6 Steps to an Effective Project Timeline
You know that feeling when you’re excited to manage a new project — until you’re handed a disorganized, impossible-to-follow list of tasks?
We’ve got some great news for you: project management can solve your problem.
Creating, and sticking to, a project management timeline creates a simplified mental and visual overview of your project from start to finish.
It’s a lot cooler than it sounds.
A project management timeline replaces a chaotic to-do list with a logical process. Outlining a project’s creation into a timeline might seem easy enough (maybe even too easy), but having a project timeline is one of the most efficient ways to stay organized, balanced, and focused.
Importance of an effective project timeline
Managing projects is challenging enough without unnecessary complications or disorganization. Unfortunately, many project managers and team members grow accustomed to messy project outlines.
At best, an ineffective project timeline leaves team members frustrated.
At worst, entire projects are brought to a screeching halt.
Creating a dynamite project timeline does much more than boost office morale; it also improves inter-team communication and allows everyone to operate with the same set of expectations.
Project timelines provide a further benefit: they ensure that the highest-priority tasks are completed first.
Below, we’ll provide a step-by-step guide to help you create a balanced, efficient and effective timeline, no matter your department or industry.
How to create a balanced project timeline
One of the most important aspects of creating a project timeline is ensuring the plan is balanced. It’s important to make sure that workloads are distributed evenly and that each member finishes tasks on time.
Moreover, there are seven key steps to creating and executing a balanced project timeline. Because we don’t believe in gatekeeping success, we’re going to share all six of them with you.
1. Create a project brief
In order to keep yourself, the team and any stakeholders on the same page, it’s extremely helpful to create a project brief. A project brief essentially serves as a project roadmap from start to finish. Think of this briefing as a professionally organized brain dump that expounds on your project’s purpose, goals, projected milestones, costs, challenges and overall vision.
2. Make a list of all project tasks
After you’ve created your project brief, make a list of all the tasks necessary to complete the project. This is also called organizing the project scope or creating a work-breakdown structure (WBS).
Note any tasks, big or small, especially those related to budgeting. Feel free to break more complicated tasks into manageable subtasks, for objectives that are less overwhelming and more manageable.
3. Forecast per-task timelines
Now that you’ve got a list of all the tasks, you’re going to guesstimate how long each one will take to complete. This allows you to distribute time slots appropriately, and ensure that each project is accomplished on time.
When allocating time, be sure to balance your timeframe comfortably. Make sure to give your team enough time to complete tasks without turning the office into a panicked frenzy.
4. Map out task dependencies
When you’re managing a project — especially one that’s subject to a timeline — it’s important to remember that not every task is going to need everyone’s attention and efforts simultaneously.
In other words, don’t feel as if you can only tackle one task at a time; there are plenty of steps that can be worked on at the same time, especially if your team is large enough.
On the other hand, certain tasks absolutely need to be done first, while others cannot be even started until a series of other steps have been completed.
This step is also where you’ll formally assign different tasks to different members of the team, clearly communicating when and how certain team members might work together.
5. Track (and celebrate) your milestones
Now that you’ve created the project brief, outlined tasks and timelines, and defined task dependencies, it’s time to put a system in place for monitoring milestones and potential setbacks.
Establishing a tracking system will help you accurately track project progress. This system is helpful for identifying potential problems, and serves as a motivational tool for the team to keep the final product in sight.
6. Create an official project timeline
Choose a project management tool that’s actually designed to outline, build and manage project timelines — instead of a multi-purpose tool like Excel. Opting for the right tool means the difference between smooth project progress and a timeline standstill.
Here’s the bottom line: adapt as you go.
Things rarely go according to plan. The best project managers change their plans as timelines shift and priorities evolve.
Create a timeline for the project, put it into action, and don’t be afraid to move tasks around in order to maintain ease and efficiency in the process.
Best strategies for an effective project timeline
Now that you’re equipped with the building blocks for an effective project timeline, it’s time to put that timeline into action.
Make sure that you:
- Select and assemble a team of people who possess the skills, work ethic and vision to efficiently contribute to the project;
- Define adaptable project goals;
- Clearly, consistently communicate with the other team members;
- Manage project risks by performing a risk analysis and creating potential solutions;
- Document the process for review, sometimes even future reference;
- Genuinely celebrate project milestones.
This is the part where a great-looking plan becomes a great plan in action.
Become a project management expert today
Creating a project timeline often sounds pretty straightforward — until the project begins.
Once deadlines are compromised, plans change, extra project steps are added and team members face other priorities, it can be difficult to stay on task.
That’s where the right education becomes the difference-maker between a completed project and missed deadlines.
Even if you’re not ready for a six-figure project manager career, fulfilling large-scale projects for the world’s leading organizations, we can help you get there.
That’s why we’ve created an online course to help you learn how to masterfully create and execute project timelines in a way that will revolutionize your career.
Our knowledge-based Project Management Bootcamp is designed to help prepare passionate professionals like you for the PM career you know you deserve. We’ve helped significantly reduce the time it takes to master project management skills that employers need.
Schedule a call with our Admissions department this week, for more information on course details, scholarships and anything else you need to know about the exciting world of project management.