Timelines are the backbone of any project. They’re an incredibly useful visual tool that lays out your tasks in chronological order. This helps managers create schedules, prioritize work and organize tasks.
In other words, they help you to define the duration of the project from start to finish. All your tasks must be completed within the period you allot, and the budget you agree on will finance the effort.
Steps to Making a Timeline
Making a project timeline is the starting point of project planning, and it’s easy to create your own. Follow the steps below to begin planning your timeline, then scroll further to see what project management tools can take your timeline to the next level.
1. What Is the Goal of the Timeline?
The first step in creating your timeline is determining the scope of the project. This means outlining what deliverables you are going to produce throughout the project, and ends with the final deliverable.
2. Establish What You Need to Reach That Goal
Each deliverable represents a milestone for your timeline. The points between them are the tasks that it will take to create that deliverable. In order to make sure you have a thorough list of all your tasks, use a work breakdown structure, which is a tree diagram with your final deliverable on top and all the steps leading to it.
3. Evaluate That List of Items
Next, look over each of the tasks you’ve collected and ask yourself—do they achieve the goal? Are they specific enough? This is how you prioritize your work and determine what is essential, and what could be left aside if time and costs constrain your effort.
4. Add Dates to the Timeline
Every task must have a duration, and together, they all have to fit within the timeframe of your timeline or project. Therefore, it’s critical that you do your best to estimate how long each task will take. There are several ways to get more accuracy, from your personal judgment to historical data and statistical analysis.
5. Create a Timeline on Paper or With Software
Finally, you’re ready to map out your timeline. You have all the elements, and they can be assembled simply or digitally with software. There are pros and cons to both, but for most project managers who deal with projects that are constantly responding to changes, software is most efficient.
Timeline Maker Examples
If you’re looking for a software solution, there are many products of varying features, from rudimentary to complex. Here are a few to try out, some free and others paid.
A free, lightweight timeline maker that works fast to make colorful timelines. This web-based tool allows you to build and share a timeline. You can create one timeline with up to 10 events on the free version, but payment is required to create more than that.
Sheets is Google’s version of a spreadsheet. It allows you to create, edit and collaborate for free, all you need is an account. But it doesn’t lend itself to larger projects. There are four templates, but you can create custom ones if you’re willing to put in the time.
An easy-to-use timeline creator designed for business. It can attach supporting files, which is a helpful asset. You can import data and save timelines in a variety of different formats. It’s not free, but you can take a 14-day trial to see if it’s right for you. Free timelines are watermarked, though.
Gantt Chart vs. Timeline
Timelines are great, but they tend to be a dead end. You can set up the schedule for your project, but then have no bridge to link the schedule to your overall project management tools. Therefore, timelines feel limited no matter how many bells and whistles they offer.
You may be better served by creating your timeline on a Gantt chart, which is another visual tool that has a spreadsheet on one side and a timeline on the next. It’s sort of like a timeline on steroids, which gets you over all the hurdles you might have come across when using only a timeline.
The big difference between these two visual tools is the data. Both detail the sequence of tasks over time, but the Gantt can add more information, such as who is responsible for executing the tasks, whether any tasks have dependencies and even setting milestones to break up the larger project into smaller, more manageable phases.
A timeline with limited information is going to frustrate anyone who is managing a project. A Gantt chart, on the other hand, is a visual tool with a timeline that was created to respond to all the needs related to building a project schedule and plan.
Using ProjectManager.com to Make a Timeline on a Gantt Chart
ProjectManager.com is an award-winning tool that organizes your tasks into project plans. The cloud-based software can be accessed anywhere and at any time with an internet connection. It is your one-stop-shop for all your project management needs, starting with making a timeline.
There are several ways to start. You can import your list of tasks from a spreadsheet, add them directly into the Gantt chart or use one of the many industry-specific templates to give you a hand.
You can create subtasks, which are smaller tasks that are part of a larger task. Once you have all your tasks collected, you need to estimate their duration. When each has a start and finish date they will populate the timeline on the right-hand side of your screen.
Now you have a timeline, and you can customize it with colors to make it easy to differentiate. There’s also a milestone tool, which is used to mark the end of one phase and the beginning of another. It’s represented on your timeline by a diamond-shaped icon. Milestones can also be used to note important project due dates.
Here’s where the Gantt chart leaves timelines in the rearview mirror. There is something called dependencies, which just means that some tasks will not be able to start or finish until another has started or finished, and if you don’t identify these dependent tasks they can lead to bottlenecks that block your team from being productive.
But connecting dependent tasks is as easy as dragging one to the other. Now they’re linked with a dotted line on you Gantt so they won’t sneak up on you.
A Gantt chart is a better timeline, but what makes it indispensable for managing a project is how it’s integrated into every other tool in our software. For example, you can assign team members to tasks from the Gantt, attaching files, adding directions, setting tags for priority and more. You can even track their progress by the amount of shading on the duration bar.
Another thing timelines can’t do is update your stakeholders. A timesheet might give them an outline of what you intend to do with your schedule, but we can generate reports with one-click that are easy to filter and share, showing detailed data on progress, the overall health of the project and much more.
ProjectManager.com takes your timeline and turns it into a fully loaded project management software to help you plan, monitor and report on every phase of your project. Multiple project views give teams kanban boards to visualize their workload and Gantts for managers to control schedules. Use task lists to manage your own work. There’s more, so why not take this free 30-day trial and see how all our features can save you time and money.