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How to Create a Project Timeline in 7 Steps

Why do many projects waste resources and overrun budgets? The answer lies in project management strategies and approaches.

Companies with higher project management maturity perform better than their counterparts. A Project Management Institute survey found that organizations with stronger project management structures waste 21% lesser resources and are more likely to work within their budget. 

The report also established that those with lower project maturity have a 56% chance of meeting goals, 21% lower than brands with higher maturity.

Project timelines are among the critical aspects that some organizations neglect. It helps your team members visualize the project roadmap and provides clarity on the workflow.

If you haven’t integrated the culture of using project timelines, this article will show you what they are and how to create them.

What is a Project Timeline?

A project timeline is the visual arrangement of every step and process involved in a project. It outlines everything in a chronological format so team members are privy to delivery dates, key milestones, project roadmap, dependencies, workflows, and individual tasks.

It serves as a map that shows what needs to be done before a new task begins. With the timeline, team members understand their individual roles and how they fit into the scheme of things.

Using the timeline prevents redundant questions like, “What do I do next” and “Who do I hand it off to?”

The key parts of a project timeline include:

  • Tasks
  • Task durations
  • Assigned employees
  • Deadlines
  • Dependencies

While the timeline covers all your bases, you must prepare for the unexpected so you don’t get surprised along the way.

Different Types of Project Timelines

There are different types of project timelines that follow different principles and are suited to different purposes. So, before creating a timeline, you must know which type to use to effectively handle the project. Let’s walk you through them.

Gantt Chart Timelines

A Gantt chart on its own is used to visually represent a project’s tasks and task schedules over a period. It uses a horizontal bar chart model to represent task durations and deadlines.

The Gantt timeline follows a similar method where the Y axis (vertical) contains the project’s tasks or subtasks and the X axis (horizontal) shows the project’s timeline, including start dates, durations, and dependencies.

How are Gantt charts and project timelines different?

While Gantt charts and project timelines are similar, their main purposes are different. Primarily, Gantt charts are used to visually represent the relationship between tasks and show the project’s progress. Project timelines on the other hand don’t need to show task relationships, but rather outline all the moving parts in the project.

Chronological Project Timeline

The chronological project timeline displays the project overview in sequential order, just as its name suggests.

The arrangement can be top to bottom (vertical) or left to right (horizontal).

How to Create a Project Timeline

  1. Map Your Project Scope

A project scope provides all the details about the project, from budget and deliverables, to specific tasks and general objectives. It establishes what the entire project will achieve, cementing what has to be done and when. 

This stage helps you determine all the tasks you have to work with and include in the timeline. Once the project scope is complete, it is documented in the project scope statement.

The project scope does the following:

  • Helps stakeholders understand everything involved in a project and what it entails
  • Establish a roadmap to help managers efficiently schedule work, create budget, and assign tasks
  • Define clear boundaries in terms of the project vision, goals, budget, and man hours.
  • Keeps team members focused on tasks, milestones, and a common goal.

The project scope is mainly classified under three points: theme, time, and capital. 

The theme point refers to the actual goal to be met to complete the project. 

The time point refers to the longest possible time limit for the project and can be measured in weeks, months, or years. 

The capital point refers to the foreseeable amount of resources (workforce, funds, equipment, etc.) that can be obtained to complete the project.

So, once the project scope has been mapped out, designing practical objectives becomes easy. This also makes it easy for the project manager to break the project into smaller parts.

How to Map a Project Scope

There are several things to consider when mapping a project scope. Let’s cover them.

Understanding the Project and Its Objectives

This first step involves understanding the project and defining its objectives. If there are multiple goals involved in the project, you must include them in the objectives. This part of the project scope explains details about the activities that should occur and how you’ll achieve those goals.

Listing Stakeholders

Next up is identifying and listing all the stakeholders involved in the project and their roles. Everyone has to understand their responsibilities and boundaries. If you’ll outsource any aspect of the project, list those roles and responsibilities too.

Identifying Possible Challenges

There’s always a few bumps and hurdles along the way. Knowing how to deal with these issues as they arise is part of the benefits of creating a project scope and makes the timeline more effective.

By identifying the possible constraints and challenges you’ll face while executing the project, you’re able to prepare yourself. This way, you can overcome those issues by setting up resources to tackle them when they arise.

Assessing Project Resources

As we mentioned, the scope covers the capital aspect, which includes the resources needed to execute the project. While this aspect goes more into budgeting, it’s also crucial to add it to the scope to make sure all your bases are covered.

Develop a Change Strategy

As we mentioned, the project scope cements the project’s trajectory. However, as a project manager, you have to be ready to deal with out-of-scope elements that may force you to mildly alter the original project plan. You should be prepared for such situations to avoid it affecting the entire project.

You must list stakeholders who can make this happen and create policies to guide the process.

  1. Formulate Realistic Milestones from Project Objectives

The second step to creating practical project timelines is to formulate realistic milestones based on the objectives earlier established. 

First, the objectives will serve as the skeletal framework for the project, while the milestones will serve as the anticipated outcomes of the objectives. Thus, formulating a milestone for each objective will allow the project team to execute the project smoothly and successfully, not to mention in the most efficient way possible.

Formulating a realistic milestone is not just adding words to paper. Rather than simply cutting the project into little parts to be carried out by different people, it is better to categorize the objectives on the basis of tasks, time, and resources. 

This way, a milestone may relate to completing a particular task in 4 weeks, for example. Or still, having at least 25 percent of the project funds at completion for feedback and possible reassessment.

The combination of a feasible project objective and a related milestone makes up a task. Thus, the second step in creating solid project timelines is to develop achievable tasks within reasonable time frames.

Tips on Creating Project Milestones

Be specific

You must provide specific details to ensure team members clearly understand each milestone. For example, your goal could be to increase your lead conversion rate by 200% at the end of the year. You could set a milestone to increase site traffic by 100% during the first quarter.

Set Reasonable Time frames

Time frames govern how and when you deliver milestones. You must reasonably set time frames that will align with the entire project’s timetable. This way, you’re keeping everyone on track and ensuring team members adhere to the project roadmap.

Set Realistic Milestones

Setting realistic milestones and being specific follows the principles of creating realistic milestones. You must weigh in on your resources and ability of your workers to set your milestones. This way, you’re not creating goals and objectives that are impossible to achieve.

  1. Define Project Dependencies

Now that realistic milestones have been formulated and attached to each objective, the next step is to define task dependencies. 

The underlying goal of this step is to organize the tasks into an outline. 

This outline will not only allow the actualization of the project to be smooth, but also relate the various tasks (and related requirements) within a framework.

Ordinarily, dependencies simply refer to tasks that depend on each other for completion. In other words, task A has to be completed before task B can be executed. By defining project task dependencies, therefore, the project manager is arranging the tasks earlier defined while relating them to one another. 

Which task is conditional upon another? Having this kind of information will allow the project team to better allocate available resources per time to each task.

So, this step of the project timeline involves the identification of tasks that are independent (or stand-alone) and tasks that are dependent (or conditional on others). After this identification process, the tasks can be put in order. This way, resources (in the form of personnel, funds, software, etc.) can be set up and committed to the project efficiently, thereby, preventing wastefulness.

  1. Examine Project Resources

The fourth step on the project timeline is the resource assessment step. 

This step has to do with evaluating the resources available for the project. Mostly, these resources take the form of the workforce, the funds, and the various hardware and software that serve as auxiliary ‘instruments’ to boost efficiency or save time and efforts.

This step in the timeline creation process is critical in that it covers the how component of the timeline. From knowing what resources are available (and how much), the project manager will find it easier to allot tasks to teams along with the required means.

  1. Allot Time for Each Task

At this point, you’ve created the project scope, set up milestones, assessed deliverables, and examined resources. 

What needs to be added to this mix is time. This stage essentially puts the project timeline together. However, it requires precision more than anything else.

Now, when alloting time frames to specific tasks, you must ensure they align with the project’s timetable. 

However, this does not mean that the tasks can be fixed within equal time frames. Instead, this requires focusing on each task and allocating time limits to them on the basis of perceived difficulty and importance to the project.

For example, a project for event planning would include tasks such as finding suitable venues, seat arrangements, food and drinks, seating arrangements, guest accommodations, etc. 

Some of these tasks (for example, finding suitable venues) are more important than others. Therefore, such important tasks should be prioritized on the project time scale.

Time is a resource that many project managers only use as a framework for project completion. In the same way a project is broken into bits to form tasks, the total time available for the project’s completion can also be broken into periods or frames. 

As such, the project map consists of dependent tasks grids (where one task must be completed before another) and dependent time grids (where the given time frame for a task determines what’s allotted to another).

In this case, project managers will be able to monitor tasks more closely and give timely feedback that can be acted on.

  1. Allocate Tasks and Milestones to Teams

This step of allocating tasks on the project timeline to team members is similar to the previous step of allocating time to tasks. 

However, the arrangement of available resources this time revolves around the workforce. 

The same people can be attached to different tasks as long as they are competent. However, since sufficient time has been allotted to each milestone, the team leader can closely observe the work of the teams and introduce adjustments where and when necessary.

The team-addition step is usually the second-to-the-last step, but it also requires a lot of deliberation. The competence of each team member plays a big part in who is selected to focus on a task, and so does cooperation. Therefore, you must organize teams based on their strengths and weaknesses.

  1. Build Project Timeline

The last step in creating sustainable project timelines is the actual construction phase. This step essentially requires you to capture each task on a timeline. 

As we mentioned earlier, the timeline can take the shape of a chart.

This chart forms the basis for when the project objectives are met, the milestones have been actualized, and the project has been completed.

Regarding timeline structure, the timeline can be broken into three sections. 

The first section consists of the project objectives; the second consists of needed (and available) resources; and the last section consists of the task schedules.

Although many project timelines usually only show, for example, Gantt Charts of task schedules, such timelines are technically incomplete.

You must also make notes regarding dependencies when charting the timeline. For example, you must write and complete a script before creating a marketing video.

The Benefits of a Good Project Timeline

According to a 4PM survey, most brands have a 70% chance of failing at a project due to poor management. And most of the time, the difference between a poor and effective project management strategy is the project timeline.

So, when you get your project timeline right, you’re doing a lot of good to your team and organization. Here are the benefits of a nicely done project management timeline:

  1. Clarifies Project Goals and Methodology

Good project timelines illustrate the project goals and methods in a manner that is easy on the human mind. This is especially the case when the project manager is able to break the project into realistic tasks. This way, everyone knows where the project is heading, how they’re getting there, and what each individual has to do to get there.

  1. Shows Feasibility of the Project

Even the most impractical project can appear workable when timelines are developed. For the average project management strategy, a timeline allows the team to visualize the best frameworks necessary to complete the project. The visual representation shows everyone the possible ways to execute the project.

  1. Prevents Cost Overruns

One of the largest global studies involving 1,471 projects was published in the Harvard Business review. It found that the cost overrun of one in six projects was 200% and every project had a 27% average cost overrun.

Using a project timeline allows you to gauge how much work should be done and the resources to be deployed. It also enables you to allocate those resources in time. This way, you’re efficiently allocating resources and reducing overall project overruns.

  1. Helps to Organize Resources

Resource assessment is a vital component of project management. This component of a project timeline helps project managers to efficiently estimate and allocate resources at the right time. This timely resource allocation makes the project actualization process efficient and prevents any kind of wastefulness.

  1. Tracks Each Phase of the Project and Measures Project Progress

Perhaps the most critical component of project timelines is time. Because the developed framework is tied to time frames, project managers are able to track every other component, including task completion and resource usage. If each of these components are interlocking grids, then project timelines allow managers to focus on each one, determine its contribution to the overall process, and make needed adjustments within projected time frames.

  1. Prevents Hold-Ups and Bottlenecks

Delays are significantly reduced if not completely eliminated since project timelines account for every likely scenario. It’s also a great decision-making process since it clearly defines dependencies and next steps. This way, team members don’t always wonder what to do next because it’s clearly stated on the timeline.

  1. Allows Ease in Case of Modifications

Project timelines map out the entire range of expected outcomes during each phase of the project. Because the timeline is developed before the project starts, project managers can inject as many likely scenarios as possible—and prepare for them. This means that ongoing projects can also be modified halfway, whether in response to component additions or reductions.

  1. Improve Communication and Collaboration 

You can easily achieve improved communication with projects that involve many team members and lots of moving parts.

Part of the project timeline process is defining roles and responsibilities for every team member. Assigning clearly defined roles makes it easy for people to know the next steps in the entire workflow. This way, employees understand who to collaborate with, what to share, and what to hand over.

  1. Improve Time Management

Time management is a critical aspect of any project management strategy. It affects everything from planning and implementing changes to assigning tasks and accomplishing deliverables.

Project timeline allows you to recognize tasks and their dependencies. This way, you know what comes first and how to allocate time efficiently.

The timeline also allows team members to visualize project roadmap and progress. This way, they are able to work through tasks with less questions and clarifications.

  1. Ensures Timely Deliverables

The project timeline reduces guesswork and shows a defined path from start to finish of the project. Since it defines all the steps and shows the project roadmap, it reduces time wasting, ensuring the project is executed within the projected deadline.

Wrapping Up

Your organization can also be among the 2.5% of companies that successfully completed their 100% of their projects. Using an effective project timeline removes bottlenecks, saves cost, improves time management, and boosts collaboration.

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