Composing a project timeline template usually involves a Google Doc and mediocre formatting capabilities. Then comes the assignment of tasks to teammates and promises to hit the agreed delivery date. But a few weeks go by and the timeline falls apart. Higher priorities emerge and deadlines slip past without much progress.
Projects can fail for many reasons: lack of management support, unforeseen budget cuts, or over-promising results. In fact, poor project management is more common than you think – only 55% of projects are completed on time.
However, creating a timeline where everyone involved knows what they are working on and when it should be can help ensure that your project does not creep past the initial deadline. It’s important to keep projects (and the people who implement them) on track.
To ensure your next project stays on schedule, we cover how to create a project timeline, the best templates to use, and a handful of examples to inspire your future planning.
Why create a project timeline?
Time management is one of the best competencies employers look for in graduates. Missed deadlines and hasty projects can put entire teams (and companies) behind schedule.
A structured project timeline offers more than brownie points from your boss. It can also:
- Bring leadership and structure to a project
- Describe what will be delivered, when
- Share who is responsible for each task and sets expectations for the scope, quality and delivery of the work
- Show how the project result contributes to the company’s goals
- Reduce the risk by explaining any changes in the project’s scope, budget, deliveries or deadlines.
Ultimately, a project timeline makes it easier and more efficient to manage a project. But it is important to match the timeline structure to the scope of the project. Planning an editorial calendar for the quarter can take more time and effort than creating a marketing video for an upcoming product launch.
This is where the right template comes in.
Example of the project timeline
Without the right project timeline template, organizing a project can be very manual work – not to mention the formatting mess when more people get to grips with it.
The ideal timeline brings direction to a project, but is easy to customize when changes occur. Here’s a look at a project timeline for opening a new corporate office.
You can create a project timeline for any process that depends on a schedule (almost anything these days), e.g. Boarding employees, dealing with a crisis or planning campaigns on social media. All you need to know is how to outline the steps of a project and the tasks required to complete each phase.
Let’s get into the details.
How to create a project timeline
Creating the perfect project timeline requires strategy, organizational skills and a lot of collaboration. You need buy-in from supporters and clear directives for everyone involved.
To get started, follow these step-by-step instructions to create a structured timeline — regardless of your job, industry, or management level.
1. Write a project description.
A project overview communicates how you want to approach a project. It contains details about goals, deliveries, timeline, tasks, process, people involved and resources needed to take a project from start to finish.
Asana outlined the steps to make a simple but effective project description. You can use this for free project plan template to outline the project’s goals, roles and responsibilities, schedule, deliveries, budget and more. It is a good starting point for any planning process.
Or if you need a more comprehensive overview that includes key messaging and distribution processes, a creative card may be the right fit for your project.
List of all tasks and action points.
Every task involved in achieving a project’s goal must go into the project’s timeline. Once you have created the brief, make a list of these tasks. You can start with large tasks and divide them into smaller tasks.
Let’s say you’re in charge of creating a marketing video to launch your company’s latest product. Your list may include the following:
- Establish project managers from each department
- Set project budget
- Find a video production company
- Layout video storyboard
- Select main features for video
- Write a video script
- Record video content
- Add audio and background music
- Add animations and graphics
- Edit video
- Write message copy
- Craft marketing campaign
- Create social sharing clips
- Get approved video and marketing assets
Once you have the major milestones down, divide each task into smaller pieces. For example, choosing a video production company involves:
- Research in video production companies
- Make a list of production companies
- Get quotes from each production company
- Compare offers and narrow down options
- Meet with the selected companies
- Choose a production company
- End the contract
3. Connect dependencies.
In a project, certain tasks cannot be started until another is completed. These tasks are called addictions. For example, a video cannot be filmed until the storyboard is completed. And the storyboard cannot be completed until the video theme is selected.
Mapping dependencies helps you solidify the order of each task and decide who is responsible for what. Everyone wants to know what part of the project they are working on, what tasks need to be performed before their own, and who to contact for the supplies they need.
Here’s a look at how addictions can play out on a project’s timeline.
In the example, you can see that hiring a catering company must take place before the lunch menu ends. But other tasks, like finding a DJ and deciding on an event theme, can happen at the same time. So as you map each task, you need to see which steps may overlap and which ones should wait for others.
4. Calculate the time it will take to complete each task.
Once you have figured out the order of tasks, find out how long each will take. Rate as best you can. This makes it easier to create the project’s roadmap and understand the project’s overall time frame.
As you go, be sure to consider the other projects and priorities your team is working on. A designer may come up with a rough draft of video animations in a week, but if they finish another project, they may not be able to start. on yours for another two weeks.
Paying attention to your team’s time will make it easier to put together a reasonable, reliable timeline.
5. Create the project timeline.
Build your timeline by organizing your tasks from the first to the last step. Make the necessary adjustments to the task times, add milestones, and solidify the deadline. If your team works with project management software, organize the timeline and tasks so that it is ready to share after the project launch meeting.
You can save time during this step by using one of the project timeline templates below. It’s easy to customize each and avoid the extra work of creating your own from scratch.
6. Share the timeline with the project team.
Whoa, your timeline is complete! Now you need to share it with stakeholders. This includes everyone involved in the project. You have already listed these people in your brief (in step one), so it’s time to share your clear path ahead of the project with them.
It’s a good idea to keep one project launch meeting with both stakeholders and individual contributors, so everyone starts on the same page. You can communicate project goals, deliveries, roles and deadlines – without going into an overwhelming amount of details. From there, you will want to schedule time with the project’s immediate contributors to chat details and answer any questions before work begins.
Need help visualizing the entire project? It may help to include one timeline graphics like the one below to give everyone a sense of the overall time frame. You can add or remove steps depending on the complexity of your project.
7. Adjust as you go.
Do you remember how a little over half of the projects are finished on time? Barriers and setbacks are inevitable in every project. So if your team runs into a delay, you will need to understand the impact and adjust the timeline if necessary.
Although it is possible to compensate for delays without changing the deadline, it is your job as a project owner to update stakeholders on the project’s progress. Reporting a minor issue (such as a colleague being out sick for a few days) is not always necessary for higher-ups. However, if it is a major roadblock that requires an extreme adjustment of the timeline (like a core contributor leaving the team), communicate a new timeline to stakeholders.
Change is a part of any business, so do not be afraid to adjust your timeline. It is better to be transparent about the scope and timeline of the work than to keep people in the dark until the deadline reaches. The earlier you adjust to change, the easier it will be to get back on track.
Project timeline examples
Visualizing a project makes it easy to understand what needs to happen from start to finish. Whether you need a template for a product launch or a campaign meeting, these are well-designed project timeline templates are perfect for your next planning session.
Employee Onboarding Timeline
Product launch timeline
Timeline for crisis responsibility project
Task project timeline
Meet the project timeline
Need as many templates as you can get? Download all of these project timelines (and more) for free. With the right timelines in hand, it’s easy to keep everyone updated and informed. All you have to do is make sure your projects keep to the schedule. Good luck!