How to create project timelines and schedules, to make work easier

Project timelines
  • In this article, you’ll learn:
    • A process for creating project timelines
    • Examples of project timelines
    • Tips for keeping your schedule on track once it’s done
    • Ways to be even more efficient with templates and tools

A new project at work often signals the beginning of another adventure filled with stakeholders, deadlines, deliverables, and tools. But whether your project is a new product launch, a vendor event, the annual editorial calendar, or even employee onboarding, you’ll need a timeline to get you there.

Empowering yourself to create a project schedule with clear plans, processes, and responsibilities is essential to keep your team on track, know who’s doing what by when, and see how all the pieces connect. While it may take some time up front, a well-done project schedule will increase efficiency, accountability, and clarity. And those three words are music to everyone’s ears (especially your boss who entrusted this project to you). You’ll also be able to cut back on the tools that are supposed to help you manage a project but are actually making the process harder.

Your business card may not have the title project manager under your name, but guess what? For this project, and many you’ll encounter in the future, that’s your de facto role. Embrace it! When you learn to think like a project manager, you’ll be on your way to making work work again.

How to create project timelines

Now that you’re ready and willing to move ahead as a project manager, it’s time to start planning and draft a project timeline. Since the project scheduling process may feel a bit foreign to you, here is a list of steps you can take as you build your project timeline:

  1. Define your project goals. Write down what your key milestones or deliverables are that will make this project successful in the end.
  2. Identify all stakeholders. Make a list of every person that needs to be involved in your project, even if their role is a simple sign-off.
  3. Determine your final deadline. Ultimately, when do you need to be completely finished with the project? Be sure to give yourself enough time to account for conflicts that, no doubt, will come your way.
  4. List each step or task. Take those milestones and deliverables you defined in Step 1 and break them down into smaller tasks and subtasks to be sure all bases are covered.
  5. Assign a team member responsible for each task. Decide who will take on each task and subtask, and be transparent with deadlines. Remember that your colleagues likely have other projects going on at the same time. Be mindful of their workload so they don’t feel overloaded.
  6. Work backward to set due dates for each task. Figure out how long each task will take to complete (its start and end date), knowing that delays are inevitable. Sequencing is important to consider as well since certain tasks will need to be finished before another can start.
  7. Organize it in one tool, and share it with your team. You’ve successfully built your project timeline and now it’s important to organize it in a way that everyone involved can see and work from it. Finding a tool that can help you do both will be critical to your success.

Once you have a detailed project schedule in place, your hands-on project management time will decrease, and you (and your team) will have more hours in the day to spend on quality work. Ultimately, isn’t that why you were hired?

Examples of a project timeline

Once you’ve followed all of the above steps, you will have a clear timeline that outlines your project’s schedule and steps. Below are a few examples of what these might look like:

Event planning timeline example

Planning an event? Your timeline will map out everything that needs to get done, and when, before your big day.

Example of a project timeline, event planning

Asana tip: Get a jump start on your next event plan with a template.

Product launch timeline example

For your next new product, map out all of your steps and dependencies, then view them in one, easy-to-share timeline to keep your team on track.

Example of a project timeline, mobile app

Asana tip: Get a jump start on your next product launch with a template.

Marketing campaign timeline example

Know exactly what’s going on at any given date in your marketing campaign with a timeline that schedules out every piece:

Example of a project timeline, marketing campaigns

Asana tip: Get a jump start on your next marketing campaign with a template.

What to do with your completed timeline or schedule

The purpose of a project timeline is to get more work done, more efficiently. Seeing the overall picture of your project and creating a well-thought-out plan means less stress and more productivity. Once you’ve completed your timeline, there are two more essential steps to take.

Share it with your team

By sharing your timeline, team members will clearly understand their responsibilities for the project and have an avenue to give insights on their pieces of the plan. Start by sending the project schedule to everyone involved and ask for specific feedback (questions, concerns, or ideas).

Stay organized by offering a central location to deliver all responses and give a firm deadline to promote timely action from team members. Once you’ve collected all feedback, create an updated version of the project timeline and re-share it with all stakeholders.

Adapt it as you go

Heraclitus was on to something in ancient Greece when he mused that the only thing that is constant is change. That goes for your project timeline as well. Once you’ve kicked off the project, make sure you’re checking on your timeline consistently. Adapt it as necessary when unforeseen circumstances arise.

Managing your project schedule, and all project assets, in a central location will help everyone have a single source of truth and ensure the most updated version of the timeline is being used.

Improve efficiency: Turn your timelines and schedules into templates

To save even more time planning projects, use a proven template and stop reinventing the wheel every time you press “Go” on a new project.

If your current project is an annual event—say, a vendor expo—then it’s a no-brainer to get a solid project schedule in place now, so you can build off it for the next one. And what other projects do you work on that go through the same process each time? For example, your vendor expo might share comparable tasks with the client luncheon you are hosting later this year. Having a project timeline template means you’ll be able to launch future projects faster and more efficiently.

What tools to use to make a project timeline or schedule

If you’re embracing a new role as a de facto project manager—as well a more efficient way to approach your work by creating project timelines—it’s probably time to upgrade to all-in-one tool, too. (Yes, these exist!)

Work management tools are available to help you build dynamic project timelines (and so much more) that provide clear visibility at all stages and to all stakeholders. Say so long to email, spreadsheets, and chats that don’t talk to each other.

Developing and managing your project timeline in a centralized system allows you to create each step and determine its duration, build tasks and subtasks, and assign them to the appropriate person. As you need to adjust your timeline, you can quickly make the change in the tool and all stakeholders will be notified. Different views of your timeline accommodates all work and learning styles and your workflows will come together seamlessly because you’ll always know who’s doing what by when.

Work smarter, with timelines and schedules

Congratulations, de facto project manager, you’re on the road to working smarter. You have the mindset and the steps you need to start revamping—revitalizing—your process for projects. You can do all of the above (and more) with a work management solution like Asana. Consider it your all-in-one tool for project success. Happy planning!

Start creating project timelines in Asana today.