Recording and tracking project-related data in a project timeline is vital for the success of any project. You get a visual breakdown of all the important project elements, and you’re able to understand how to better handle problems within a project, or even prevent them from happening.

Project timeline cover

To help you get a better grasp about how to work with project timelines, here’s everything you need to know about them, including the basic definitions, a guide on how to create your own project timeline, and free downloadable project timeline templates where you’ll be able to define your project timeline fast and easy.

Shortcuts:

8 STEPS FOR CREATING AN EFFECTIVE PROJECT TIMELINE

10 DOWNLOADABLE  PROJECT TIMELINE TEMPLATES

Table of content:

  • Some basic project timeline terminology
    • What is a project timeline?
    • What should a project timeline include?
    • Why is a project timeline important? Why create a project timeline?
    • What are project milestones? How are they related to project timelines?
    • What are task dependencies? How are they related to project timelines?
    • How do I create a project timeline?

Some basic project terminology

Before you dive into the subject of project timelines, you’ll first need to understand some project basics that help imply the importance of setting and tracking project timelines in your work.

What is a project?

In business, a project is defined as a business venture performed either alone or in a group, designed and planned in such a way that it achieves a specific aim.

Project objectives and goals are a crucial element to any project – they determine what you want to achieve with the project in the first place.

Now, project objectives and goals may closely relate to one another (and often be confused with one another), but they are not the same:

Project goals are targets set by the client. They are the end result the team employed by the client and working on the project needs to achieve.

For example: A project goal is to improve the UX of an application.

Project objectives are the outline of the project whose goal was set by the client. They are the teams’ guidelines meant to help direct them towards the desired end result.

For example: One of the project objectives for an improved UX experience in an app may be to help users get to the desired content in 2 clicks.

Project deliverables emerge as the third element of a project – they serve as the end result of a project whose goal was to produce a specific product or outcome.

For example: A project deliverable may be an app, a document, a report, a website, or anything concrete.

What are the 5 project parameters?

There are 5 important project parameters you’ll need to consider and define when planning your project:

  1. SCOPE  – i.e. what will be covered in the said project.
  2. RESOURCES – i.e. what can and will be used in order to meet the scope of the project.
  3. QUALITY – i.e. the standard you’re looking to achieve with the finished project.
  4. RISK – i.e. the potential problems that may arise during project work.
  5. TIME FRAME – i.e. when and for how long you’ll tackle project-related tasks.

What are the 5 phases of project management? 

Different projects do differ by scope, resources needed, quality standards to live up to, risk parameters involved, and designated time frame.

But, each project has 5 distinct phases of management they all go through:

1. PHASE OF PROJECT CONCEPTION AND INITIATION 💡

What’s it about: 

This is the very start of the project.

You conduct research for the potential project and decide whether you should take it on.

Your decision will likely depend on:

  • projected project costs
  • project value
  • project feasibility
  • whether you have the time for the project or not
  • whether you can make money on the project or not

If the project is approved, then you’ll need to define the purpose of the project, list its requirements, and define the reason for undertaking the project.

You’ll record this data in a separate Project Initiation Document (PID), also known as a Business Case Document.

The goal of the phase:

The goal is to define the project on a broader level.

Why it’s important: 

You’ll understand whether the project is worth your time and whether you should take it on in the first place.

If you do take it on, then this phase will make sure that you have documented guidelines telling you everything you need to know about the project.

2. PHASE OF PROJECT DEFINITION AND PLANNING 🗺️

What’s it about: 

The second phase of project management is closely related to the 5 project parameters mentioned earlier.

You brushed against these parameters in the first phase when you were first considering whether to take on the project in the first place.

But here, you’ll be more detailed about:

  • the scope of the project
  • the resources needed
  • the quality standards to live up to
  • the risk parameters involved
  • the designated time frame to finish individual tasks
  • the designated time frame to finish the project overall

You’ll also define the project milestones to serve as a point of reference for your project, as well as roles and responsibilities for parts of the project within your team. You’ll talk about how to reach external client goals, and what internal, company goals, you can gain.

At this point, you may decide that you need to tap into the gig economy and hire a couple of contractors to help you out with a specific element of the project your in-house team isn’t specialized in.

The goal of the phase: 

To create a plan that will lead you and your team through the future phases of the project.

Why it’s important: 

The plan is everything.

You won’t be able to execute, launch, monitor, control, and successfully close the project unless you know what you need in order to do it.

3. PHASE OF PROJECT LAUNCH OR EXECUTION 🚀 

What’s it about: 

The third phase includes the processes that usually come to mind when we think of “project management”.

During this phase, the following happens:

  • you implement the workflows you agreed upon with your team
  • you allocate the resources as needed
  • you assign the previously defined tasks, roles, and responsibilities to the right team members
  • you develop objectives and deliverables and then aim to complete them
  • you set up relevant tracking systems, that will help you determine how much time you’re spending on a project

All modifications in terms of who is doing what and when, are carried out as needed. You can also use specialized project management tools to help you during this phase.

The goal of the phase:

This is the phase when you perform the largest amount of crucial work.

You’ve previously dealt only with theory, but the goal of the third phase is to put your project into motion and start bringing the idea from paper to life.

Why it’s important:

This action-packed phase may be the most important.

Whether or not you’re successful in allocating resources, and assigning tasks, roles, and responsibilities will likely determine whether your project is a success or not, in the end.

4. PHASE OF PROJECT PERFORMANCE, MONITORING, AND CONTROL 🔧 

What’s it about:

The fourth phase of project management tends to happen at the same time as the third phase.

As you’re working on launching a product or executing a project, you’re also making sure that:

  • all processes and workflows are progressing as planned
  • the scope of the project to make sure it doesn’t escalate unexpectedly

In this phase, you’ll also need to monitor and control the project timelines, project budget, the project goals, the overall quality of the deliverables, as well as the team’s performance.

For this purpose, you’ll need to define the Key Performance Indicators (KPI) – i.e. measurable elements you’ll use to evaluate the quality of the team’s performance and the subsequent success of the project.

As you work, you’ll need to send out and analyze reports of the project progress, as well as hold regular meetings to keep the team up to date with how the overall work is progressing, and whether there are problems you’ll need to address, and when.

The goal of the phase:

The main goal is to define parameters you’ll use as a point of reference to help you determine whether the project is moving along as planned.

The underlying goal is to prevent the project from escalating too quickly and too unpredictably, to the point that your team can no longer handle it properly, or finish on time.

Why it’s important: 

This is the phase that makes you’re aware of whether the project is going as planned or not, and as such is crucial for your success.

5. PHASE OF PROJECT CLOSURE 🔚

What’s it about:

This phase marks the end of the project.

At this point, you’ll finish your professional relationship with the project based-hired contractors.

You’ll have a closing meeting to analyze the success of the project – you and the team will likely discuss the highs and the lows of the completed project.

The project manager may commend some of the team members for the quality of their contribution. This is also the phase when you’ll want to make an invoice for the client who ordered the project and collect the earnings you’ve made through all your hard work.

The goal of the phase: 

The final phase is often called the “post mortem” – you and your team analyze the project to figure out its highlights and shortcomings.

Why it’s important

This closure phase is a great way to single out the practices you should repeat in future projects (inferred from current project highlights) and the ones you should avoid (inferred from current project shortcomings).

project timeline terminology

Some basic project timeline terminology

What is a project timeline? 

A project timeline is a chronological ordering of project-related tasks, events, and actions. A comprehensive project timeline shows you:

  • the previous project-related work you’ve accomplished
  • the tasks, events, and actions you’re currently handling
  • the tasks, events, and actions that await you in the future.

What should a project timeline include?

There are several key elements usually included in a project timeline:

  • Project-related tasks
  • Dates when the tasks are due
  • The duration of the tasks, from the moment the assignee started working on them, to the moment when they’re due
  • All crucial dependencies between tasks

Many types of project timelines include relevant milestones that serve as a point of reference for the overall project progress.

Why is a project timeline important? Why create a project timeline?

Project managers are always on the lookout for the best tools, workflows, processes, and project management techniques to help their team finish their projects faster and with better quality.

And, while the best tools, workflows, processes, and project management techniques may vary across projects and project managers, the creation of a project timeline is the element that is crucial for each project:

  • It makes sure you lay out any project in a way that keeps you up to date with your own progress with individual tasks.
  • It helps you keep an eye on task deadlines, as well as the related tasks and sub-tasks, whose completion depends on the completion of the said tasks.
  • And, most importantly, it allows you to react to all potential mishaps in a timely manner.

What are project milestones? How are they related to project timelines?

Project Milestones are specific tasks that have no duration because they serve as an achievement point for the previous group of tasks.

These achievement points may mark the end of the project or the end of an important stage of the project. As such, they make an important addition to project timelines.

Project Milestones may be tied to:

  • Meaningful project phases – these milestones include the start and end of typical project phases, such as concepts, design, development, testing, and, eventually, launch.
  • Important meetings – these milestones include the project kickoff meeting, monthly progress meetings, the closing meeting.
  • Important decisions – these milestones include all final decisions made about important project matters, usually at meetings.
  • Plans – these milestones include the conception, approval, and completion of project plans.
  • Resources – these milestones include the deployment of relevant project resources, such as the physical materials or the team members.
  • Designs – these milestones include the conception, approval, completion, and review of project designs.
  • Funds – these milestones include obtaining the necessary funds to complete the project.
  • New Hires – these milestones include hiring additional staff to handle key project roles and responsibilities.
  • Vendors – these milestones include securing external vendors needed to carry out the project.
  • Key Performance Indicators – these milestones include the actual project costs, the utilization of resources, and the return of investments.
  • Integrations – these milestones mark the time when the different elements of the projects and connected together.
  • Objectives and Goals – these milestones mark the time when you reach the various objectives and goals of the project.

Depending on your needs, and the complexity of the project, you may include several types of milestones in your project timeline.

What are task dependencies? How are they related to project timelines?

Task Dependencies represent the relationship between tasks – the completion or start time of one task is tied to the completion or start time of another task. Task dependencies are important for project timelines, as they tell you how each of the tasks you’re currently working on is connected to other tasks. You gain a better insight into how you should organize your work, and in what order you should tackle your tasks.

Here’s how task dependencies work:

  1. Finish to Start – You cannot move on to Task B until you’re finished with Task A.
    • Example: You need to meet with the client first before you can devise a project plan.
  2. Start to Start – You must start Task A before you can start Task B.
    • Example: Before you can start working on the design of a mobile app, you’ll need to have the wireframes of the mobile app ready, to serve as a point of reference.
  3. Finish to Finish – You must finish Task A before you can finish Task B.
    • Example: A front-end developer cannot finish her work before the designer has finished with the design of the mobile app.
  4. Start to Finish – You must start Task A before you can finish Task B.
    • Example: A crane is hired to unload a shed and a construction team is hired to install the shed.  The task of unloading the shed cannot be completed before the task of installing the shed starts. 

Depending on your project, you may have several types of task dependencies in your project timeline.

How to create a project timeline?

Now that you’ve understood what project timelines are, as well as how tasks, task dependencies, and milestones tie into them, here are the 8 steps you need to follow in order to devise a project timeline for your own project:

1. Define the project scope

Defining the scope of the project is more of a preparation phase you need to work on before you start building your project timeline.

The project scope statement outlines the deliverables and outcomes you will have produced once the project is finalized.

Let’s take a simple project to illustrate this — for example, you’re a professional gardener who’s been hired to grow a rose garden in front of the local city hall.

Project scope statement example: 

I will build and grow a 10 sq ft rose garden for the park in front of the city hall.

2. Define a Work Breakdown Structure

In order to define a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS), you’ll need to reference your project scope statement.

You’ll basically use the statement to consider the best ways to break down your desired deliverables and outcomes into smaller elements.

Bear in mind that these smaller elements are not yet tasks ⁠— just smaller deliverables you will later use to define your project tasks and task dependencies.

In that sense, each small deliverables are the tasks that lead up to a milestone.

Work Breakdown Structure example:

To build the requested rose garden I’ll need to grow:

  • 2 sq ft of yellow roses
  • 2 sq ft of pink rose
  • 2 sq ft of red roses
  • 2 sq ft of purple roses
  • 2 sq ft of white roses

3. Define tasks

Now it’s time to analyze your smaller deliverables, and use them to define tasks.

Each smaller deliverable will have a set of steps (tasks) you need to undertake in order to produce the said smaller deliverable.

Think about these steps (tasks) and list them in a to-do list — these are your tasks.

Define tasks example: 

Several tasks are crucial to build the requested garden:

  • Pick the perfect, sunny spot
  • Buy the materials for the trellis
  • Build a trellis
  • Prepare the site
  • Select the seeds for the rose bushes
  • Plant the seeds in an attractive structure
  • Water the flowers

4. Define task dependencies

The tasks you’ve defined don’t function in isolation.

Of course, all these groups of tasks connect together to build the smaller deliverables, and all the smaller deliverables connect to build the final deliverable.

You just need to think about how the tasks relate to each other:

  • What task needs to end for another to start? 
  • Are there tasks that you need to start working on or finish at the same time? 
  • Are there tasks you need to start working on before you finish work on another set of tasks? 

The answers to these questions will help you understand in what order you need to tackle your tasks.

Define task dependencies example:

  • In order to build a suitable trellis for your roses, you’ll need to buy trellis materials
  • In order to have something to plant, you’ll need to buy the rose bush seeds
  • You’ll plant the rose bush seeds with the trellis position in mind, meaning that you’ll have to consider buying the trellis material and the rose bushes at the same time — this is an example of a typical start to start task dependency.

5. Define the milestones

We already talked about milestones – depending on the type of project, you’ll likely be able to consider what kind of milestone you’d be best to implement in your project timeline.

Milestones can serve as your deadlines.

Your project timeline will tell you exactly what tasks you need to finish before you reach your milestone.

As such, milestones can also serve as a benchmark for the progress you’re making with your project.

Define the milestones example: 

  • Milestone 1: Successfully built the trellis
  • Milestone 2: Planted the rose bush seeds
  • Milestone 3:  Nurtured the roses to bud formation

6. Allocate resources 

Now that you have your tasks, task dependencies, and milestones defined based on your project scope statement, you’ll need to think about how you can allocate the resources needed to carry out the defined work.

In this sense of the word, resources are the team members who will carry out the work.

You’ll need to decide on the best person for each task, and then make sure the said person is available to carry out the said task.

Allocate resources example:

Think about whether you need additional help to work on the rose garden and the trellis. How many people will you need, and where will you find them?

7. Determine the time needed for each task

This phase may be crucial, as it helps you think about the best ways to beat project and milestone deadlines.

So, take each task you defined and define the time your team members are expected to spend on it – the more accurate you are, the better.

As you probably work on several of the same types of projects and tasks over time, you can track time on these tasks and projects. This will help you have a documented record of the exact time you need for them, to serve as a reference when creating project estimates. The more frequently you track time, the more accurate these task estimates will be.

ℹ️
If you work on several of the same types of projects and tasks over time, Clockify lets you create Project Templates for them. These Project Templates come with the same estimates, tasks, and teams already implemented, so you can focus solely on tracking time and working through your project timeline.

And, bear in mind that you’ll have a limited amount of time to allocate in the first place, as you’ll be confined by your deadline. Moreover, a task may take the assignee as little as 3 hours of continuous work to finish… But the assignee is likely working on other tasks and projects simultaneously, so make sure you leave some breather space for other work and unexpected situations. So, instead of allocating 3 hours to a task, you’re advised to allocate at least 3 times as much, just in case.

Task duration example:

  • Pick the perfect, sunny spot – 2 hours
  • Buy trellis materials – 1 hour
  • Build a trellis – 30 hours
  • Prepare the site – 10 hours
  • Select the seeds for the rose bushes – 2 hours
  • Plant the seeds in an attractive structure – 5 hours
  • Water the flowers – 1 hour, in regular intervals (the time between two waterings depends on the soil quality)

8. Build your project timeline

Now that you have all your project timeline data, it’s finally time to draw up your timeline.

Decide on the visual layout for your timeline, add your tasks, task dependencies, and milestones.

Or, you can use our ready-made templates, and save plenty of time:

Project Timeline Templates

Download Project Timeline Templates

🔷 Classic Project Timelines

These simple project timelines include tasks and milestones and are classified by their visual layout ⁠— horizontal or vertical.

Horizontal Project Timeline

What’s it about: This project timeline, as its name suggests, lays out all tasks and milestones horizontally. Just, add your project name, add your tasks and milestones across the horizontal year-round timeline. Define the deadline for the milestones. Define when you’ll tackle each task and the time it will take you to finish. In the end, add your project deadline to the horizontal timeline, to understand how much time you have before you need to finish everything.

Best for what and who: Great for different types of projects that involve various tasks and milestones.

DOWNLOAD Horizontal Project Timeline Template (Google Slides)

DOWNLOAD Horizontal Project Timeline Template (PowerPoint)

Horizontal project timelines

Vertical Project Timeline

What’s it about: This project timeline, as its name suggests, lays out all tasks and milestones vertically. Just, add your project name, add your tasks and milestones across the vertical timeline, and define the relevant dates for the task milestones. In the end, add your project deadline to the vertical timeline, to understand how much time you have before you need to finish everything.

Best for what and who: Great for different types of projects that involve various tasks and milestones.

DOWNLOAD Vertical Project Timeline Template (Google Slides)

DOWNLOAD Vertical Project Timeline Template (PowerPoint)

Vertical project timeline

🔷 Gantt Charts

A Gantt Chart is a specific type of bar chart that helps teams working on projects to illustrate the project schedule. It’s an efficient visual approach that lets you mark the duration of tasks as well as show how the tasks relate to one another. Once you define the duration of each task you’re working on, you will have marked task dependencies, as you’ll get a clear overview when each task ends and starts, on its own, and in relation to other tasks.

Yearly Gantt Chart Project Timeline

What’s it about: The Yearly Gantt Chart Timeline lets you plan your project across several months. Define tasks, and mark their expected durations. Add deadlines for the tasks, and define milestones. Add the overall project deadline to the timeline, to understand how much time you have before you need to finish everything.

Best for what and who: Great for larger, more complex projects that span across several months.

DOWNLOAD Yearly Project Timeline Template (Google Slides)

DOWNLOAD Yearly Project Timeline Template (PowerPoint)

Yearly Gantt Chart

Monthly Gantt Chart Project Timeline

What’s it about: The Monthly Gantt Chart Timeline lets you plan your project across one month. Define tasks, and mark their expected durations. Add deadlines for the tasks, and define milestones. Add the overall project deadline to the timeline, to understand how much time you have before you need to finish everything.

Best for what and who: Great for smaller projects that span across one month, or less. Moreover, it’s a great aid in planning work on a larger project for which you have one month, or less, until the deadline.

DOWNLOAD Monthly Project Timeline Template (Google Slides)

DOWNLOAD Monthly Project Timeline Template (PowerPoint)

Monthly Gantt Chart

Weekly Gantt Chart Project Timeline

What’s it about: The Weekly Gantt Chart Timeline lets you plan your project across one week. Define tasks, and mark their expected durations. Add deadlines for the tasks, and define milestones. Add the overall project deadline to the timeline, to understand how much time you have before you need to finish everything.

Best for what and who: Great for smaller projects that span across one week, or less. Moreover, it’s a great aid in planning work on a larger project for which you have one week, or less, until the deadline.

DOWNLOAD  Weekly Project Timeline Template (Google Slides)

DOWNLOAD Weekly Project Timeline Template (PowerPoint)

Weekly Gantt Chart

Hourly Gantt Chart Project Timeline

What’s it about: The Hourly Gantt Chart Timeline lets you plan your project across one day. Define tasks, and mark their expected durations. Add deadlines for the tasks, and define milestones. Add the overall project deadline on the timeline, to understand how much time you have before you need to finish everything.

Best for what and who: Great for finalizing a project that’s due today, if you still have a couple of leftover tasks before you need to send out the project. Moreover, you can even use this specific Gantt Chart to time block your day.

DOWNLOAD Hourly Project Timeline Template (Google Slides)

DOWNLOAD Hourly Project Timeline Template (PowerPoint)

Hourly Gantt Chart

🔷 Project Timelines with a Specialized Focus

Your project may even have a specialized focus. Several different charts and diagrams are a great solution when you want to track and handle your project progress on a more specific project timeline, as well as tackle project-related problems.

PERT Chart Project Timeline 

What’s it about: A PERT Chart is a great visual tool meant to help you organize, coordinate and schedule your project-related tasks. It’s a great solution for when you want to focus on task dependency and the milestones that mark the end of such tasks. Great emphasis is also placed on task duration.

Best for what and who: Great for the more complex projects that have a lot of related tasks and processes, such as software development projects.

DOWNLOAD PERT Chart Project Timeline Template (Google Slides)

DOWNLOAD PERT Chart Project Timeline Template (PowerPoint)

PERT chart

Fishbone Diagram Project Timeline

What’s it about: A Fishbone Diagram Project Timeline (also known as an Ishikawa diagram) is great to help you understand and connect the reasons for imperfections, defects, and problems that arise while you’re working on the project. The diagram itself looks just like a fish’s skeleton, hence its name:

  1. The imperfection, defect, or problem you’re analyzing and trying to solve is the head of the fish.
  2. The various causes for the imperfection, defect, or problem “feed” into the spine of the fish.

Define your main concern, and add the time frames when you’ll tackle the various accompanying elements of a project-related imperfection, defect, or problem.

Best for what and who: Great for keeping an eye on potential (or impeding) problems and shortcomings in any project.

DOWNLOAD Fishbone Diagram Project Timeline Template (Google Slides)

DOWNLOAD Fishbone Diagram Project Timeline Template (PowerPoint)

Fishbone diagram

Project Timeline with Milestones

What’s it about: A Project Timeline with Milestones places great emphasis on project milestones, as you’d probably guess. You can define your milestones, and define the accompanying tasks that lead up to the said milestones, as well as the time frames when you’ll deal with the said tasks.

Best for what and who: Great for people who find motivation in reaching milestones, and want to keep an eye on said milestones for that purpose.

DOWLONAD Project Timeline with Milestones Template (Google Slides)

DOWNLOAD Project Timeline with Milestones Template (PowerPoint)

Project timeline with milestones

Project Timeline with Dependencies

What’s it about: A Project Timeline with Dependencies, as its name suggests, places great emphasis on the relationship between tasks. You’ll be able to connect related tasks together and define the time frames when you’ll work on them.

Best for what and who: This timeline is a great resource to help you understand how many tasks you have to tackle to finish the project, in what order you need to tackle the tasks (based on the task relationship), and how much time you have at your disposal in the first place.

DOWNLOAD Project Timeline with Dependencies (Google Slides)

DOWNLOAD Project Timeline with Dependencies (PowerPoint)

Project timeline with task dependancies

Wrapping up…

Creating a project timeline is a crucial element in planning a project. Defining your tasks, their dependencies, important project milestones, as well as keeping an eye on the project deadline is crucial for the successful outcome of your project. And, with project timeline templates, you get to record and track all this vital data in one place.