Project Timeline

The Project Manager’s Ultimate Guide to Creating a Project Timeline

Ask any project manager, and they’ll tell you that the teams, tools, and resources they use will vary from one job to the next. It all depends on the project scope. There is, however, one element so essential that it appears in every project no matter what the industry: the project timeline.

The timeline serves as the blueprint of a project. It starts the entire endeavor off on the right foot, clarifies the ultimate goal and contains a series of milestones that measure progress. Your success as a project manager depends on your ability to create a realistic yet effective timeline.

1. Create a Project Scope Statement

A scope statement is precisely what its name suggests: a document that defines the scope of a project and presents the information that shapes the project timeline. Contents include:

  • Key deliverables, such as a new type of accounting software and a supporting app for mobile devices.
  • Necessary resources, such as tools, testing environments, and team member skill sets.
  • High-level requirements, which explain the capabilities that the successful project completion should achieve. Examples include a database platform that all company employees can access and the ability to maintain the new system in-house without needing outside support.
  • Assumptions, which are factors believed to be true but not yet verified. Describing assumptions makes it possible to analyze them to mitigate risk.
  • Constraints, which are limitations created by time, technology, funding or access to resources.
  • Criteria that must be met for the project to be considered complete.
  • An estimate of the funding which will be needed to complete the project successfully.
  • A cost-benefit analysis that measures the project costs against its benefits to determine the most beneficial course of action.

Another goal of this statement is to create a common understanding of the project scope among internal (e.g. the company’s upper management) and external (the client) stakeholders, so that there are no unfounded assumptions that could compromise the project later.

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how to create a project timeline

2. Create a Work Breakdown Structure

A work breakdown structure (WBS) breaks down and organizes the required work into sections that the project manager can evaluate and assign to members of the team. Instead of focusing on individual tasks, the WBS emphasizes milestones in the project timeline. Each one will have its own to-do list and blend naturally into the next stage in the project.

Breaking down a large project in this manner makes it easier for the manager to establish dependencies, develop a schedule, assign roles and responsibilities, and monitor the progress of the project.

3. Determine Project Dependencies

A dependency is a task that cannot commence until another one has been completed. For example, if you’re designing a new app your team cannot start working until you have a workspace for them. Dependencies can be ‘upstream’, meaning that something external must happen before work can begin, or ‘downstream’, which is when the team must deliver something before the next stage in the project timeline can be achieved.

4. Determine Project Constraints

Constraints are like dependencies in that they also affect project delivery, only constraints are restrictions. Examples include:

  • Commitments the company may have to partners, clients or regulators
  • A limited budget
  • Tight timeline
  • Limited resources, such as a reduced power capacity in the work environment
  • Agreements, laws, or regulations that restrict project options.

Once the constraints are identified, the project manager is responsible for determining ways to deliver the project as specified despite these limitations.

project timeline guide for project managers

5. Decide How Much Time Each Task Needs

Once the WBS has been created and both dependencies and constraints are clarified, the project manager must decide how long it will reasonably take to complete each task. If they have worked on a similar project in the past, making these determinations should be a straightforward process. But if it’s an entirely new scope or environment, discussing the matter with a colleague or experienced team member can provide necessary guidance.

6. Confirm Availability of Resources

Once the project manager knows what resources will be required to create the project deliverables, confirming availability is next. If a graphic designer is needed to complete the app interface, is there someone available to work on the task for as long as the job is expected to take? If there will be six people working on the project, is a suitably sized workspace available? Only when all resources are confirmed to be available should actual work on a project begin.

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7. Identify Important Milestones

The purpose of milestones is to allow the project manager to track progress on the deliverables from beginning to end. If the team falls behind for any reason, the project manager will know instantly by looking at the milestones. This advance knowledge gives the project manager time to make the adjustments needed to keep the team and the work on target.

8. Build the Project Timeline

Some project timelines are generated and maintained in Microsoft Excel, but a growing number of project managers use specialized software to create their timelines. The best project management software packages use intuitive templates and workflows that are easy to follow and make schedule creation and maintenance much more efficient.

Timeline Task Popup 1024x731

Toggl Plan is a popular online project planning software that includes a team calendar. It delivers a visual and real-time overview of team activity at all stages of the project life cycle and allows managers to respond quickly to change. In addition to building project timelines, Toggl Plan is a strategic tool to help you track your project’s progress.

Heading off into the great unknown can be exhilarating- unless you’re a project manager. With a project timeline in place, you and your team will be prepared. Project timelines will align team members and stakeholders, define the scope, outline both deliverables and tasks, and confirm resource allocation.

July 9, 2018