Project Management

Create the Timeline View in Microsoft Project 2010

If you use PowerPoint or Visio to create milestone reports, find out how using Microsoft Project 2010 Timeline View instead can save you time and a lot of hassle.

Detailed project schedules are great, but when it comes to communicating major milestones, phases, or tollgates to customers, executives, and even the project team, simplicity is key. Despite all the project management systems, spreadsheets, and templates available to project managers, it is still easier to communicate a project timeline with pictures.

Experienced project managers are familiar with the concept of a simple milestone chart or a high-level Gantt chart that depicts the project timeline. Prior to Microsoft Project 2010, I always created a milestone chart using Microsoft PowerPoint or a drawing tool such as Microsoft Visio. Developing a milestone chart in PowerPoint or Visio is an administrative challenge because each milestone needs to be adjusted and tweaked as the project schedule changes. I would waste a good hour moving milestone icons, adjusting dates, and changing the text to properly fit the custom milestone chart. Now I save myself a lot of hassle by using the Microsoft Project 2010 Timeline View (Figure A). Figure A

Timeline View in Microsoft Project 2010 (Click the image to enlarge.)
The Timeline View provides an overview of the project schedule and lets you select only the tasks and milestones that need to be communicated. This is very different from filtering the Gantt chart to display only the milestones and the summary tasks. I can pick any summary task, milestone, or individual task and depict it in the Timeline View. Since the view is automatically created based on the project data, any changes in the dates are immediately reflected in the Timeline View. I save a lot of time and develop a meaningful chart based on changing project schedule data.

In Figure A, I color-coded the specific phases based on the respective project teams. I can also color-code the milestones or individual tasks to reflect complete, on schedule, at risk, or late milestones. Tasks can be depicted as bars in the view or as individual call outs. Adding and removing tasks is simple, and the entire view can be copied and pasted into an email or status report.

Creating the Timeline View

Follow these steps to create the Timeline View:

1. Select the View tab.

2. Click the Timeline checkbox. A blank timeline window will appear (Figure B). Figure B

Blank Timeline View (Click the image to enlarge.)

3. Find a milestone in your project schedule.

4. Right-click the task and select Add to Timeline (Figure C). Figure C

Add to Timeline (Click the image to enlarge.)

5. The milestone will appear on the Timeline View.

Repeat this five-step process for summary tasks, individual tasks, or groups of tasks.

When all the necessary tasks have been added to the Timeline View, you can use the Format menu to color-code the bars or change the way the tasks are displayed (Figure D). Figure D

Format Timeline View (Click the image to enlarge.)

You can also insert new tasks or milestones directly into the Timeline View.

Applying the Timeline View to multiple projects or programs

If you are managing multiple projects within a program or a portfolio, you'll find the Copy Timeline feature useful when reporting status. After you click the Copy Timeline button, you can paste it into an email, presentation, or other document. In a program, there are often dependencies between projects. By copying each timeline into a PowerPoint slide, additional dependencies can be drawn between milestones.

Wishing for one enhancement to Timeline View

As much I like Timeline View, I have one request that would enhance this feature: In the next version of Microsoft Project, I wish there was a way to display baseline milestone dates in addition to the current start and finish dates.

About

Dr. Andrew Makar is an IT program manager and is the author of How To Use Microsoft Project and Project Management Interview Questions Made Easy. For more project management advice visit http://www.tacticalprojectmanagement.com.

5 comments
greg.schaeffer
greg.schaeffer

Thank you Andrew and Tech Republic, one of my best sources for quick answers!  This will work great in PowerPoints.

cgray05
cgray05

Hi Andrew,

Every time I read your suggestions, I get a lot of value from them.  Great work - keep it coming :-)

Just a question with tasks that have been flagged to appear on the timeline...  is there a way using the Gantt chart view to know whether a task has been flagged to appear on the timeline.  For example, is there a field that is a yes/no, so you could add a column to your Gantt chart to check what's on/off.

lbostic
lbostic

this timeline report is awesome...all the PM's and the executive management team loves it.

david.skonieczny
david.skonieczny

thanks for the article on timelines, this is a very helpful addition to Project. 'I think you were wondering about a base line timeline, in your final thoughts. You may be able to accomplish this by making additional timelines that contain ONLY things that you wish to include. In other words you may make a timeline that has only Milestones, then another timeline that only focuses on training, development and so on. You may use this method to capture the baseline you mention by then copying the timeline and saving in WORD/Powerpoint, etc Not the most elegant method , but i you can capture the baseline for later review thanks dave

alverdog36
alverdog36

Thanks for this article. I reckon that i completely overlooked this feature in Project 2010. This is a great feature for MS Project. Right now, IMO, it will only be useful for macro timeline. Since some boxes can't be read, and there is a real lack of box/timeline customization options. Maybe the next version will be ok. I'll keep my PPT timeline for now.