Before any project can begin with its tasks and deliverables it must go through a planning stage. One of the most important elements of this is the creation of the project timeline. While the features of a timeline, such as the major dates, events and deliverables are probably obvious to most project managers, knowing how to create a project timeline that will effectively plan your project is not necessarily that easy.
Like most areas in project management, there’s always a simpler way of doing things well, so long as you know what they are. So here are some tips for making a project timeline that’s simple and effective.
How to Create a Project Timeline
- Outline the Work Breakdown Structure
The Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) breaks down all of the tasks in a project into relatively standardized work packages. These units can then be used to formulate a project timeline that will give proper weight to everything that has to be done. For example, building an API for a website might take 240 hours, but building the website itself only 80 hours. So, on a project timeline, the tasks involved in creating the API would be broken down into similar-sized work packages as the website.
- Determine dependencies
Every project will contain tasks which depend on each other, i.e. one to be completed before another can start. This isn’t the case with all tasks, but it is essential when creating a project timeline to ascertain which work can be performed simultaneously and which is dependent on others.
- Assess resource availability
A project team has limited resources, in terms of money, human capabilities and technology. When planning how your timeline will proceed it is necessary to assess what resources will be available and when. For example, some team members with specific skills may be in high demand for project tasks so, even if the tasks are independent of each other they cannot happen simultaneously, as that person can only work a certain number of hours per day or week.
- Choose a method relevant to the project
There are different methodologies which can be used to inform a project plan, such as using a Gantt chart or the critical path method. These can help to define task length and how resources are distributed to complete tasks.
- Plan milestones
While all task strands will have clear durations and thus finishing times, it is also very useful when drawing up a project plan to highlight the major milestones that the project will be set to pass. These milestones will serve as waypoints to identify project health and also give the team and other stakeholders a clear visualization of when certain important moments have been reached.
- Construct timeframe to work around
It is also important for a project timeline to actually be functional rather than just a policy document. This means making it easily understandable at a glance and using terminology that can be understood by anyone who reads it. Major dates and actions should be highlighted, which is often done with a colour scheme, which should also be explained in the legend.