Project Planning

How To Create A Timeline In Excel (Step-by-Step Tutorial & Template)

How to create a timeline in Excel

Want to communicate your project’s schedule visually? A graphical timeline is a powerful tool to visualize the schedule. In this article, you’ll learn step-by-step, how to create a timeline in Excel in three different ways.

These include:

But before we dive in, let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of using Excel to create a timeline.

Pros & Cons Of Excel Timelines

A timeline is a powerful visual tool for project managers. 

In the early stages of a project, a timeline helps communicate the project’s roadmap. And in the later stages, it helps managers plan and track project schedules and resources.

The most significant advantage of using Microsoft Excel to create a timeline is that it’s readily available. Almost everyone has access to Excel

Second, you don’t have to spend anything extra. Most teams already have access to the MS office suite.

Third, Microsoft Excel templates are available freely on the internet. Using these templates, it’s reasonably easy to create a timeline in Excel.

Finally, your team members are already comfortable using Excel. So you don’t have to spend time on training and onboarding.

But, while Excel is easy and free, it does have a few shortcomings.

  • Lack of collaborative features: You cannot work with another team member on a project’s schedule unless you both sit right next to each other. As a result, it is tough for distributed teams to plan together.
  • You cannot ensure data integrity: It’s easy for a team member to update or delete data from Excel by mistake. So you’ll need a way to keep track of the changes.
  • Version soup: Team members can mistakenly work on different versions of an Excel spreadsheet. Combining data from these versions can quickly become chaotic.

Excel is OK for small, simple projects. But for creating timelines for larger projects, you may want to consider using a project planning tool like Toggl Plan

SmartArt Graphics Timeline In Excel

How to create a timeline in Excel using SmartArt?

Microsoft Excel’s Smart Art feature makes it reasonably straightforward to create a timeline. However, this timeline is pretty basic. And it shows only the sequence of events or steps in a schedule.

Still, it’s a valuable tool to communicate a project’s roadmap to stakeholders.

How to create a timeline in Excel using SmartArt?

  • Open a blank Excel document. Click Insert > SmartArt > Process.
Excel SmartArt menu
  • Then select Basic Timeline from the Graphic options. You may also choose other Graphics templates that suit your needs.
Insert Excel SmartArt timeline
  • Enter timeline data either in the provided text box or directly on the timeline.
Excel SmartArt timeline data
  • Excel also allows you to change the style of a timeline. Right-click to change the theme style, fill color, and outline styles.
Excel SmartArt timeline options

And your simple SmartArt timeline should be ready.

Excel Timeline Using A Scatter Chart

How to create a timeline in Excel using a scatter chart?

Let’s say you also wanted to display the due date for each milestone along with the effort involved. In such a situation, the basic SmartArt timeline doesn’t serve the purpose. 

Here you can use one of the numerous charts available in Microsoft Excel. You can easily customize these charts to represent a timeline.

We’ve already seen how to create a Gantt chart in Excel using a horizontal bar chart. So, in this article, we’ll use a scatter chart instead.

How to create a timeline in Excel using scatter charts?

First, open a blank Excel document.

  • Then, prepare chart data. For this chart, we’ll use the milestones data from a website design project. Each milestone has a due date and an estimated effort, as shown below.
Prepare scatter chart data in Excel
  • Next, insert a scatter chart from Insert > Charts. Then select the Scatter option.
Insert a scatter chart in Excel
  • Now, we need to map our prepared data to the chart. Right-click on the scatter chart. Then click the Select Data option.
Select scatter chart data source
  • In the dialog that pops up, click on the Add button in the Legend Entries section. Set the Due Dates range as Series X values, and the Efforts range as the Series Y values.
Select data ranges for creating a timeline using a scatter chart in Excel
  • Next, make our chart look like a timeline, disable the Primary Vertical AxisChart Title, and Gridlines chart elements.
Scatter chart elements
  • To display the timeline markers, check the Error Bars option in Chart Elements.
Enable scatter chart error bars
  • Then to format the error bars, click on Chart Elements > Error bars > More Options. For horizontal error bars, set the End Style to No Cap and the Error Amount > Percentage to 0%.
Scatter chart horizontal error bar options
  • For vertical error bars, set the Direction to Minus and the Error Amount > Percentage to 100%.
Scatter chart vertical error bar options
  • To display the milestone labels, enable Data Labels from Chart Elements > Data Labels. Then click on Data Labels > More Options.
Enable scatter chart data labels
  • Enable the Value From Cells option and select the range of milestones names from our prepared data. Uncheck the Y Value option.
Add data labels to the scatter timeline in Excel

And there you have it. Your Excel timeline using a scatter chart is ready.

Excel Timeline Templates

If creating a timeline using a scatter chart sounds too complex, you can easily create a timeline using Excel templates.

Excel timeline templates are readily available in the MS Office Template Library. Some of these templates are available only after you purchase the Microsoft Office 365 subscription. However, a majority of these templates are available for free.

Let’s look at how to create a timeline in Excel using a template.

How to create a timeline in Excel using a Template?

Download excel timeline template
  • Open the downloaded template in Excel and update your milestone data in the Project Milestones section. Set the milestone due date, milestone description, the person responsible, and the milestone label position.
Excel timeline template data
  • As you update your project milestone data, the milestone chart above automatically gets updated.
How to create a timeline in Excel using a template?

Within no time, your milestone timeline should be ready.

A Better Alternative To Excel Timelines

So far, you’ve learned about the pros and cons of Excel timelines and three different ways to create timelines in Excel. 

Excel timeline templates are too simplistic. It can be painful to manage real-world projects in Excel. Plus, you cannot collaboratively plan a timeline in Excel. 

So what’s the alternative?

Toggl Plan is a beautifully simple project planning tool. It makes creating a project roadmap or a detailed project plan easy with a simple, drag-and-drop interface.

Toggl Plan Project Timeline

If you’re an individual user, Toggl Plan is free forever. And if you work with a team, you can sign up for a 14-day free trial.

Get started with Toggl Plan for free.

April 8, 2021