Not every project gives you the benefit of riding solo (much to the chagrin of Jason Derulo). If you’re joining a new team, gaining more traction with freelance projects, or building a crew of your own, project timelines are a must.
One problem: How do you do that, again? Sumo-ling, we’re here to give you the scoop on how to build a project timeline, a couple of easy templates, and a quick breakdown of project management tools with a timeline function. You’re about to get way more organized.
- Why You Should Build a Project Timeline
- 4 Steps for Building a Project Timeline
- 2 Quick and Easy Project Timeline Templates
- 5 Project Management Tools with Timeline Features
Why You Should Build a Project Timeline
What Is a Project Timeline?
Put simply, a project timeline shows which tasks take place when. So, like those history timelines you had to fill out in middle school, you’ll get a chronological view of each step in the project process.
They’re easy to look at, easy to understand, and easy to get addicted to (it happens).
Why Build a Project Timeline
Timelines will show you dependencies, bottlenecks, and the critical path for the project as a whole. You’ll be able to see where the project could hit a roadblock if things take too much time, or which tasks could be completed simultaneously.
Plus, everyone will know exactly where they stand in the project process, increasing transparency. Teams will be more informed, and project managers will know where to alter course should problems arise. From top to bottom, project timelines are a net positive for the entire team.
4 Steps for Building a Project Timeline
1. Make an Outline
Project charters are the beginning of a project outline, and they should detail the timeframe, budget, and scope. The clearer your intentions are laid out here, the less work you’ll have to do later, so make sure you’re starting off on the right foot.
Your project outline is an expanded version of the charter, except this time you’re thinking through each individual piece of the puzzle, instead of the big picture. For instance, you’re not “increasing content on the blog,” you’re “adding 10 new blog posts” and “making unique creatives for each article.”
Make a list with every step of the project spelled out, including any sub-deliverables for all steps in the process. How complex your outline is will depend highly on your project, but each item should be manageable and actionable.
You can compile this into a work breakdown structure (WBS), which defines the deliverables in a hierarchical arrangement. It’ll start with the main project, then cascade downwards for sub-deliverables. The WBS is recommended for more complex projects, so you’ll get an overview of major tasks while also viewing their component parts.
2. Evaluate the Time Required for Each Task
Now that you know what tasks you need to complete, you can estimate the time needed to complete them. Depending on the size of your team, this may entail speaking to members to get an idea of a timeline. You’ll likely want to do multiple rounds of estimations, especially as the project continues.
It’s not a bad call to calculate how much time you think a task should take, then add a couple of days as a buffer. Write out your times next to the project task, and you’re almost done with the groundwork for the project timeline!
3. Figure Dependencies and Task Sequence
These steps go hand-in-hand, and it’s one of the biggest benefits of using a project timeline.
Figuring dependencies is the process of assessing what needs to be done in order for the project to continue. You can’t make the creatives for a blog post without figuring out the topic for said post, in the same way you can’t have an educated opinion on the best Star Wars movie without watching the 1978 Holiday Special (from START TO FINISH!!).
The task sequences rely on you figuring out these dependencies, so you can evaluate which tasks can be completed simultaneously and maximize efficiency. This is also a great time to slate tasks for certain people, so you’ll be able to spot any staffing or resource risks. Here, you’ll also identify the critical path, or the least amount of time required to complete the project based on the combined times of all its tasks.
Now that you know your dependencies and assigned the individual tasks, all you’ve gotta do is make it into a timeline!
4. Create Your Timeline
You’ve got a couple of options for actually making your project timeline. If you just want to see if you like the idea enough to continue making them in the future, then a template isn’t a bad idea (we’ve got two lined up for you below).
The other option is to find project management software with a timeline view. The PM tools are super handy because the first steps in the process are streamlined; they’re built for this type of thing, after all. Once you outline your project and assign tasks with due dates, not only is your timeline done, but your project is well on the way to being managed.
2 Quick and Easy Project Timeline Templates
1. Microsoft Excel Template
This four-week timeline is great for short projects, and if you already have Excel, then it’s free. Small teams or temporary assignments might be best suited for this template, but the timeline is easy to see and edit.
This is the project timeline appetizer for those who like to dabble.
Smartsheet gives you several choices on the type of timeline you’d like in their free template library. You can plan weekly, monthly, and annually to suit your needs, and there are even templates for specific sectors like Event Marketing.
5 Project Management Tools with Timeline Features
To help you decide which tool is right for you, be sure to check out our blog post for extra info on which tool suits your situation best.
Plutio is comprehensive without being overly complex, making it a great option for freelancers and agencies, especially those in the process of scaling teams or services. It’s not free, but it is affordable, especially with AppSumo’s lifetime deal.
You’ll have a project timeline with the click of a button after you make the task cards, plus hourly tracking, client collaboration, and white-labeling.
Click on tasks in the timeline to easily adjust the time taken or slide them along in the calendar. It’s all very straightforward and accessible.
Asana might be overkill for smaller teams, but if you want all the bells and whistles to future-proof a rapidly growing company, this might be for you. There is a learning curve, but there are always videos and tutorials to get you up to speed relatively quickly.
Asana’s timeline feature is robust, with the option to link tasks in the timeline to establish dependencies. There’s also filtering and subtask counts for tasks, in case your projects tend to be more complex.
The Business Plan on MeisterTask will give you access to an extensive project timeline view. While it is a bit pricey, if your team is juggling multiple projects with several clients, this might be the option for you.
The timeline is drag-and-drop from the kanban board, and you can also create tasks straight on the timeline, as well. Plus, you’ll have filters and zooming to focus on individual team members or projects. Functionality is in abundance here.
If you’re already using MeisterTask, the upgrade might be worth it for your team.
Ora offers great bang for your buck. You’ll have access to the timeline feature and unlimited observers with their Professional plan, and it’s 8 bucks a month per user (tax included!). Freelancers and agencies with consistent work across several partners might be the best fit for Ora.
Timeline-wise there are tons of premium features, including drawing dependencies and setting the amount of time per day for team members to work on tasks. It’s a great value.
5. Trello Power-Ups
Technically, you can add a timeline power-up to the free version of Trello. But you only have 1 power-up slot, and it’s certainly not enough if you plan on continuing to use the platform. However, if that’s the main feature you want to try before going for Business Class, it’s not a bad call.
Planyway is a great option for your Trello board, with all the essential timeline features, plus the option to coordinate timelines across Trello boards.
You Know What Time It Is
You’ve made it all the way here, so that means you’re serious about making a timeline.
Basically, the short-term solution is to snag a template, and the long-term solution is to invest in a project management ecosystem.
So go ahead and use the tools of your choosing to get started on that first timeline sure to make your life way easier. You’ll know what’s happening, who’s working on it, and when you can expect projects to be finished – all much faster than you would have before.
Get time back on your side. Create a project timeline.