As projects become more complex and deadlines become shorter, project managers feel pressured to start working on tasks immediately. On the contrary, good project management suggests that these are occasions where they should spend time planning the project. Poor planning provides opportunities for scope creep or inefficient resource management. The planning stage does not have to take too much time, but it must be done carefully, and take into account available resources and budgets while anticipating project roadblocks.
Using a project plan template, teams can quickly clarify objectives, schedule milestones, assess risks, calculate resources, and identify dependencies. To make the plan more visible for all involved, project managers should create a project timeline.
What Is a Project Timeline?
A timeline is a line with dates, events, or activities displayed in chronological order. A project timeline is a document that chronologically shows a list of tasks, activities, and milestones, with dates, duration, and dependencies. Timelines often provide an overview of the entire project from start to finish. Successful projects depend on following the timeline or work plan, so project managers and teams do their best to keep the project schedule on track.
However, just as a project can have multiple subprojects or deliverables in order to gain its ultimate objective, timelines can contain sub timelines to map out milestones within the project’s discrete phases.
Finaly, while the terms “timeline” and schedule” are often used interchangeably, a timeline is most useful when it visually represents the duration of the entire project, or project phase.
When building out a project timeline, the ability to quickly and intuitively adjust dates, sub-projects, and other deliverables is crucial. In the past, timeline building likely involved lots of copying, inserting rows, and pasting in a spreadsheet. It was a time-consuming, error-prone way to visualize dates and deliverables. In the past decade, project management software has evolved with native timeline creation tools that allow you to create timelines quickly, with features that allow to teams to drill down to the hour, or roll up to the overall multi-year timetable.
Featured Partners: PM Software with Integrated Timeline Tools
Examples of Project Timeline Template
The concept of the timeline is nearly self-explanatory. But the simple representation of points along a line is just the beginning. Depending on your project’s needs, and on the level of detail your team members require, project managers have numerous types of timelines available to clearly show what needs to be done by when and by whom.
Gantt Chart Project Timelines
A Gantt chart is a popular project timeline in the form of a horizontal bar chart, where the bars describe the duration, start date, and end dates of each task. The project timeline can also highlight the different phases of a project, milestones for each phase, and responsible person for each task or task owner.
Read project-management.com’s complete rundown of the Best Gantt Chart Software for Project Management.
Work plan project timeline
Gantt charts are not the only type of project timelines. A work plan project timeline template divides the project into different phases. For each phase, the work plan lists the itemized planned activities and expected outcomes.
Milestone-Focused Project Timeline
A milestone-focused project timeline is a high-level project view focused only on important periods, project stages, and milestones during the course of the project. This type of timeline typically mentions only general description of tasks or activities, and provides limited details.
Read More: Project Management Terms & Concepts to Know
Stage-Focused Project Timeline
Another high-level type is a stage-focused project timeline. This type of project schedule template shows the major stages or phases of the project in longer time periods such as weeks or months with little to no other details.
Steps to Create a Project Timeline
Project timelines are vital documents in project plans. And for some stakeholders, the project timeline and the project plan are synonymous. At minimum, project stakeholders need a clear breakdown of the work schedule as well as their critical paths without getting lost in the individual task details. By creating a project timeline with the right degree of granularity, project managers help ensure to keep the team on track, promote transparency and accountability, and provide the big picture when all the pieces connect.
Here are the steps to creating a project timeline:
- Define project goals: Identify the key milestones and deliverables that make the project successful
- Identify all stakeholders: List the names of all the persons involved who will need to see the timeline
- Determine the final deadline: Mark the final date and make sure to include contingencies
- Write a project scope statement: Put in writing the goals, milestones, deliverables, tasks, and boundaries of the project
- Identify task dependencies: Find out which among the tasks are dependent on other tasks to start or end
- Estimate task duration: From the final deadline, estimate the time and duration for your team to complete the task and still meet the deadline
- Set milestones: Identify the important dates that mark the end of a phase or the completion of a vital part of the final deliverable
- Organize your project schedule using a project timeline tool: Choose an application that is easy to use and update a visible project timeline for all involved
Why start from scratch? Check out Timeline Templates: How to Use Different Project Timeline Templates.
Project Timeline Use Cases
Project timelines are applicable in a variety of industries and objectives. Here are some real-world examples where companies use project timelines to plan and schedule their tasks to achieve milestones and business goals.
Customer Appreciation Event Planning
Create a timeline for the event you planned for your customers. Identify the team members, their tasks, and the sequence of events before the big day.
Make it easy for sponsors and stakeholders to approve your idea. Show the different stages that the product will go through, the activities, and important milestones over time, from conception to launch.
High-Level Construction Timeline
Project timelines needn’t be restricted to landscape (horizontal) layouts. This construction plan timeline for a hospital allows you to identify the major stages, important start dates, and general details for each stage.
Aside from project applications, people use timelines in marketing campaigns, clinical trials, and legal court cases, and more.