You've used Microsoft Project for years and always wanted to create a nice timeline view of your schedule. With Microsoft Project 2010 that functionality is now built in and yet we see very few timelines out there in status reports and PowerPoint presentations. How can that be, when project managers love the new functionality? Answer: We don't know where to start and what to include in the Timeline view.
I touch dozens of projects each month and have learned what works from a timeline perspective and what doesn't. Let's take a look at how to best create effective timelines.
KEY POINT: Your Timeline should communicate high level status on key phases, deliverables and milestones of your project. As such, you need to be selective when adding content to it and ensure legibility.
Here's a repeatable process for creating high quality Timelines for your schedules:
- Start in your Gantt Chart and make sure your Project Summary Task is showing (Click Format > Project Summary Task)
- Show Outline Level 1 (Click View > Outline > Outline Level 1) to focus on the phases and project level milestones of your project. Add all lines at this level to the Timeline (Click Task > Add to Timeline). Now you have the high level structure of the project represented in the Timeline.
Next, filter your schedule to show only the milestones of your project and select the most important ones to add to your Timeline:
- Expand your schedule to show all tasks (Click View > Outline > All Subtasks)
- Remove summary tasks (Click Format > Summary Tasks)
- Filter for milestones only (Click View > Filter > Milestones)
- Select the major milestones of your project and add them to the timeline (Click Task > Add to Timeline)
Now that your Timeline has all the right content, you need to make it legible:
- In the Timeline view, select the project summary task and choose to show it as a callout (Format > Display as Callout). Then, format it to make it stand out in a larger font size and bold (Font > Bold and Font > Font Size)
- Select each phase individually and give it a different color (Format > Background Color). HINT: Choose colors that are not too light. The "Darker, 25%" ones tend to show up well in reports and presentations.
- Milestones will often times be on top of each other, so move some to the top of the timeline and drag others off to the side slightly to make them all legible.
- Highlight those milestones that are particularly important by making them red (Font > Background Color) and changing the font size and color (Font > Bold and Font > Color).
Now that you have a nice Timeline representation of your project, simply copy it to your status report or presentation (Click Copy Timeline > Full Size).