project might require scrapping the entire timeline.

Using a spreadsheet loaded up with macros can make for very capable, if time consuming to create, timeline. A project timeline excel template can save the effort and time it takes to create the spreadsheet. However, such macro-heavy Excel sheets can prove difficult to maintain for larger projects.

To run projects effectively and efficiently, project managers prefer project timeline software that integrates their tasks with an interactive, feature-rich Gantt chart that can schedule, assign tasks, monitor progress and report on performance. Project timeline software is more versatile than project timeline templates because it allows project managers to easily update the timeline and keep track of tasks with dashboards and reports.

As stated, software is commonly used by project managers to create their project plan timelines. Project timeline software is an integral part of the planning process and often includes additional features that help to monitor progress when executing the project.

Using project timeline software is generally regarded as a necessity for keeping a modern project on schedule. It allows managers and teams to see the status of their tasks; that is, whether they’re in progress, overdue or done.

At its most basic, project timeline software creates a graphic representation of the project on a timeline with tasks and milestones plotted across. Tasks can be assigned start and end dates, and display a duration bar that indicates the planned amount of time to complete the tasks. More powerful software offerings can also include further options to manage tasks. There are many applications to choose from so select one that works best for you and the team.

Online project timeline software offers a centralized data repository in which everyone involved in the project can access the project timeline and other critical project documents and data. This means that managers and teams can access the project timeline when they need to, even if they’re working different shifts and located in different time zones.

Every project is impacted by the triple constraint of time, cost and scope. To start controlling the time and scope part of that important triangle, create a project timeline during the planning stage.

The project timeline helps everyone on the project team by giving them a roadmap of where they are, and where they should be, at every point in the project. Timelines and schedules are essential to execute the project plan.

Tasks are given start and end dates and show on the timeline as a line connecting two points in time. If some of those tasks are dependent on another to start or finish, these task dependencies can be indicated on the project timeline as well.

This assists a manager by keeping those dependencies visible and preventing possible bottlenecks that could block the time during the execution of the tasks.

Milestone feature is used to break up a larger project management timeline into more manageable phases. Milestones mark the end of one phase and the beginning of a new stage of the project. They can also be used to indicate any important dates or deadlines in the project.

Communication is the common thread that ties together all aspects of managing a project, and it is a core pillar in maintaining a project timeline. A timeline is only as good as the schedule it reflects. As that schedule changes, and it will, the timeline must change with it.

Project changes can come from various places via external issues, such as whether there is a disruption in supply chain, which causes delays. If and when this happens, keep the timeline current.

Communication can help changes are updated by staying in touch with suppliers, for example. Other changes can come from stakeholders whose expectations alter. To manage project timeline more effectively, schedule presentations with stakeholders to keep them updated on progress and to field any questions or requests they might have about the project.

In order to facilitate communication, project timeline has to be shareable. The team needs a copy to know when the tasks they’re assigned to execute must be completed within the project timeframe.

Stakeholders also need to have the project timeline. They are invested in the success of the project and want to know the big picture as it moves from stage to stage. To keep them updated, you’ll need to have them shared on current copies of the project timeline.

How to share the project timeline depends on the tool you’re using. If you use a project timeline template it can be printed and distributed. Obviously, this isn’t ideal. As noted, projects change and the last thing you want is to have multiple copies of various iterations floating around.

If a digital tool is used, then export the project management timeline and save it as a PDF. This can then be printed out or emailed to whoever needs it. The timeline is still a static document, but can be named by date and avoid confusing it with an older version.

Project timelines allow for organization of all activities that make up a project, in order. Create milestones, set deadlines, and manage tasks and more— all in one easy to view location. Share your thoughts with us, we would like to hear your timeline approach.  All the very best on your project management journey.

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