What is the project timeline? Definition
Project timeline is a visual representation of all the tasks and activities that are supposed to be completed in a project, as well as their duration and start and end dates. Such an overview provides the manager with key information on all the tasks and related allocation, helping them manage projects on both general and more detailed levels.
Types of project timelines
There are no two identical projects - while they may share some similarities, they are never the exact copies of each other. That is why we divide project timelines into several different types based on their features.
Project timeline by types of charts
The most popular types of project timelines include:
- Historical timeline that simply outlines the chronological order of the tasks,
- Vertical chart timeline that is mostly used for monitoring project-related data, such as billable hours, project budget, and more.
- Gantt chart that combines tasks with allocations and their details to provide managers with a comprehensive overview of all the activities in the project.
In this text, we will focus on the type of project timeline that appeals most to the professional service companies - the Gantt chart calendar with employee’s capacity.
Which projects should have a project timeline?
The answer to this question is simple: every project that relies on a flexible approach to its execution needs a project timeline.
For example, if you represent an IT company, you’ve certainly had an opportunity to work with Agile projects that require constant adjustments and changes. Project timeline can help them accommodate them.
However, keep in mind that project management timelines are useful not only in the IT companies - other professional service companies can also successfully use them. Such plans can be adapted to fit the needs of marketing agencies, law firms, or any other businesses planning to deliver their services in a timely manner.
How to create a project timeline?
If you are still here with us, you probably know you need a project timeline in your business. So let’s get to the point: how to create a project timeline?
What are the things that the project timeline consists of?
First, let’s start with the things your project timeline should have by the end of your journey.
Ideally, it should contain:
- project stages or tasks (whichever fits your project best),
- their duration, start dates and end dates,
- dependencies - for example, when one task needs to be completed for another to start,
- team members, their capacity and allocation.
Seems like too much to bear? You may have a point. Fortunately, as the project timeline is a visual representation of all of these factors, it will look much better when they are translated into a chart.
Now let’s see how it works in practice.
5 steps to create a project management timeline
The process of creating a project management timeline usually takes just a few steps. They include:
1. Define the scope of your project
That’s the simplest step of the way - you need to figure out what needs to be done for the project to be successful.
Specify the requirements
First, you need to talk to your customer to discuss the basic details behind the operation. By the end of this conversation, you should have:
- project description and background information needed to complete it,
- main objectives and/or project milestones,
- project goals, including target audience, desired features, general outcomes.
Get into more detail about the project
However, these factors are not sufficient for the project timeline - they need to be much more specific. That is why, after you’ve gathered all the information above, you can now move on to organizing the project scope.
At this point, you should:
- write a project statement that specifies what is the project aiming to accomplish,
- create a list of stages and tasks in the project, as well as their dependencies,
- perform basic resource forecasting to establish what resources are required for the project and whether you have a project team for the job,
- specify the desired start and end date for the project and its stages,
- prioritize the tasks accordingly,
- consult other project managers who may have experience in similar projects.
Having done that, you can now organize the information even further - it’s time to divide your projects into smaller pieces and include your team in the equation and timelines themselves.
2. Split the project into parts
Once you know what you have to do to succeed, it’s time to take a closer look at all the necessary operations, their scope and milestones that mark their progress.
Dividing the project step by step
First, divide the project into stages marking the significant development in the project. For each of them, select a milestone that will show you the exact goal you need to achieve for the project to proceed. Do not forget to determine the task dependencies and dates, if they are critical for the tasks!
From there, split the stages into small, manageable tasks and place them into chronological order. Once again include task dependencies when necessary. We highly recommend to use tools for project schedule in that step - they make the work much easier.
Having done that, you will have a draft version of the project timeline.
3. Determine the time and resources needed to complete each phase or task
If you paid attention to the previous step, you already have a list of tasks that need to be done. Now it’s time to check what they need to be completed in a timely manner - and according to all the complicated requirements.
Successful project in a nutshell
To do that, analyze each task or stage and determine:
- what actions the task will involve,
- how much time it will take to complete each of them,
- what skills or sets of skills will be required to complete the task,
- how much time for each skill will be required,
- how much money will each task cost,
- how the costs compare to the budget.
After completing all of the steps above, you will be able to see how long the stage will take and what resources it requires.
4. Assign tasks to specialist
Finally, if you already broke down each task into pieces, you can use your newly acquired knowledge to start project scheduling.
Start the process with capacity planning - check the availability of resources and other duties they need to attend, and establish the number of hours they have at your disposal.
Then, compare your desired project plan to the availability of resources you wish to involve in the project. At this point, you can start resource planning - begin with allocating specialists whose schedules do not collide with your perfect project schedule. Then, move on to the employees you wish to add to your project, but for some reason you cannot do that. Consider allocating them for part time, or replace them with other employees.
Last but not least, verify whether your project has no vacancies needed to be filled. While this step might seem trivial, it may be the difference between success and failure!
5. Put all the tasks on the timeline and perfect your plan
If you have a project scheduling tool and you have already allocated your resources, you probably already have your project timeline in a calendar or a Gantt chart. However, if you use Excel for a resource management plan (or if you prefer Jira resource management), you still need to take one more look at your project timeline.
Manage your project and its tasks
At this point, you should pay close attention to problems such as:
- vacancies or tasks that were not assigned to any specialists and team members,
- benches or overtimes included in the plan - they should be avoided as much as possible,
- dependencies that are at risk of failing,
- any other risks that may affect the project.
Eliminate all of the above problems whenever possible - if they accumulate, they may put your project at risk.
However, if you have already done that and found no wrongdoings, you are good to go - your project timeline is ready!
Project timeline template in Excel - how should it look?
In general, project timeline is difficult to create in Excel, as the tool has limited visualization options. To make things worse, Excel’s graphs are based on tables, making it difficult to edit them. Therefore, the project timeline template in this program may not be suited to your needs.
But these are just empty words - let’s see what the Excel project management timeline really looks like.
Excel project timeline template - table
Just like in any other case with Excel, in the project timeline template everything starts with a table. In this case, it should contain the name of the milestone, its start date, and priority (on a scale from 1 to 5).
Here’s an example of such a table:
Creating a scatter plot chart for project timeline template
Now it’s time to go one step further with our project timeline template and turn the table into a scatter plot chart.
To do that, select the data table, go to the Insert menu and select the Scatter chart. Of course, you can edit it in this panel, too. The result of the change in the project timeline template should look like this, with each dot representing a project milestone. However, the entire project plan remains invisible - there is no way to show the tasks, their end date and other details.
Of course, you can also expand the chart a bit in this panel using the same project timeline template. For example, you can add the title to the chart, add chart elements and data labels. However, as you can see from this example, an Excel project timeline has significant visibility problems - and they are not going to change regardless of the number of labels you use to describe the data. This project timeline template is also incapable of showing other data your project managers may find useful.
To add to that, these are not the only limitations in the Excel project timeline and project timeline template in general.
Project timeline template in Excel - limitations
Excel project timeline is not a perfect tool - especially for service companies which manage several specialists and projects at once. That is because the tables are not meant to act as a project timeline software and they lack the big picture necessary for the job, not to mention the milestones and timeline templates in general.
What is impossible in Excel project timeline templates?
For example, in Excel project timeline template you cannot:
- view each of the stages, milestones and tasks, as well as their details, separately,
- create list of allocations and responsibilities for each team member (you need an additional spreadsheet for that!) and the project team as a whole from start to finish,
- monitor work progress for each stage, task or employee,
- flexibly edit allocation and stages whenever necessary,
- monitor budgets and spendings - again, you need another spreadsheet for the purpose,
- collaborate with your employees or teammates and exchange information with them in real time,
- monitor the progress in all the important milestones.
Just looking at the list above, it comes as no surprise that numerous service companies decided to look elsewhere for their project timeline tools - and we have an example of a perfect project management tool for them.
Project timeline example
As you can see above, project timeline in Excel do not always look intuitive, and they undoubtedly require lots of additional labor. However, creating a timeline in Primetric is much less time consuming, as it was designed as a project timeline software in the first place.
Let’s see how it works in a project timeline example!
Create a new project in Primetric
Every new project in Primetric starts with a few basic information we need to have to adjust the view to your needs. Therefore, before you start, you need to create a new project and add some details to it - just like in the project timeline example below.
Creating stages and estimates
After you confirmed the data you filled in the Create a new project window, you will be redirected to the project panel. Here you will have an option to add stages to the project (the button on the left) and create estimates for each stage - just like the project timeline requires.
Additionally, in Primetric you can also monitor your budget from the start - our estimates can include your costs, rates and live calculations - just like in the screenshot below.
Creating a project timeline in Primetric
Having added some details to the project, you can now go to the project calendar and plan the project from start to finish. Simply click on the Calendar tab to get there.
After doing so, you will see an empty calendar that only marks the duration of the project. Now you will have an opportunity to fill it in. Simply click on the day you want the allocation to appear, and choose a person you want to add to the project. If you have any doubts, the project timeline software will help you do that!
Adding allocations for team members
Then, you can repeat the process and fill in all the allocations in the project. You can do it in the very same Gantt chart. You do not have to worry about overbooking, time offs and public holidays - the system will inform you whenever it encounters such an event. Additionally, you can simply create a timeline by clicking on the days you want to fill your team members in, without clicking through dozens of tabs and looking for tasks. You can also change the end date for allocation by dragging it to the left or right.
As a result, by the end of this resource planning process, you will have a calendar filled with various allocations (and related information: stages, positions, and more). Here’s how it looks like:
Additionally, later on you can use the schedule with dates to track progress in particular milestones and the project as a whole. When an employee decides to track time in the tool, their status and hours involved will appear in the calendar. The ability to track the progress will also affect other sections of the project automatically - the changes will also appear in the estimates, deliverables and reports, and they can be later shared with stakeholders when necessary.
Benefits of project timeline
Alright, but why in the first place should you even consider spending your precious time on creating a timeline?
There are a few good reasons for it.
Benefits for project milestones and… everyone involved
- Clear overview of the entire project. No one wants to be kept in the dark, whether they are managers or employees. With a project timeline, you know exactly what lies ahead - and you can share this knowledge with specialists and executives alike.
- Mistakes can’t hide! There’s no denying that planning is a complicated process prone to human error. However, creating a timeline can simplify it and help you correct any mistakes.
- Many people, single goal. Sometimes one can get lost in tasks and responsibilities. Project timeline helps you keep your eyes on the goal no matter what happens in the meantime.
- Tracking progress is easier. Project timeline shows you everything that is supposed to happen in the project - and later on you can use it to see what’s actually happening in it.
- There’s no bottlenecks in the project. Without a project timeline, work tends to pile up and creates chaos no one wants to deal with. It’s better to solve these issues before they put the entire operation at risk!
Do you want to know more about project timeline or project management?
You’ve come to the right place!
Visit our blog and read about:
- efficient workload management,
- critical project success factors you need to keep in mind while preparing a project timeline,
- creating a perfect resource management plan,
- resource planning in Jira - if you use the tool, of course,
Or contact our advisors and book a demo right away.