3 ways to visualize a project plan: Timelines, calendars, and Kanban boards

Visual project management
  • In this article, you’ll learn:
    • About three different visual project management views: kanban boards, timelines, and calendars.
    • What kinds of project each view is good for, including examples.
    • Tips for using each to create your own visual project plan.

Whether you’re planning an event, overseeing creative production for a campaign, or coordinating bug fixes, you need a way to plan and track every task that needs to get done to complete your project successfully—in addition to knowing who’s going to do it and when it needs to be finished.

Most people start by making lists and spreadsheets to manage their projects. But what happens if you’re leading a complex project with lots of moving pieces and information to manage? Lists turn into multi-page documents and spreadsheets turn into countless columns of project details that make it hard to understand where a project really stands at any given moment.

This is where visual project management can help. By viewing important project details—like the status of a deliverable or important deadlines—at a glance, you’ll be better equipped to manage it effectively.

There are three popular ways to visualize a project:

  • kanban boards
  • timelines (or Gantt charts)
  • calendars

While there are several ways you could visualize your project, some approaches work better than others depending on the type of project you’re planning. So, should you go with a kanban board, timeline, or calendar? Here’s how each works and what kinds of projects they’re best suited for.

Project timelines and charts

Timeline project management

Another way to visualize a project plan is to create a timeline or Gantt chart of your project schedule. Project timelines are visual outlines of your project plan. They organizes project details in a bar chart to show when each task or deliverable in your project needs to be completed, how long it’ll take, and in what order.

What kind of work is this good for

Timelines are helpful when you have a project where you don’t just need to know when everything is due, but also when to start it and how long it will take. By mapping everything out in a visual timeline, you can better allocate resources, staff team members on different steps, and visualize dependencies.

With a timeline, you can create a project plan that shows how all of the pieces of your project fit together and make changes as needed to stop problems before they start.

Example of a project timeline

Example of a project timeline

Let’s say you’re planning a product launch. Because it requires team members from cross-functional teams—product, engineering, marketing, sales, customer support—to pull off a successful launch, the project is bound to be complicated.

A timeline can help you better forecast timing and coordinate resources so that you hit your milestones with fewer hiccups. Your launch timeline would list out each step or deliverable needed, show the start and end dates for each as well as any dependencies between pieces of work. This way, everyone on your project team has a clear view of your launch plan from the start.

Tip: Share and manage your timeline with teammates

Once you’ve put together a timeline for your project plan, don’t forget to loop in teammates and stakeholders and update details as the project gets underway.

In Asana, you can go beyond just planning your project on a timeline. You can also easily share your timeline with stakeholders and teammates to get buy in on your plan and adjust and adapt schedules as things change.

Kanban boards

Kanban board project plan

Kanban boards are a visual system for organizing a project where each task or piece of work is represented by a card. These cards are then arranged in one of several columns representing the stages of a project or process. As each task or deliverable progresses, you move the card representing the task from column to column so you can easily see where in the process the task is.

What kind of work is this good for

Kanban-style project management tends to work best for projects with distinct stages that each task goes through before being completed.

Example of a boards project

A bug tracking workflow is an example of a project that can be managed using boards. Your kanban board for identifying and fixing bugs might have columns representing the following stages:

  • New bugs (i.e. your backlog)
  • Ready to be worked on
  • In progress
  • In QA
  • Complete

For every bug that’s reported, you’d create a new card and then move it through these columns as work progresses.

Tip: Create and share your board online

Online kanban board tool

You’ll often find kanban boards built on physical boards with sticky notes, but did you know that you can also create them online with a tool like Asana?

Building your kanban board in Asana (vs. IRL) gives you more capabilities like adding custom fields, descriptions, files, and followers to each card, so you can easily capture additional project information to help everyone on your team work together successfully.

Project calendars

Project plan visual in a calendar

Kanban boards and timelines work well for many kinds of projects, but sometimes what you need is a calendar. It may be simple and straightforward, but it can also be ideal for planning certain projects.

What kind of work is this good for

A calendar is great for when you need to manage lots of tasks with different due dates. Knowing when you need to complete a milestone or deliver an asset in any given week, month, or year helps you plan ahead and successfully execute on time.

Example of a calendar project

Event project calendar

For instance, if you’re planning an event that has to happen on a certain date, a calendar lets you work backwards from the day of your event to easily determine deadlines for all your required milestones. Then, you can view your entire plan on your calendar and know exactly what needs to get done and by when.

Tip: List tasks first, then schedule them

If you’re using Asana to manage your project calendar, you can create a list of tasks in a project, set due dates, and then switch to Calendar View to automatically see your tasks on calendar. If needed, you can move tasks around on your calendar to quickly change due dates.

Which view is right for your project?

Using a board, timeline, or calendar is a great way to visualize all the steps in your project, so you can see the bigger picture without missing any key details. You can set up a project using any of these views in Asana. No matter which view you go with, you can easily share your plan with teammates and run your project in one place.

Want to create a visual project plan with Asana? Start a trial today.