Managing a software project is quite challenging. So how does a development team ensure that everything fits in the schedule and all project goals are met? An obvious answer: with the help of project management tools such as a project management timeline.
What exactly is a project management timeline?
A project management timeline is a tool that helps visualize the phases of the development process, schedule them, and get a high-level view of the project. The timeline shows the start and the end dates of the project and also shows the status of the tasks (to do, in progress, or completed) and their due dates.
The specification of the timeline will depend on your project scope and your needs. It can be a timeline with a high-level view only or it may contain detailed and specified tasks and sub-tasks. As well, a timeline can show not only the tasks but also their dependencies and people responsible for each task.
If we sum up, a project management timeline helps visualize the project in terms of its schedule and helps monitor the progress of the development process. In this way, the development team always knows what needs to be done (and in what order), what’s already completed, and what are the due dates for the tasks. As a result, the team never loses focus and can be sure that there will be no unexpected tasks popping out of nowhere.
Creating a project management timeline
We’ve discussed the importance of creating a project management timeline and its impact on the development process. Now let’s see how to create a timeline in 6 simple steps.
Define project goals and scope
When creating a timeline, you go maximum ad minima - meaning, you start from the general picture and then drill down to the smaller tasks and subtasks.
Thus, your first step would be defining the project goals (internal and external). Internal goals mean the ones that have to be achieved by the development team and external are the ones that are established by the client (and other stakeholders). By defining these goals, you will create an overview of the project and it will serve as a base for breaking these generalized goals down into particular (and smaller) tasks.
As well, you need to define the project scope. This is needed in order to comprehend the approximate deadlines and to schedule the tasks correspondingly.
List down everything that you need to do
Once you define the project goals and its scope, you should list down all the activities that you need to do - both big and small ones. And don’t worry that it will be too much - you can start with the biggest and most important ones and then break them down into smaller tasks.
By listing down everything that you need to do, you will be able to double-check and see whether you missed anything. As well, the detailed listing of the to-fo tasks will help properly allocate them on the timeline and choose the most suitable duration for each.
Estimate the time needed for each task
Once you have all your tasks listed down in front of you, you can calculate the approximate time needed for the completion of each task. This step is really important as it will give you an idea of how long each task will take and where it will fit in the schedule.
Here, a question may arise: how do I calculate this time? This might help:
- Refer to your past projects and see whether there were any similar tasks and how long they took
- Consult with the stakeholders and task owners
- Try avoiding underestimation (or overestimation)
As well, when you estimate the time for the tasks, think about the following: the people responsible for the tasks will also need some extra time to double-check the results and to implement any changes if needed. Thus, we recommend adding a few days as a reserve so that the development process is not rushed or pushed to the extreme limits.
Set up the milestones
Project milestones serve as indicators for the project progress and show what has already been done and what’s left. The milestones can include:
- Start/end of a development phase
- Key meetings
- Project approval
- Dates that might impact the project
These milestones will provide you with a clear understanding of what is expected at a different project phase and what has to be done in order to achieve a specific milestone.
Consider the task dependencies and the sequence of the tasks
Now that you have your milestones lined out, you need to do one more thing before putting it all together. You’ll have to identify the dependencies between the tasks and, based on that, define the sequence of the tasks.
Identifying the dependencies is very important as any missed dependency may seriously impact the whole schedule. Imagine that you plan to do task A at a specific time - but you did not consider that in order to complete task A, you first need to do task B. So when it comes to task A, it might turn out that task B is planned on the next week - or not planned at all.
This is why it’s important to understand which tasks need to be performed in the first instance and which tasks derive from them. Once you figure that out, you will be able to identify the correct sequence of the tasks and schedule them correspondingly.
Draw the actual timeline
With everything ready, you can finally create a project management timeline - here is how you should do it.
First, choose a suitable tool for creating timelines - there are many available options online and most of them offer a ready project timeline template. However, if you feel like you can manage it on your own, you can simply use the Excel document.
Second, decide on the time frame that you will be using: will it be days, weeks, or months? It’s also fine to start with months and then break down each big time frame into several smaller ones. Remember that despite the chosen time frame, your timeline must have a start date and an end date!
After that, you can allocate the tasks on the timeline in accordance with their priority and due date. Don’t forget to add and highlight the milestones so that everyone understands and sees them.
Summing up, a project management timeline is a very useful tool and rather simple project management software. Just make sure that all parties involved have access to it and don’t forget to change the status of the tasks throughout the development process.