Your project timeline is the most vital tool to manage any project successfully. It tells you which tasks are complete and outstanding, and who owns them.\nIt often includes information about cost and anticipated timeframes, as well.\nAlso known as a project schedule, a good project timeline is in-depth but easy to interpret. It encourages teamwork without removing accountability. And it streamlines a project manager’s duties without oversimplifying them.\nIn this article, we will look at:\n\nWhat is a project timeline (and what it is not)\nHow to create a project timeline in 10 practical steps\nA working example of how to create a project timeline\n\nWhat is a project timeline?\n\nLet’s begin by defining the main deliverables of any project: project plans, work breakdown structures (WBS), and project timelines.\nThese are often confused. In fact, they are unique entities, each with their own purpose to enable project success. They also happen to be dependent on each other.\nProject plan vs. work breakdown structure vs. project timeline\nThe project plan is a formal outline of the project goals, stakeholders, scope, responsibilities, and schedule.\nThat sounds like everything, right?\nWell, as you will discover in this article, each of the elements mentioned is substantive. You must break many of them down further into subtasks that may not be relevant to all stakeholders.\nInstead, the project plan is a single document for key project figures to refer to when they need the essential overview.\nFrom the project plan, project managers can produce the work breakdown structure (WBS). This is a hierarchical representation of the tasks that teams must complete throughout the project lifecycle. The WBS does not detail how the tasks are completed; just that they are essential for successful project delivery.\n\nWant to create your own Work Breakdown Structure?\nGet the free template here.\n\n\n\nNow that you understand the crucial components required to deliver a project successfully, and why a project timeline is useful, it is time to create it.\n10 steps to create a project timeline\n1. Write and approve a project plan\nProject plans can be basic or detailed, but you should have one, no matter what. It forces you to ask essential questions, the answers to which will help you to plan the timeline and mitigate risk.\nTo complete your project plan, you should sit down with any essential stakeholders to answer the “who, what, why, when, and how” questions. For example:\n\nWho…\n\n…will gain from the project outcome?\n…are the key stakeholders?\n…else wants the project to succeed?\n\n\nWhat…\n\n…will the outcome look like?\n…is included in the project? What is not?\n…is the budget?\n…expertise do you need to ensure success?\n…happens if the project is delayed\/canceled?\n…other projects can your business complete at the same time?\n\n\nWhy…\n\n…is the deliverable necessary?\n…complete the project now?\n\n\nWhen…\n\n…does the deliverable need to be ready, and is this date flexible or fixed?\n\n\nHow…\n\n…will the deliverable benefit the business\/employees\/customers?\n\n\n\nDepending on your industry and project, you may have other questions to include here. And you may want to implement project estimation techniques to predict your resources, costs, and timeline with greater accuracy.\nThe main reason to ask these questions is not only to secure stakeholder approval. You also achieve the following early on in the project lifecycle:\n\nAttainable goals\n\nLearning that the project goals are unrealistic or impossible later is a waste of resources.\n\nProject scope\n\nBy understanding a project’s goals and budget, you can mitigate against scope creep. This is when gradual changes alter a project’s outcome from its original vision.\n\nEnsure key project leaders, including you, understand why the project is desirable\n\nBy understanding the benefits and objectives of a project, you are better equipped to answer questions and make decisions.\nAlso, you will inspire confidence in your teams if you can show that you comprehend the project well.\nIt is crucial to secure approval for the project plan and publish it for everyone to see.\nThis does not mean you cannot revise the document later. But it serves as a reference point for everyone to understand the objectives.\nIn other words, it means everyone is on the same page!\n2. Generate a work breakdown structure\nIt is time to identify the smaller deliverables. This is your work breakdown structure. Do not worry about how long these tasks will take or how they relate to others around them. Just write them down.\n3. Create specific project tasks\nThen, go even further.\nBreak those deliverables down into smaller subtasks. We recommend using a Kanban board to structure them in a hierarchy.\nThe goal here is to be able to glimpse at a logical layout of all the required tasks and see how they fit together.\n4. Determine task ownership and resource availability\n\nNext, assign owners to each of the subtasks you identified in step 3.\nProbably, you have already discussed who will handle each job. But this step ensures you do not overlook this.\nOnce you have assigned owners to each task, it is time to invite each resource specialist and team leader into your discussion.\nThere are a few reasons why you should do this.\n\nIt gives task owners an early opportunity to see the WBS and to flag if something is missing.\nIt establishes your trust in your team and their expertise, which is an effective project management trend in 2020.\nIt encourages a culture of communication and feedback (more on this later).\nYou should call on their expertise for the next steps.\n\n5. Sequence steps and estimate time required\nDepending on your experience, you may be able to sequence the steps of your project timeline alone. However, it is still a good idea to call on your team leaders and specialists to help you and ensure nothing is missed.\nWhile the previous step tells you which resources you will need to deliver the project, this step will tell you when you need them and for how long.\nWant to jumpstart your project timeline?Try one of our free templates and start building your plan in Hubstaff Tasks.\n6. Identify dependencies and bottlenecks\nOften, this step is completed in parallel with step 5. While sequencing your project steps, you will identify which ones require other tasks to be finished before another can start.\nAlso, you will note which tasks can only be completed on their own or by one person. These are called bottlenecks, and they might exist because of resource availability or because the work is fundamental to later tasks.\nIt is important you identify all dependencies and bottlenecks in your timeline so you can ensure an efficient use of time and resources. Realizing you have a bottleneck too late, for example, will lead to project delays and confusion.\nEven if you think you have identified all dependencies and bottlenecks in step 5, we recommend reviewing them again before moving on.\n7. Choose your project timeline software\nThe way you construct your project timeline depends on the project methodology you and your stakeholders want to use. For example, do you prefer a Waterfall-style Gantt chart, suitable for more rigid project deliveries?\nOr do you favor flexibility, iteration, and communication? In this case, an Agile approach like Kanban is more appropriate.\nThe style most suitable to your teams and project needs will inform the software you choose to create and manage your timeline.\nOf course, it is possible to construct a working project timeline in Excel. However, there are many specialist project timeline tools available that make creating and managing a project more efficiently.\nWhen factoring in which tool to use, do not only think of the essentials to create a project timeline, but what extra functions would make your job easier.\n8. Construct your project timeline\nWhether you are using a spreadsheet or a project management tool, begin by listing all WBS deliverables and subtasks in your timeline.\nAdd the respective task owner to each one. Next, add the timeframe (this may be in hours, days, or both).\nThen, use notes, a color-coding system, or your chosen program’s functions to assign dependencies between tasks.\nIf you would like to see an example of how to build an Agile project timeline, skip ahead to how to create a project timeline in Hubstaff Tasks.\n9. Assign milestones\nYou now have a functioning project timeline.\nYou can see all the steps needed to deliver the project, who owns which one, and how long it will take to complete them.\nNow, you want to make sure you can track project progress as easily as possible.\nTo do this, group tasks together and create project checkpoints throughout the project lifecycle.\nIn Agile PM tools, you can group several jobs together into an “Epic.”\nThe checkpoints throughout your project are called “milestones.”\nMilestones offers three key advantages:\n\nKey stakeholders can quickly see how the project is progressing without needing to view the more detailed project timeline.\nThey serve as important review points in the project lifecycle, where you, your team, and the stakeholders can consider how things are progressing and if any changes are needed.\nYou and your team will feel motivated every time you successfully hit a milestone.\n\n10. Share the project timeline with the stakeholders and team\nFinally, make sure you publish the project timeline somewhere your stakeholders and teams can access it.\nThey should not be able to edit the timeline, but ensuring other people can see it creates accountability.\nAs a result, you will feel a greater responsibility to use the timeline every day and keep it as up-to-date as possible. This is the key to maintaining and using a highly effective project timeline.\nAnd that’s it! You have a project timeline to guide you and your team to deliver your project objectives.\nHow to create a project timeline in Hubstaff Tasks\nSo, now you know how to create a project timeline in theory. Next, let’s look at how to create one in practice.\nIn this example, imagine you are the project manager for a globally distributed business with a small team. Your teams need to be flexible and individuals should focus on being efficient and productive.\nFor such a project, you should consider using a Kanban management tool, like Hubstaff Tasks. So, we will use this project management software to show you how to build your own project timeline.\n1. Create an account\nHead over to Hubstaff Tasks and click “Get Started” to create your free account.\n\nFor the purposes of this demonstration, we are going to create an account for the fictional web design company called WebDyno.\n2. Begin a project\nFrom the Dashboard, click “New Project.”\nIf you want to build a project timeline from zero, select the Blank template.\nHubstaff Tasks has almost 40 free templates to use for different objectives. You can see a description of each template by clicking each one.\n\nWebDyno needs to deliver a website refresh for their client. So, we are going to select the template Website Design by clicking “View Details” and then “Choose template.”\nGive your project a name and then select “Create.”\n\n3. Add people\nFrom your project Dashboard, click the “Add people” link to invite your team into the project.\nEnter their email addresses and they will receive a link asking them to create an account. Hubstaff Tasks is free for up to 5 people.\nYou can even assign roles, including who can manage, collaborate with, and view the project.\n\n4. Organize lists\nYou can create, delete, and customize lists all with the click of the mouse. Select the list name to rename one. For more settings, click the three-dot icon and then “List Settings.”\nTo change the order of your workflow, drag and drop your list to where you want it.\n\n5. Add tasks\nNow it is time to start inputting your WBS tasks and subtasks.\nClick “Add a task” or the plus symbol on the appropriate list category and name your task. Click “Save” and then click the newly created task to add details.\nAssign owners and followers, add attachments, create a checklist and so on. You can even create a Sprint for priority tasks or assign the task to a collection of activities (an “Epic”) from within the task itself.\n\nAssignees can update the task, update the checklist, and add attachments. They can also leave comments for each other.\nAdd labels, timetable information, cost estimates, if you have this information.\n6. Progress or complete tasks\nYour timeline is ready and your team can begin!\nAs tasks progress from one phase to another, drag and drop them to the appropriate list.\n\nAnd remember to update the task assignees if someone else needs to take ownership.\nIf you want to request feedback from your teams, create a Stand-up by clicking “Stand-ups” at the top of the screen. You can collect these on a regular basis to make reporting on progress even easier.\nMore tips for using a project timeline\nBefore you begin applying these steps to create your own project timeline, here are some additional considerations to help you even further.\nSuccess with software\nWhile you can create a timeline by other means, project management software is linked to high-performing projects.\nProject timeline programs are also a proven money-saver: 66% of organizations using project management software complete projects within the initial budget.\n\nDepending on your industry, the size and distribution of your teams, and your preferred project methodology, some programs are more suitable than others when it comes to creating your project timeline.\nBut whatever your project goals, you are more likely to have success using project management software.\nLiving deliverables\nYou should create a project plan to protect against scope creep. But it is possible to be flexible, as well.\nAfter completing your project timeline, revisit your project plan with your stakeholders. Is there anything new and exciting you can add, knowing what you know now?\nAfter staring at your project timeline for months on end, it can start to feel like it has a hold over you. Never forget, it is a tool to make your job as a project manager easier. You are in charge!\nThere’s no such thing as too much feedback\nIn step 4, we mentioned establishing a culture of communication.\nThe more eyes you have on your project timeline, the more people can inform you how things are progressing and help to resolve issues.\nUsing a tool like Hubstaff Tasks, with its teamwork functions, is the ideal way to keep your teams talking, yourself informed, and your project on track.\n\nLooking for more practical advice like this?\nSubscribe to the Hubstaff blog for the best recommendations, advice, and trends.