8 Steps to Create Your First Project Management Timeline

If you are a project manager or in any way a project leader you already know how important projects are. You know all about the different steps that it takes to execute a project and how many people you need to get working together to make sure things go off without a hitch. But … what about creating a project management timeline? Have you ever done this before? Have you ever even thought about how it might improve your skills and the way that your team works?

What is a Project Management Timeline?

First, let’s start with what a project management timeline even is. This type of timeline means that you’re going to take all of the information that you have about your project including the start date, the deliverables and the end date, and you’re going to set up a schedule of when everything is going to be done. Of course, there’s a little more to it than that, but when we slim it down and make it as simple as possible that’s all you’re going to be doing. And when you do, it’s going to make a huge difference for your entire team.

Man moving Tasks on a Gantt Chart Instagantt

Why You Need a Project Management Timeline

So, what’s this big difference it’s going to make having a timeline? Well, everyone is going to know exactly what they’re doing and when they need to be doing it. They’re going to know what the different tasks are and how one task needs to be completed for them to get to the next one. And they’re going to be able to see how long they have for different steps. All of this is going to make it easier for your team to get a project completed on time (and on the budget).

Making Up Your Timeline

Let’s take a closer look at the different steps to creating your timeline. You want to make sure that you’re creating something that’s going to work for the entire team. You want to make sure that it’s going to work for the client as well. And that means your timeline is something you will likely need to collaborate on. But let’s start by looking at your process and making sure that you’re on the right track. That way, you can get moving even faster.

1. Gather Your Materials

When you’re ready to start creating a timeline you need to make sure that you have all of the materials that you’re going to need. Since this is something you’re going to write out for a specific project you need to have everything related to that project so you can start working your way through. You also need whatever system you’re going to use to write everything down, right? That’s where you want to start and we’re going to give you an idea of some of your options when it comes to this part of the process.

When you record your timeline you have the option of writing it down and recording everything in a planner. You could write it up in your desktop calendar or one that you carry along with you. This can be great for you personally, as long as you have the calendar with you at all times. But it means that no one else is going to know the schedule unless you make copies. Not to mention you’re not going to have that calendar on you at all times and then you have no way of checking in on what’s being done or what needs to be done and by when.

The best way to make sure you have everything written down properly is to use your computer and to use the right type of gantt chart software. A Gantt chart is a great way for you to do this because it allows you to record everything, make changes whenever and however you need to and share the chart and timeline with anyone and everyone who needs to see it. This makes it a whole lot easier for everyone to be involved and makes sure that you don’t have to worry about who knows of any changes or any requirements.

You’ll also want to make sure that at this time you have all of the information from the project brief, notes from your clients, deadlines, goals, deliverables and anything else that your team needs to be responsible for. If you have all of these items in one place you’ll be better prepared to create the timeline that you’re going to follow. If you have to go searching for this information or you don’t have it from the client yet you could find that it takes you even more time to get things done and create the overall timeline.

2. Outline What Needs to Be Done

Now that you have everything together this is a good time to outline it all. Layout the specifics of your ultimate goal (what is the final deliverable that says you have completed the assignment?). Also, layout any of the goals that need to be met before the ultimate, final deliverable. Creating an outline is going to make it easier for you to plug everything into the schedule as you start working your way through it, so make sure that you jot down some notes on each of the different goals and deliverables.

This outline could also suffice as a project brief. That means you can lay it out with the goals that you have internally as you’re working on the project and the goals that you have externally, such as the outcome of the project itself. All of this is going to make it easier for you to understand what your overall outcome will be. Also, figure out who is going to be involved in the project both the team that will be working on it and the people who need to be kept in the loop or informed throughout the process.

When you create your outline you can put in as much detail as you want and really, adding more detail is going to be better for you. Writing things down as you think of them and as they are mentioned will help you create something cohesive. If you forget something now you may have time to come up with it later, but it’s going to be better to just have it all prepared and ready. By keeping a record, even if it’s just a short note to remind yourself to look into something, you’ll have a better outline prepared for later.

3. Record the Steps

Next up you need to look at your outline and start thinking about the different steps that need to be followed. What is the very last thing you need to end up with? Sometimes it works out well to go backward from there. So, if the final step is a 100-page report then write it down. If it’s a working prototype for a client project write that down. Whatever it is that needs to be the first thing on your piece of paper. From there, you’re going to work backward.

What steps do you need to achieve to get from where you are now to that final step? Write down the main steps that need to be taken, such as create a prototype, do market research, etc. From there, break your main steps down into smaller steps and then smaller steps until you have a super simple to understand, step-by-step process that will help you get from where you are at right now to the final, ultimate goal that you’re looking to achieve. You’ll be able to see how you can get from one place to the next now.

Don’t forget each of the different things in your outline. It might be that several different end goals need to be reached. Maybe you have to write that report but the real ultimate goal is the prototype. Even though the report will be finished at a different time than the prototype that doesn’t mean you can forget about it. You need to have all of the side tasks and extra goals accounted for in this process too. That means you might have a set of step-by-step instructions for several different tasks to complete the full project.

4. Create a Time Frame

Look at each of your steps and decide how long it’s going to take for you to achieve them. For any steps that you won’t directly be working on you may need to consult with other members of your team. Reach out to the research department or the manufacturing department and specifically to the people who will be given the assignments. What do they need to get the task completed? How much time is it going to take for them to achieve exactly what you’re looking for? Tell them to take their time in coming up with a reasonable time frame.

You don’t want to record something on your timeline or your schedule and find out that it was far too optimistic. Make sure they know exactly what you’re expecting from them and that they’re creating a very strong schedule to stick to. They’re not going to be locked into this schedule entirely. As with anything else there needs to be some wiggle room, but you want to know what is realistic for this type of project and the steps that they need to take to achieve it. Once you know this you can record all of your times for each step.

You don’t necessarily have to have everything specific. You can round things like a 5-day timeframe may be written in like a week and a half. 8 days may be written in like two weeks. Don’t forget that the number of days your team members are telling you doesn’t account for them working on weekends. So 5 days is a full work week and that doesn’t leave any flexible time in case of problems. You want to have a built-in buffer so that you don’t have to worry about missing a deadline.

5. Schedule in Dependencies

You’ve already created an outline of just what needs to be done and how long each of those things is going to take. But what about the projects and steps that are dependent on one another? What about the fact that the manufacturing team can’t do anything until the engineers create the design? Well, you need to make sure that it’s recorded in your schedule that manufacturing is dependent on engineering. Make sure you mark any of the other dependencies that you might have so you are aware of who needs to do what and when.

You want to look at what the order of different steps needs to be to create a true timeline. As you start working your way through dependencies you may even find additional steps that need to be completed and different people who are responsible for those steps. Make sure that you are writing everything down and that you record the steps in order. You may have different lines of things that need to be done. For example, you might have a line of tasks that involves how you’re going to create a report for your client. You might then have a second line of tasks for how you’re going to create the prototype.

With the right system and the right software, you won’t have a problem recording each of these lines separately and bringing them together whenever you need to. It’s important to keep them recorded properly, however, because you want to be sure everyone knows what their task is and how they’re going to be expected to fit into the process and the system of creating the end product. At this point, you should have everything that you need to get started with what you came here to do, creating the timeline.

6. Create a Base Timeline

Now it’s time to start creating the timeline that you’re going to use. Take all of the information that you’ve gathered throughout the previous steps and start working on just what you will need to do and when. Your timeline should be comprehensive and should include all of the steps that need to be done, no matter how trivial those steps might be. Don’t assume that anyone knows about a step unless it’s recorded on the timeline.

You can set up all of the different parts of the process at this point too. You’ll be able to create any dependencies that exist. You can create larger steps or milestones and then smaller steps within each of them. You can assign different tasks to different teams, groups or even individual people. You can also set up the exact deadline for each of the steps. Make sure that you’re using the information that you were given by each of those teams to set the deadlines. You got their input on this part of the process for a reason.

Since you’re going to be sharing this timeline with others you may also want to build in a little bit of a buffer for yourself. Build in a little extra time for each of your teams to get tasks completed and for the full project to be done. Make sure that everything is accounted for and everyone is being filled in so they know what tasks they’re working on. Each task or assignment or item on your Gantt chart should have a person or a team assigned to it so that the item will be accomplished.

7. Send it Out

Once you’ve created everything it’s time for you to send it out to the people who are going to need it. Any of your stakeholders, your client, your teams and your managers are going to need to see what’s on the chart. They need to know what’s being done when it’s being done and who is going to do it. They will want to weigh in, after all, and make sure that everything is being taken care of in the right way. If you can layout the plan effectively and simply they can look it over and make sure everything works for them.

Also, sending out your plan makes sure that everyone is going to do the tasks that have been assigned to them. It lets clients and others look in and see what tasks have been completed or are still being worked on as well because your chart allows each team member to mark their tasks. This will also make sure that clients aren’t calling or stopping in too frequently because they know when the different steps of the process should be completed. There’s no guessing involved or trying to check in and see if things are going according to plan.

Ask for any help and feedback from those involved as well. They don’t need to just look at the timeline and be happy with it. They may want you to speed up certain areas or someone on your team may tell you that they need longer for a specific task. No matter what it is, you want to invite them to give you feedback and let you know what works in the timeline and what doesn’t. This will allow you to make any changes you may need or to be aware of potential problems along the way. That’s going to save everyone a lot of hassle.

8. Modify as Needed

Sometimes your chart is going to be perfect the first time out the gate. Most of the time, however, it’s going to need to be adjusted and modified along the way. In most cases, you’re going to find places where you missed something. Maybe you forgot about a task that needs to be accomplished before something else can take place. Maybe you didn’t account enough time for something that needs to be done. Maybe there was a delay for another reason such as missing materials or trouble getting approval from a client. Whatever happens, there will be times when you need to make changes.

Keep in mind that making changes is okay and it’s something that happens in nearly every project. But you want to make sure that you are following through with those changes in the best way possible. The first thing to do is make the changes in the chart so that everyone can see that something is different. They’ll be able to evaluate the change that was made and then they can make comments or let you know their feedback about it. This can improve the process of making changes.

Another important step is to make sure that you let everyone know about the change. Don’t assume that just because you made the change in the software or the chart and everyone has access that they’re going to see it. You want to make sure that they know that the change has been made, what was changed, why it was changed and anything else they might be questioning. The more you can be open and honest with them the better it’s going to be for you and that’s going to be an important step.

Wrapping it Up

If you’re looking to create a project management timeline you want to make sure that you’re doing it in the right way. You want to make sure that everyone is aware of the different tasks and that all of those tasks are being done properly. A timeline is going to make sure of all of this and a whole lot more. So, how are you going to make sure that you are on the right track? Following all of the steps here will get you a great start and make sure that your team gets the job done.

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