All projects need a timeline. At its most basic level, the “timeline” could be a single date: the project’s anticipated completion. On the other end of the spectrum, it could be a complex Gantt chart. Somewhere in the middle, you’ll find a bulleted list of action items and their expected completion dates. No one format is correct; what’s most important is that you create a timeline that works for your team and then use to it to facilitate everyone’s work on the project.
Why You Need a Timeline
Project timelines serve a wide variety of purposes. For agencies, law firms, and consultants, a timeline ensures that you deliver something to your client on time. For companies building hardware or other physical products, a timeline clarifies when raw materials need to be purchased. For software teams like Tettra, (as well as many other kinds of teams,) a timeline helps us align the various parts of the organization.
For example, many different people get involved when we launch a new product feature. Our product and engineering teams focus on building and releasing the feature. Marketing handles the blog post, email, and/or video to announce the feature. Support focuses on documenting and handling any bugs that crop up. Without a timeline, it would be tough for everyone to operate in sync.
What to Include in Your Timeline
At a minimum, your timeline should include the date when you expect to finish the project. But, ideally, your project plan and timeline include other milestones as well. The more granular you get with your timeline, the more useful it will be to your team.
Specifically, try to attach dates to any items that have dependencies (or are dependent on other items.) This helps your team because it exposes any bottlenecks where one person’s pace could delay another person’s work. This isn’t to say that everyone will stay on schedule simply because you have a timeline. But it does mean that it’s clearer when a change “upstream” is likely to impact your timing “downstream”. Plus, it underscores the importance of timeliness to the person “upstream”; if you know someone else is waiting on you, it’s less easy to procrastinate.
A good timeline will include estimates on when a specific task will begin, how long it will take, and when it will end. If there are certain milestones that are particularly important, it’s worth adding those deliverables to your Google or Outlook Calendar. It’s also valuable to include detail on what, exactly, is included in a particular task, (such as a prototype or a final version or something else entirely.)
How to Use Your Timeline
Here at Tettra, we use our timelines whenever we check in on our projects. It’s an opportunity for us to assess where we’re at and where we’re heading next.
We look at past deadlines to verify if we hit them as planned. We look at upcoming deadline to determine if we’re likely to hit them. If we missed a date, we discuss what adjustments we need to make to the timeline to account for the changes. These project plans – and their associated timelines – help us stay on track, ensure that dependencies don’t slow us down, and make it obvious if we’re falling behind schedule.