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).
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).
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).
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).
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.