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.
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 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 and calendars.
On the other hand, collaborative project 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 project management software, examples of project timelines and calendars, and steps to create one for your project.
Excel 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 project 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:
This view is useful when you want to see when work is happening based on date ranges and deadlines.
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.
In the following examples, we’ll use Asana to illustrate what using a collaborative project management tool for your project calendar or timeline (depending on your needs) 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 project 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 and it quickly becomes too difficult to manage every trask, vendor, and internal stakeholder in a spreadsheet you have to constantly update. With a project management tool, 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 product 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 collaborative project management tool, here’s how to create one in Asana:
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, collaborative effectively, and feel confident in your project plan.
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