Mapping out each step of a project is critical to creating a clear plan. But it can be hard to visualize how work connects and when everything is due if you’re only looking at a list of tasks. That’s where project timelines and calendars come in. Both offer a visual way to display your project plan so you can see when work is happening, find dependencies, and spot roadblocks before you hit them.
When you start planning a project, your first instinct might be to open up Excel and start creating your project timeline or calendar in there. But take a step back for a second. While, yes, you can use Microsoft Excel to create your project calendar or timeline, it’s not always the best tool for the job. Excel is great for calculating numbers and creating pivot tables, but it wasn’t built to manage projects or display information in timelines, calendars, and other useful layouts.
On the other hand, collaborative work management software, like Asana, helps teams plan and manage projects and has built in timeline and calendar views (no formulas or cell-merging required) to help teams visualize their work.
In this article, we’ll cover where Excel falls short for critical project management needs, how it compares to work management software, examples of project timelines and calendars, and steps to create one for your project.
Excel is a very useful tool, but wasn’t made for managing projects. Here are three pitfalls of using Excel to manage projects, and ways you can improve the way you manage projects by switching to a designated work management tool:
Choosing whether to use a project calendar or timeline will depend on the complexity of your project and the information you want to see. Here’s when to use each type of visual project plan:
A project calendar layout is useful when you want to see when work is happening based on date ranges and deadlines. With a birds-eye view of due dates, you can make adjustments to your project plan as needed.
Timelines are useful when you need to see the sequence of work and how it’s grouped together, in addition to when it’s happening. It also shows overlaps—when concurrent work is happening—and can help you spot misaligned dependent tasks.
In the following examples, we’ll use Asana to illustrate what using a collaborative work management tool for your project calendar or timeline over an Excel spreadsheet looks like.
Managing your editorial calendar out of a spreadsheet requires a lot of upfront work and manual updating or moving cells around whenever last-minute stories pop-up or dates shift. With a work management tool, however, you can connect your editorial calendar to the content production process so you know where each piece is in the development cycle and can quickly shift publish dates around as needed.
Building out your marketing campaign plan in a spreadsheet is like playing a game of Tetris. Just when you think something fits, a new task pops up that throws it all off. When you use the timeline view in your project management tool, however, it’s easy to schedule tasks, see timing conflicts, and move work around—so you can launch your campaign on time.
To produce a successful event, there are so many details to keep track of. It can quickly become too difficult to manage every trask, vendor, and internal stakeholder in a spreadsheet you have to constantly update. With a work management system, you can create an actionable timeline of tasks, make responsibilities and deadlines clear, and keep all of the contracts and creative assets connected to tasks—so your event goes off without a hitch.
With so many moving pieces and teams to coordinate with, it’s easy to miss critical steps when managing your product launch in an Excel timeline because you can’t see how work connects. In a work management tool, you can set date ranges and dependencies for tasks, see timing conflicts and adjust work, and attach files to tasks—so everyone knows what’s happening, when.
Now that you know when to use each view and the benefits of building your project timeline or calendar in a work management tool, here’s how to create one in Asana:
If you want inspiration or need a little extra help, visit Asana’s template gallery. With over fifty templates to choose from, you can kick start your project quickly and easily, no matter what you and your team are working on.
A successful project starts with a clear plan. By building your project timeline or calendar in the right tool, your team can be more productive, collaborate effectively, and feel confident in your project plan.
How to create a project timeline in 7 steps
It’s not enough to just come up with a project plan—you need to know how to execute your plan. Developing a timeline or schedule of how the plan will evolve is critical to the planning phase, and also makes managing the project more efficient.