What is a Project Timeline?

A project timeline is a graphic representation or chart of all the tasks in a project, laid out in chronological order. The project timeline provides an in-depth overview of the entire project from start to finish. You can see when a task starts and when it’s due—and importantly, whether or not it’s dependent on another task.

Gantt chart with project timeline and milestones

Project timelines help project managers plan out their projects by giving them 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

You can think of the project timeline as the backbone of a project. It holds up the project by showing the sequence of tasks and the different phases (or milestones)—and in so doing shapes the project schedule.

A project timeline must be flexible. Changes come from stakeholders. There are risks and other problems that will inevitably occur. The project timeline needs to respond to these disruptions, and so maintenance and management are key components of any successful project timeline.

What is Project Timeline Software?

Software is commonly used by project managers to create their project 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.

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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 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.

Desktop vs. Online Project Timeline Software

In ye olden days, project timelines were charted on paper—or a chalkboard, if ye olde project manager was lucky. While it did get the job done, these early solutions were extremely limited. Having to make changes required creating a whole new one, which takes time.

As project management has emerged from the caves and embraced digital technology, the humble project timeline grew dramatically in power.

But technology doesn’t stand still, and now the choice is not between analog and digital but instead between desktop or web-based online project timeline software. Which is right for you? Let’s take a brief look at each.

Desktop Project Timeline Software

  • Desktop timeline software tends to work faster because you’re not at the mercy of your internet connection.
  • Desktop software can continue to work if there is an interruption with your online connection.
  • Desktop timelines are often more secure as they’re salvoed devices and can only be accessed by a physical user, though online security is fast catching up.
  • Desktop software is often more user-friendly, as they’re not limited to the constraints of the internet, though they can have a steep learning curve.
  • Desktop timeline tools don’t have to worry about too many users clogging the online pipeline.

Online Project Timeline Software

  • Online 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.
  • Online timelines provide real-time data as status updates are immediately reflected throughout the software, which leads to better and more accurate decision-making.
  • Online software gives teams the tools they need to collaborate whether they’re working physically together or remotely.
  • Online project timeline software 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 timezones.
  • Online speeds are improving to the point that depending on your connection speed the difference between a desktop and an online application is negligible.
  • Online security is ramping up making it almost as secure as desktop apps.
  • Online project timeline software is more intuitive and easy to use.

Benefits of Online Project Timeline Software

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, you need to have a project timeline.

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.

Tasks are given start and end dates and show on the timeline as a line connecting to 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.

Must-Have Features of Project Timeline Software

If you’re in the market for project timeline software, make sure it has these key features.

Define Project Phases and Set Important Deadlines

You can use a milestone feature to break up a larger project 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.

A screenshot of ProjectManager.com’s gantt chart view, with milestones symbolized by diamonds

Link Dependent Tasks to Avoid Bottlenecks

Connecting dependent tasks is essential to avoid bottlenecks later on in the project. Look for a tool that can do this quickly and simply, and that also has the ability to identify and assign all four types of task dependencies.

A screenshot of ProjectManager.com’s gantt chart, with lines connecting the tasks on the right side, symbolizing dependencies

Know the Percentage Compete for Each Task

Tracking the progress of tasks once they’re being executed is a crucial component of knowing if your project is on schedule. A robust timeline software will have features that do this on the timeline itself, but also hopefully with a dashboard that provides instant status updates.

A screenshot of ProjectManager.com’s gantt chart, with a percentage complete column activated

Make Quick & Easy Changes to Your Timeline

A must-have feature is the ability to simply edit your timeline as changes occur in the project. Rather than rebuilding your timeline, you want a tool that can drag and drop the tasks to their new dates and update all related tasks to keep your timeline accurate.

A screenshot of ProjectManager.com’s with a calendar open to change a task’s start and end date

Help Your Team Work Better Together

Teams need to be given the tools they need to work more productively. Project timelines should be shareable to keep everyone on the same page. Tasks should be able to have files attached and teams need to be able to communicate at the task level, especially if they work remotely.

A screenshot of ProjectManager.com’s gantt chart, with a button to add a note to a task

Share, Manage & Update Anywhere and Any Time

Organizing tasks is essential to executing your timeline efficiently. A timeline tool needs the ability to share to keep everyone on the same page. Improve productivity by tagging tasks by priority. You should be able to add tags to filter your tasks and quickly find what you want.

A screenshot of ProjectManager.com’s task list

Example of a Project Timeline

Let’s look at an example of a project timeline to get a better idea of what it’s used to accomplish.

Gantt chart shows list of tasks and tasks on a project timeline

On the right-hand side of the timeline is a list of your tasks and subtasks. These tasks can be further broken down by phases, and given different colors to distinguish one from another. It is, for all intents and purposes, a regular spreadsheet; it has columns for dates, costs, etc., and rows signifying each task or subtask.

But it’s on the left side where the timeline comes to life. Every task listed on the right is represented as a bar in the chart on the left. Each task is represented by two points in time, the start and end dates. Between those two points is the duration bar.

Those diamond symbols indicate milestones. When you see a dotted line connecting two tasks, that tells you that the tasks are dependent on each other to start or finish before the other can start or finish.

How to Build a Timeline in ProjectManager.com

ProjectManager.com is an award-winning software that helps you build better timelines and stay on schedule. Our interactive Gantt chart is more than just a timeline—it’s an integral part of our larger feature suite. To build your timeline, try our software free for 30-days and import your task list.

Set Task Duration

Tasks need to have an estimated start and finish date to chart on a timeline. Once you’ve identified the task and its priority, you need to figure out how long it’ll take to execute.

Add the start and finish dates on the left hand column and the timeline will automatically display those tasks with a duration bar connecting the start and finish dates.

Gantt columns with planned start and finish dates

Link Dependencies

Dependent tasks can bottleneck teammates unless you keep track of them. Having a tool on your timeline to identify task dependencies will help you keep your team working uninterrupted.

Linking dependent tasks is easy, just drag and drop one dependent task to the other. There’s also a link button that will also do this function.

Dependent tasks are linked on the Gantt chart

Create Milestones

A milestone is a way to break up the project into phases or to note important dates. A milestone is one point in time that marks the end of one phase and the beginning of another.

Highlight the task you want to turn into a milestone for the project. Just click the milestone button and you’ll see it on the timeline symbolized by a diamond.

Milestones are represented on the Gantt by diamond-shaped symbols

Set Baseline

A baseline captures your project timeline as planned. Now when you execute the project and start recording actual progress, you can compare one to the other and see if you’re on track.

Automatically set a project baseline (once you’ve completed filling in your project timeline) by using the settings bar. Once set, our tool will automatically compare planned to actual progress.

A schedule baseline saves the planned schedule

Assign Team

Turn your timeline into an active planning tool by using it as a springboard to assign tasks to your team.

Teams can be assigned tasks directly from our Gantt. They can then easily collaborate by commenting at the task level to facilitate working with teammates who work different shifts.

Gantt chart with column for assigning teams to tasks

Best Practices in Making a Project Management Timeline

When you’re making a project timeline, there are a few things to include to ensure your timeline is as accurate as possible.

Project Timeline Template

Using project timeline software can help you streamline your project and get your team to work more productively, but not everyone is ready to make the leap. A project timeline template can be the perfect solution to get you acquainted with one.

Check out our free Gantt chart template, which organizes your tasks on a timeline. You can set dates and duration of tasks. It will even allow you to differentiate project phases customizing colors on the Gantt.

However, you’ll likely soon want to try our online tool, as it will allow you to link task dependencies, assign those tasks to teams and automatically update in real-time as teams file their status.

How to Update Your Project Timeline

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. You can have external issues, such as weather or a disruption in your supply chain, which causes delays. If and when these happen, you need to keep your timeline current.

Communication can help keep you updated on changes like these—by staying in touch with your suppliers, for example. Your team is an invaluable resource, too. Stay in regular communication with them. They’re on the frontlines of the project and will catch issues first.

Other changes can come from stakeholders whose expectations alter. To manage your 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.

How to Share Your Project Timeline

In order to facilitate communication, your project timeline has to be shareable. Your 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 have a document 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.

Sharing with Project Timeline Software

If you’re using a digital tool, then you can export the 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 you can name it by date and avoid confusing it with an older version.

The best option is using a cloud-based tool that gives you a shared timeline that everyone can access but only certain team members can edit. That way the timeline is always front and center in the project management tool they’re using and is updated in real-time to make sure everyone has current data and is working from the correct schedule.

ProjectManager.com is a cloud-based software that delivers real-time data to help you make better decisions when managing your project. Online Gantt charts help you organize tasks on a timeline, real-time dashboards monitor progress and one-click reports keep stakeholders informed. Try our timeline tool today from free with this 30-day trial.

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