No project plan or charter is complete without a project management timeline. Project management timelines provide a simple visual overview of a project from start to finish and lead to increased work efficiency among teams. As simple as timelines appear when you see them on paper, breaking down a project into an effective timeline may feel overwhelming, especially to novice project managers. So, if this is your first experience building a project management timeline, or even your 563rd, use these eight no-fail steps to perfect your next timeline.
1. Write a project scope statement.
A project scope statement outlines the deliverables you plan to produce by the end of a project. The details of writing an effective scope statement constitute a separate blog post, so for now, we assume that you have made it to this point. You know what you want the final results of your project to be and can articulate them clearly.
As a quick example, let’s say you and your friends want to plant a garden. A scope statement could look something like this: We will produce a 100 sq ft vegetable garden that produces tomatoes, peppers, kale, potatoes, peas, green beans, and corn.
2. Create a work breakdown structure (WBS)
To create a work breakdown structure (WBS), start from your scope statement and break your deliverable or deliverables into smaller pieces. You aren’t getting into tasks yet, just smaller deliverables. Another name for this section is the scope baseline, and each sub-deliverable is called a work package.
Continuing with our garden example, you could say that your WBS is to produce:
- 10 sq ft of tomatoes
- 10 sq ft of peppers
- 15 sq ft of kale
- 20 sq ft of potatoes
- 15 sq ft of peas
- 10 sq ft of green beans
- 20 sq ft of corn
3. Break each work package into tasks
Now you can make a to-do list for each work package. Think about the gap between your baseline and your goal. What needs to happen to get from the starting point to the desired end point? Take note of tasks that are similar across work packages. This process will help you determine dependencies in the next step.
Now make a task list for two of your mini garden work packages and organize them in a Lucidchart table:
4. Determine dependencies
Dependencies are tasks that cannot be started until another task has been completed. For example, you can’t plant your tomatoes until after the ground has been tilled. In this scenario, determining dependencies for a project management timeline will be relatively straightforward, but for more complex processes, mapping dependencies might give you a few gray hairs.
Use Lucidchart to help you determine the correct order of events and their dependencies. In Lucidchart, even when you move events around, they stay linked to each other so you don’t lose any process logic. You may find it helpful to use swimlanes or color coding to designate which team or individual will take responsibility for each task. Here, the work of planting tomatoes and green beans is split into two teams by color:
5. Identify total time needed for each task
Go back to your task list or dependency chart and consider how long it will take to accomplish each task. Assume that the responsible party is working diligently on the task without interruptions. If you are unable to accurately estimate the needed time, work on this section with an expert who can give you some guidance.
The example below includes a swimlane to show that all of the buying tasks will be done together.
6. Identify resource availability
Most often, your limiting resource will be the availability of your team members or employees. In this step, you need to consider when they will be able to spend time working on an allotted task. Even though it may only take a day of dedicated work to complete an assignment, you may need to expand the amount of designated time to a few days or even weeks if there are many other projects occurring simultaneously.
In the garden example, it will only take four hours from start to finish, but with everything else going on, your team will need two weekends to get it done. Therefore, when you build your project management timeline, you will reserve several days for each task.
7. Identify important milestones
Milestones allow you to track the progress of your projects from start to finish. This way, if you get behind, you will know far in advance of your final deadline and be able to adjust your plans or expectations to stay on target.
8. Build your project management timeline.
This is the fun part! All you have to do now is line your tasks end to end, adjust their lengths to reflect the amount of time allotted, and then add milestones to polish things off. Voilà! You have a completed project management timeline. Isn’t it beautiful?
To optimize your experience building project management timelines in Lucidchart, allow me to pass on a few tips:
- Before anything else, set the start and end date, and adjust your labels. Your labels can be in seconds or years, but Lucidchart will only make seconds, minutes, and hour labels available if the total time range is small enough.
- Stack multiple timelines on top of each other to create multiple rows. Make sure that the time range is the same for all of the timelines. Then turn off the labels on all of the timelines except for the one on the bottom. This step will make the labels for your intervals consistent.
- You can adjust intervals by lengthening an interval box, but only in complete increments. If you want an interval to span 1.5 days or 3 hours and 45 minutes, use the top toolbar to enter the desired time, and the interval will adjust automatically on your timeline.
Project management timeline template
Use these project management timeline templates to get you started!