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Projects are often composed of many moving parts, and ensuring that each piece works in synergy with the whole system is always a challenge. Coupled with other, external factors, it can be easy for a project to get out of control when teams don’t have a proper perspective on things.
This is where a project timeline comes in handy—a timeline is a handy communication tool that keeps your team aligned on what work needs to be done, by who, and by when. It also allows your decision-makers to steer the project as is appropriate to immediate needs or anticipated changes or impediments.
What is a Project Timeline?
A project timeline is a visual overview of a project’s deliverables, presented in chronological order, or from start to finish. This provides stakeholders visibility on things like key milestones, individual tasks, delivery dates, as well as dependencies between tasks.
How to Create a Project Timeline
Creating a project timeline borrows many principles from making a project roadmap—below are essential steps you should take to come up with an effective project timeline.
1. Identify goals and scope
What does success look like for this project? At the same time, begin setting constraints to your project by roughly listing down the deliverables and important milestones that must be accomplished to complete this project.
2. Flesh out milestones
With your milestones in place, it’s time to break them down into manageable parts. Identify the steps that need to be taken or the output that needs to be created to complete a milestone. A good rule of thumb to follow is to break down tasks so that they can be assigned to only one or two people; more than that likely requires some form of handover, and breaking those down into individual tasks allows members of your team to work on other tasks while someone else continues the work on the task that was submitted.
3. Estimate / set deadlines
This step applies to both the individual task as well as the larger milestones—identify when each task should ideally be accomplished. Additional value can be added by identifying start dates as well, as this helps to estimate the budget as well as give you an idea of how many team members you need to meet targets.
4. Assign tasks
This is where the rule of thumb in Step 2 provides additional benefit; for each task, identify who is responsible for its completion based on your team’s size and skills.
5. Identify dependencies
Building on Steps 3 and 4, list down any dependencies between your tasks, factoring in who’s assigned and when their tasks might finish. It’s important to have tasks assigned before working on dependencies, as the size of your team is one of the primary constraints when it comes to scheduling tasks. This will give your original deadlines more perspective, and you can adjust the timeline as necessary with this new information.
6. Create your timeline visual
Now that all of your information is ready, you can begin creating your visual reference. Plot the individual tasks, set your assignees, and create the dependencies. Now is also the time to make further adjustments, as the visuals will give you a new perspective on the work that you might miss with just a plain list of deliverables, deadlines, and assignees.
Once you’ve accomplished the above steps, you’re ready to publish and share your timeline with stakeholders, so you can align before starting work on the project.
Benefits of Having a Project Timeline
1. It provides direction
An effective project timeline serves as a clear roadmap for your team. It clearly defines what tasks to start and when, as well as the steps that follow each task as they are completed.
2. It improves alignment and communication
Project timelines are great for keeping all of your stakeholders updated on the project’s status, and it serves as an effective source of truth on the status of individual tasks, as well as where stakeholders, especially the team members working on the project, are currently assigned.
3. It minimizes roadblocks in your production
A key feature of the project timeline is illustrating dependencies tasks may have across one another. This gives your team an opportunity to anticipate roadblocks and take the necessary steps to either minimize delays once they arrive or eliminate them entirely.
4. It increases flexibility
A project timeline, with the help of dedicated tools for creating and maintaining them, allows the team to easily respond to change by adjusting affected tasks. Combined with the above benefits, this also allows you to quickly inform relevant stakeholders of the changes and make faster, more informed decisions accordingly.
Project Timeline Examples
There are multiple ways to visualize a project timeline, each with its different advantages and challenges. Choosing the right format for your project is important, so here are some of the most commonly used types for you to choose from:
1. Gantt Chart
The Gantt chart is one of the most popular formats for creating project timelines because it best illustrates task dependencies, especially at the scale where there are more tasks. A typical Gantt chart also focuses on the key information, namely tasks’ end dates, the team member/s assigned to a task, on top of the dependencies for each task. Gantt charts are also great for presenting the duration of a project or task.
Project Timeline in Gantt Chart Format in Workamajig
A flowchart is commonly used to illustrate a more complex flow of work. Beyond identifying dependencies, flowcharts have a more flexible layout that allows teams to form relationships with tasks that might not necessarily need to happen in order, but instead affect one another as they are accomplished.
3. PERT Chart
A PERT chart is great for planning around milestones, as they are laid out in as much detail as possible from the start of the project. However, this format is less flexible when smaller changes are involved, as PERT charts are typically subjective and based on more uncertain data. A common best practice is to use a PERT chart in tandem with the Gantt chart, to cover more of the project life cycle.
Project Timeline Template
Between the different project timeline examples outlined above, there are key similarities that form the backbone of an effective project timeline. To help you get familiar with and build these components, you can use our free project timeline template to get started—simply make a copy from our link and begin filling it in to match your project’s needs.
Click here for your free project timeline template.
Create and Execute Your Project Timeline with Workamajig
A project timeline provides your team with a greater perspective on the over status of your project. It clarifies responsibilities, highlights dependencies, and allows your team to respond and adapt to changes and risks well before they happen, and it serves as a handy communication tool for all stakeholders to align on the status and needs of the project. By creating an effective project timeline, your team benefits from efficiency not just from seamlessly transitioning across tasks but also by reducing or eliminating roadblocks along the way.
With Workamajig, the premier marketing management software, you have an all-in-one solution for creating your project timeline and using it to transition into task and resource management seamlessly. Easily adjust your schedule or modify task requirements and assignees to ensure efficiency, and use native reporting tools to measure your progress, as well as identify and address roadblocks along the way.