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The field of project management is tremendously diverse, encompassing dozens of methodologies throughout hundreds of industries around the globe. Project managers use a wide range of tools and processes to get their jobs done, many of which are specific to a single company or product.

Despite the almost limitless variety in project management techniques, there is at least one element that appears in every project, at every company and in every industry: the project timeline.

The project timeline is the beating heart of every project. It captures the essence of what the project will accomplish and how it will be done. Knowing how to create a project timeline is one of the most essential skills a project manager needs to develop in the early stages of his or her career. Building comprehensive, accurate timelines will help you get every project off on the right foot.

project timelines

Timeline Elements
The size and structure of a project timeline naturally depends on the project it is describing. A project timeline can be highly detailed, with hundreds of tasks and subtasks, or very simple, listing only a few deliverables and deadlines. Regardless of how it is constructed, a project timeline needs to capture the following key pieces of information:

  • The list of tasks to be completed
  • The dates on which the tasks need to be complete
  • The expected duration of each task
  • Dependencies between tasks

Project timelines can take many forms, but the standard format for decades has been the Gantt chart. A Gantt chart timeline provides an easy-to-grasp visual depiction of the project, using horizontal bars to represent the duration of each task in the project. Modern project management solutions like Clarizen allow project managers to create interactive Gantt charts that can be used to refine the project schedule in real time.

Creating a Timeline
Most project managers, especially at larger organizations, use specialized project management software to build their project timelines. Today’s best project management software includes standard templates and workflows that can dramatically reduce the effort needed to create and maintain project schedules.

Generally, project timelines are developed based on a work breakdown structure (WBS), which is a document that clearly defines the project requirements. The WBS typically lists all of the deliverables and products that need to be completed, but it does not describe exactly how and when the work will be done.

Starting with the list of tasks and deliverables in the WBS, a project manager breaks tasks into sub-tasks and estimates the time needed for each. The PM also identifies dependencies between tasks and the skill sets needed by project team members in order to complete the tasks.

When all the tasks, sub-tasks, deadlines and resource requirements have been defined, the project manager completes the timeline and distributes it to the individual members of the project team.

More often than not, the timeline will be revised several times over the life of a project, as priorities change and new requirements are added to the scope. Here again, advanced project management tools like Clarizen are essential, as they allow managers to update the timeline and communicate the changes with ease.

Getting started in your new project management career? For insights into successful project management with Clarizen, check out our suite of industry-leading project management solutions.

Angela Bunner
Angela Bunner, VP of Solutions Engineering