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A project manager should never take on a project prior to knowing how to write a timeline. The ability to plan is what defines an effective project manager and creating a project timeline is like drawing out the map before the voyage. Every schedule can be different depending on the project, but a successful project timeline generally has a few common elements and key steps that a PM should be educated on.

Outline Scope

A scope statement is like creating a promise of what you plan to deliver at the end of the project. Outlining the scope of a project should always be the first move any project manager makes. Defining scope can be difficult, but the general idea is that you are looking to justify the needs of the project and outlining how you intend to get there.

Create a Work Breakdown Structure

Once you have a clearly defined scope statement, you will be able to break out what the deliverables are. This doesn’t necessarily mean tasks just yet, but rather larger chunks of the project that can be delineated in what is known as a “Work Breakdown Structure.” Another name for this step is what is considered the “scope baseline,” and helps to further explain the deliverables that will later be broken into work packages and then tasks.

Delineate Tasks

Sub-deliverables can now be broken into tasks, and “to-do” lists can be created. This is where the gap between the baseline and the goal must be considered, so you know exactly what needs to be done to get there. It’s important to link tasks that are similar across work packages because these will later help you to determine what your dependencies are and how to write a timeline.

Determine Dependencies

Much as the word suggests, dependencies are tasks that cannot be started until others end. Thus, they are “dependent” upon each other and will affect the project timeline if you do not schedule accordingly.

Many project managers find that this tends to be the most difficult part of making a timeline because as projects become more complex, many tasks may be intertwined with dependencies. It is at this point, that software can generally be your friend for helping to build the schedule.

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Timeframes and Resources

Delineating how long each task will take and the resources needed to accomplish it is also important when understanding how to make a timeline. Even though you have an allotted time for a task and a team member in mind, their schedule may be conflicting. Especially if you are managing many projects within a portfolio. Thus, it is critical when building a timeline, that you take into consideration your availability of resources.

Identify Milestones

In order to gauge progress, you have to establish standards early on. Choosing some project milestones and metrics to measure success will help you stay on track and see where and when you may be slipping behind. Then you can adjust performance accordingly.

Build the Timeline

Now all that’s left is building the timeline itself. Make sure you align your tasks end to end and use color coding if necessary. Add in your milestones to establish a routine of “check-in” on each task. Using software is your best bet as it can do a lot of calculations and timeline building in an automated fashion.

Establishing a project timeline is important to aligning team goals and planning for obstacles. Defining the scope and the WBS is your first step. After that, deliverables and tasks can be outlined and resources allocated. If you have the map already made, you won’t have to guess about where you are going.

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