Project Timeline: The Ultimate Guide (with Examples)

Updated Aug 3, 2022.
project-timeline

Trying to manage multiple projects successfully is difficult without the right project management structures in place. You have to ensure all tasks align with the project’s goals and are assigned to the right team members. 

Keeping everyone on your project team on the same page throughout the project management life cycle is hard work. While a project plan or project charter can help you stay organized, you can not truly achieve a successful project without a project management timeline.

You need to make the project timeline your right-hand partner for effective project management. A project timeline helps you schedule tasks and provide an overall timeline of your project from start to finish. Without one, your project will easily derail from the initial plan and become disorganized.

As simple as project timeline templates look, it can prove difficult to effectively break down the project into an effective timeline. 

In this article, you will learn everything you need to know about a project timeline including the 8 simple steps to build an effective project timeline.

What is a Project Timeline?

A project timeline is an overview of a project's tasks, deliverables, and sub-tasks arranged in chronological order. This is the ticking piece of the project process. It is usually structured in a visual format to give project stakeholders a more expressive outlook at a glance. 

This visual format helps to visualize the project key stages, including project milestones, dependencies, tasks, and delivery dates.

Project timeline gives project managers the luxury of having an overview of the entirety of the project process at just a glance. This details the beginning and ending process of a project process while also detailing due dates and tasks dependent on other tasks.

Although the project timeline value is measurable to a project's team, it is often difficult to construct with the use of simple spreadsheet packages. Project timelines are the best fit as they create an effective timeline within the shortest possible time frame.

Project timeline template
Source: Vertex42

Benefits of a Project Timeline

Project timeline is an integral part of the project process that helps to ensure an easy flow-free project process. It offers a lot of benefits to the project process. 

  • Points Out a Clear Project Plan: The project timeline helps show the overview of the project plan and allows project managers to have a clear view by just a glance.
  • Helps Maintain the Overall Project: This helps visualize the end from the beginning and vice versa. The project timeline ensures the focus is on the big picture. Everyone in the project team can see the tasks they have to do and when. 
  • Ensures Unity in Goals among Project Stakeholders: The project timeline helps put the entire project stakeholders on the same page as it details their various roles in ensuring the success of the project.
  • Acts as a Tracker to the Project Process: Project managers use project timelines to keep tabs on the project process as it shows what is expected and when due. This helps project stakeholders keep regular tabs on the progress of the project.
  • Prevents Project Hindering Factors: With an effective project timeline, you can easily spot potential bottlenecks and ensure the project process does not derail from its set objectives.
  • Offers Ease in Making Project Changes: The process of making changes during the project process is considerably easier with the aid of the project timeline.
Gantt chart vs Project timeline
Source: Smartsheet

Types of Project Timelines

There are three types of project timelines based on their unique structures. Choosing the best type of project timeline to use is dependent on the project type and process it involves. 

1. Gantt Project Timeline

This is one of the most popular types of a project timeline. The Gantt project timeline at glance provides project managers a thorough view of the end date, key milestones, and dependencies of the project. 

Gannt project timelines show the specific task specifications and to whom they are assigned. They come in handy to the project process as they offer up-to-date interactive functions with ease in making changes.

New product development - project overview
Source: Venngage

2. Historical Project Timeline

This type of project timeline lists out the tasks involved in chronological order, usually from left to right or top to bottom. It marks out key historical dates from a specific time frame. 

3. Vertical Chart Project Timeline

Vertical chart project timelines are suitable for projects involving raw data or financial operations that involve tracking. They point out the gains to be expected over a specific time frame. 

An example of a project that involves the use of a vertical chart project timeline is the project of how much website traffic is generated each month on a company website.

Timeline title
Source: Vertex42

8 Simple Steps to Build a Project Timeline

In building an efficient and appropriate project timeline, the necessary methods and processes need to be put in place to ensure the project ends up successful. 

1. Write a Project Scope Statement

A project scope statement is an integral part of the project timeline management plan that helps point out useful information such as the project’s tasks, milestones, and deliverables. This provides all the vital information regarding the project plan timeline. 

Determining the scope of your project is critical to the project timeline management process as it eventually positively affects the project timeline. The deliverables to be produced at the end of the project process are also highlighted in your scope of work document.

Prior knowledge of your project scope is essential in helping project stakeholders clearly distinguish each set of tasks, the time needed for each task, the team of stakeholders involved in specific tasks, as well as the overall timeline needed for the project completion. 

This knowledge helps to provide a clear and definite picture of the entirety of the project process to stakeholders. It is advisable to begin your project timeline management phase by detailing the project scope statement. 

This should include all the deliverables needed during the entirety of the project process, as well as the resources required to achieve the set deliverables. Doing this helps in the overall management of the project planning process.

The aim of any efficiently drawn-up project timeline management plan is to ensure the project makes it to the last stage of the project process at the predetermined set time standard. This is the dilemma of every project manager and the project scope statement is the first of many steps. 

A faulty detailed project scope statement can derail the entire project process as there is no clear organization on the project timeline.

Project managers often have little or no contribution to make if the project scope statement is adequately detailed with all the necessary parameters as it has already cut out their job for them. 

Example of a Project Scope Statement

Project Plan: How to Build a Garden

Project Scope Document: To produce a 100 sq. ft vegetable garden that produces tomatoes, peppers, and onions from their respective seeds and buds after a planting period of 6 months.

From the project scope document above, the deliverables are tomatoes, peppers, and onions. The resources are the seeds and buds of the proposed vegetables as well as the 100 sq. ft land while the timeline is 6 months. 

Project scope statement
Source: TemplateLab

2. Create a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)

A work breakdown structure involves using graphical tools to break down the project scope into smaller sub-work tasks. This aims at ensuring extensive coverage of all the details entailed in the project scope. 

The work breakdown structure helps to simplify the project scope statement into the smallest bits possible. These grants project stakeholders ample opportunity to visualize and organize project processes.

Project tasks, milestones, and deliverables are arranged in the best possible order in a work breakdown structure. This is done to establish a chronological order of the project process.

When drawing up your work breakdown structure (WBS), begin with your project scope statement. Then further breakdown your deliverable or deliverables into smaller pieces to aid ease of completion. These smaller pieces of deliverables or sub-deliverables are called work packages.

All the major steps of the project process are highlighted in the work breakdown chart. Project managers use project management software to map out and execute this type of structure. 

Project process chart
Source: Wrike

A well-constructed work breakdown structure helps in the project planning, scheduling, budgeting, risk management, task management, and stakeholder management processes. 

Your work breakdown structure acts as a guide through various complicated project structures. By doing so, WBS helps to prevent a lot of the bottlenecks associated with project processes, such as failure to meet deadlines, scope creep, and overstretching of resources. 

Work breakdown structure (WBS) is divided into two: 

1. Deliverable Based Work Breakdown Structure

2. Phase-Based Work Breakdown Structure

WBS Outline and Diagram Template
Source: Smartsheet

3. Break Each Work Package into Tasks

Before you break each work package into tasks, you first need to find out which of the tasks are dependent on other tasks. 

This stage is important to the project timeline process as it ensures all tasks are assigned and accounted for based on the structure of its arrangement. It also assigns specific stakeholders that are accountable for the successful completion of the set tasks.

The next step is to make a list of tasks to be carried out for each work package. You need to constantly watch the gap between your basis and goal. The necessary steps that need to be overcome in between the gap are your work packages. 

Work package acts as a step-by-step transformation tool in getting your project from its starting point to the desired ending point. These work packages can be further broken down into easier tasks to ensure ease of completion.

When drawing up your project timeline plan, it is important to note tasks that are similar in their structure and group them. This helps to ensure similarity and clarity in task organization. It also boosts the next step as it makes it easier to determine dependencies within the organized structure of the work package. 

An example of a work package broken down into tasks is the case of building a garden. 

Project Plan: To Build a Garden

Project Work Package: To successfully harvest tomatoes, peppers, and onions after 6 months.

Project Tasks 

  • Task 1: Preparation of Land
  • Task 2: Tilling of Land
  • Task 3: Planting of Seeds
  • Task 4: Watering of Land
  • Task 5: Weeding of Land
  • Task 6: Harvesting of Land

4. Determine Project Dependencies

Project dependencies are tasks that are directly linked to other tasks and cannot commence unless the task it depends on has been completed. 

Project dependencies
Source: Tiemchart

Determining project dependencies for a project management timeline helps to give a clear sight of the project process. However, it becomes harder to determine as the complexity of the project increases. 

The use of a flowchart or diagram chart can be utilized in determining project dependencies. They usually help in the visualization and identification processes of these dependencies. One of the most widely used charts for the determination of dependencies is the swimlanes or color-coding software.

This software is specifically designed to help in the designation of tasks and responsibilities to various project stakeholders and teams. 

Real-Life Examples of Project Dependencies

A real-life example of project dependencies is in the case of a plan to build a garden. Two tasks of tilling the land and planting seeds need to be factored in the project timeline plan. The task of planting seeds is dependent on the task of tilling the land as you cannot plant on untilled land. 

Also, a practical example of the use of color-coding software is in the task of planting tomatoes and green beans, where they are split into two teams by color. Team red is tomato while team green is green beans. 

5. Estimate the Time of Each Task

One of the key steps in building a project timeline plan is the need to accurately estimate the time required for each task. Your time estimate must be reliable and attainable. It should conform to the project’s initial schedule and timeline.

This step is critical in creating your project management timeline, as it directly determines the exact time required to complete the project. 

You need to go back to your list of tasks and consider the duration needed to complete each task. This is very important as it ensures the progress of the project can be meticulously followed.

All project stakeholders must be carried along while estimating the time of each task as they are integral for determining if the timeline will or will not be achieved. The project manager needs to ensure the timeline is not too inconsiderate and necessary factors have been considered before arriving at the time estimate.

Real-Life Example

The estimated timeline for the completion of the tasks involved in building a garden.

Project Plan: To Build a Garden

Project Tasks Timeline

  • Task 1: Preparation of Land (To commence and be completed during the entire duration of the 1st week of the 1st month).
  • Task 2: Tilling of Land (To commence and be completed during the entire duration of the 2nd and 3rd week of the 1st month).
  • Task 3: Planting of Seeds (To commence and be completed during the entire duration of the 4th week of the 1st month).
  • Task 4: Watering of Land (To commence and be continued regularly during the entire duration of the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th months).
  • Task 5: Weeding of Land (To commence and be completed during the entire duration of the 2nd week of the 6th month).
  • Task 6: Harvesting of Land (To commence and be completed during the entire duration of the 3rd and 4th week of the 6th month).

6. Check Resource Availability

Always check for the availability of all the resources needed, be it human or material before embarking on any assigned task. This is important to avoid the case of incomplete tasks which will eventually affect the project timeline plan. 

Resources are the driving force of every project timeline plan. It is not enough to have the resources; poor allocation of the available resources will ultimately lead to a deficit. 

The availability of the needed human resource for various tasks in the project timeline plan needs to be factored in. Although human resource is not the only resource available, it is the most liquid and flexible. 

The allocation of the specific timeline to various tasks need to depend on the availability of the project’s stakeholders or teams.

Project Team Project Roles
Project SponsorThe in-house driver of the projectCreates the project visionApproves the project budget and changes to itResponsible for making key business decisions relating to the projectMakes resources available for the project
Executive SponsorUltimate decision-maker regarding the projectApproves changes to the project scope and project deliverablesProvides extra funds needed to implement project changes
Project ManagerOversees the day-to-day running of the projectCreates the project plan and a project scheduleDelegate tasks to the project team Leads and manage the project team through the five phases of the project management life cycleCommunicate with project stakeholders, project clients, and team membersHires project staffManages project deliverables
Project CoordinatorAssists the project managerFacilitates communication between the project manager and the project teamHandles administrative tasks for the project manager and teamCoordinates project schedules, resources, and equipmentEnsures project deadlines are met
Project Team MemberContributes their expertise to the projectCompletes individual deliverables within deadlinesCommunicate with the project manager on problems affecting the assigned tasks Works with the project manager and other team members to complete the project deliverablesDocument the project process
Business Analyst or Resource ManagerGathers and documents technical and business requirements from users or departments within the company Ensures that the project deliverables meet the requirements of the project clientSolves resource problems affecting the projectUse available tools to assist team membersAssess project solutions to ensure they are effective 
Steering CommitteeApproves budget changesProvides strategic direction for the projectHelps the project manager solace problems relating to the project

Oftentimes, due to the demand of other tasks, the timeline for specific tasks needs to be adjusted to accommodate other tasks and ease the pressure off project stakeholders. 

This aims to ensure the success of one task is not directly negatively impacted by another task as they are all intertwined with the project process.

7. Identify Important Milestones

Properly identifying important milestones is critical to the project timeline plan. Milestones are important markers that signify the end of an old and the beginning of a new phase. They are an important aspect of the project management timeline and are significant in tracking the progress of the project process.

Project milestones help in making changes or adjustments at strategic stages of the project process. The project process might be derailing out of the set course, and through project milestones, you can track the progress and make the right adjustments. 

Milestones are attained by completing tasks in their sequence and order with deliverables. With the proper identification and tracking of important project milestones, the project process is just a step away from successful completion.

An example of the important milestones reached during the successful plan to build a garden is as follows.

  • Milestone 1: Preparation Stage
  • Milestone 2: Planting Stage
  • Milestone 3: Harvesting Stage

8. Build Your Project Management Timeline with the Right Software 

Project timeline planning is relatively easy with the invention of the use of different software. These visual project management software programs afford project managers the ability to use various sophisticated but easy-to-use tools aimed at making the project planning timeline easy and stress-free. 

They also ensure the implementation of efficient project plan timelines which ensures the overall project schedule is not affected. 

A good example of efficient project timeline management software is Monday.com. This particular software uses the Gantt chart which acts as more than just a project timeline. Tasks need to be lined from one end to another and each task length adequately reflects its time allocated. Milestones can be factored in through this software and it helps in efficient progress tracking. 

Monday.com affords project managers the ability to perform various project timeline management functions with relative ease.

1. Set Task Duration

Monday.com ensures tasks have estimated starting and completion dates displayed through the chart on a timeline. After successfully identifying and listing out the tasks and prioritizing them, the next step is to determine the duration and dependencies of the task. 

The start and end dates are connected and automatically displayed with the timeline and duration bar by adding them on the left-hand column of the Gantt chart. 

2. Link Dependencies

This online project management software provides a tool on your timeline for the proper identification of task dependencies and keeps the project process running smoothly. 

Linking dependent tasks on Monday.com is easy. Drag and drop one dependent task to the other and use the link function button to complete the process. 

3. Create Milestones

Milestones are important markers that symbolize the end of one phase and the start of another. You can create milestones by highlighting the specific tasks you intend to make a milestone for the project. 

4. Set Baseline

The purpose of having a schedule baseline is to ensure it captures the entirety of your project management timeline as scheduled. 

Upon execution of the project plan, it is important to compare and record the extent of the project progress. Your project baseline needs to be set after successfully computing your project timeline. 

This can be done by the means of the settings bar function. Once this has been computed, the software will automatically compare the schedule-timeline plan to the actual program process.

5. Assign Team

Your project management timeline with the aid of Monday.com can be used as an active planning tool. It can be used to assign tasks to your project team. The process of assigning and collaborating tasks can be done directly from your dashboard.

Best Practices in Making a Project Management Timeline

To ensure you complete your project successfully, various tools need to be utilized to assist in the process. The project management timeline needs to be managed with appropriate tools and practices to ensure the efficiency of the timeline.

1. Efficient and Appropriate Project Management Timeline Type

Choosing the appropriate project management timeline is one of the important tools for an efficient project process. Gantt Charts are the most popular tool used to create an efficient project management timeline. 

The Gantt project timeline is unique from the other types of project management timelines as they afford project managers the ability to visualize and also represent the project's tasks, dependencies, milestones, and deadlines.

2. Estimation of Duration of Tasks

Estimating the likely time each task will take is the job description of the project manager. Accurately estimating the duration of each task is essential to planning, scheduling, and the eventual creation of a project management timeline. 

The most useful and efficient method used to estimate the duration of tasks is the use of the Program Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT). This technique helps in estimating the duration of tasks to be carried out by using various planning, scheduling, and management tools.

3. Identification of Key Resources

Resources are one of the pivotal factors needed to execute various tasks and deliver deliverables. They usually offer a wide range of utilities, ranging from people to important materials and tools. 

A project timeline helps efficiently use these key resources by assigning them to various tasks and team members while ensuring various stakeholders are held accountable to ensure efficient monitoring.

4. Regular Revising of Your Project Management Timeline

During a project process, a considerable amount of changes usually occur. These changes must be adequately reflected in your project management timeline. 

The use of project management timeline software makes the process of making changes to your project timeline relatively easy and efficient without causing any considerable setback to the entirety of the project process.

5. Regular and Prompt Communication with Project Stakeholders

 Schedule regular and periodic meetings which factor in changes made during the project process that directly affects the project management timeline. 

Project management timeline software acts as a link as it allows for ease in making changes while allowing the user to share the updated timeline with other project stakeholders.

6. Identification of Critical Path

The critical path method (CPM) helps point out the critical activities as regards the project process which determines the duration. Knowledge of these critical tasks and their timeline is important in creating a project management timeline.

Anastasia Belyh

Editor at FounderJar

Anastasia has been a professional blogger and researcher since 2014. She loves to perform in-depth software reviews to help software buyers make informed decisions when choosing project management software, CRM tools, website builders, and everything around growing a startup business.

Anastasia worked in management consulting and tech startups, so she has lots of experience in helping professionals choosing the right business software.