A complete guide to project timelines

Creating a project timeline

Organizations have many complex projects that require the timely completion of tasks in a specific order. Among the key responsibilities of project managers and business leaders is analyzing and developing a schedule and timeline so that these tasks can be performed in a systematic, efficient way.

With those goals in mind, let’s examine how project timelines can help you visualize your work to ensure that they provide managers with transparency and aid them in anticipating issues.

In this guide, you’ll learn about the key elements of a project timeline and how software that offers a project timeline will help your business. Specifically, we’ll cover:

What is a project timeline?

A project timeline is a project management tool designed to help visualize tasks in chronological order. It’s most often presented in the form of a horizontal bar chart. Timelines allow project managers to view every task that a particular project calls for in one place, ensuring that they can maintain visibility over the dates and targets for all sets of work.

A project timeline will list all relevant tasks associated with a project based on their designated start and end dates. These project management tools show which phases of work have been completed, which are currently in progress, and what needs to be done before the project’s final deadline.

By making it possible to visualize all tasks included in a project, timelines ensure that managers never lose sight of important tasks or their beginning and end dates.

Two specific types of bar charts are typically used to display project timelines — program evaluation and review technique (PERT) charts and Gantt charts.

A Gantt chart consists of several horizontal lines, each of which represents a specific task. These lines indicate the amount of work your team has completed and reveal how long it took to finish each task event. When that task is finished, a new line is created below and to the right of the previous one. Dates and days of the week are usually located at the top of a Gantt chart.

PERT charts are similar to Gantt charts. However, they don’t have to maintain a linear layout and instead can be displayed as a free-flowing diagram. Each task or “node” is connected to past and future milestones via arrows.

The key differentiator between the two visual aids is that PERT charts can also track “dependencies,” which are tasks that can’t be completed unless a different piece of work is finished first.

Elements of a project timeline

Project timeline elements

When creating and managing effective project timelines, you must include several critical features in your visual tool. You can add extra elements based on your project’s unique needs, but the following are part of every project timeline:

You can add other elements to your chart to create a more detailed timeline. For instance, you could list how many team members will be assigned to each task. Some project leaders prefer to avoid getting too specific with their timelines, though, as doing so can confound decision-making processes and lead to information overload.

Start building your project timeline using the four core elements outlined above. Once it’s nearly complete, go back and review it to ensure that it relays all the relevant information you need to support your project management efforts.

If necessary, incorporate supplemental elements into your chart to align with your business needs and facilitate at-a-glance comprehension.

Project timeline examples

Project timeline gantt chart example

Project timelines are incredibly versatile tools that can be used in a wide range of industries. To illustrate their flexibility, let’s examine three project timeline examples and use cases.

Product development

Developing a winning product is a time-consuming and laborious process. To adequately prepare for the various stumbling blocks you’ll no doubt encounter along the product development journey, you need a concrete strategy and a clear, easy-to-follow task list.

Creating a project timeline for your product development initiative accomplishes several things. First and foremost, it demonstrates to stakeholders that you have not only a great idea but also a plan for bringing your product concept to fruition.

Additionally, your project timeline conveys essential product development milestones to your team members so they know what tasks they must complete to succeed. Since product development tasks will typically be dependent on the completion of subsequent sets of work, you should use a chart that allows you to visualize task dependencies.


Marketing project timelines can be used for many different purposes. One common approach involves using project timelines to map out a customer’s journey as they progress through the purchasing funnel.

The beginning of the timeline can focus on the awareness phase and list tasks that are associated with generating interest in a product, such as launching a paid ad campaign. Toward the end of the timeline, project leaders can list tasks like filling out a contact form or signing up for a mailing list.

Alternatively, marketing project timelines could be used to guide the creation and launch of new campaigns. Such a project timeline would likely include tasks like:

Since multiple tasks may be performed simultaneously, most marketers would likely benefit from a nonlinear chart such as the PERT. If you specialize in a single type of brand building, such as PPC campaign management, a Gantt-style chart would suffice as well.


Construction projects are complex because they involve many subtasks. For instance, a commercial building requires several types of supporting infrastructure to function, including electrical, HVAC, and plumbing systems. Typically, contractors will work on these tasks simultaneously, resulting in a great deal of overlap on the project timeline.

In order to accommodate the extensive needs of construction project managers, timeline tools designed for this industry must be robust and sophisticated. That said, many such tools loosely follow the PERT model and always include the four elements mentioned previously.

Smaller projects, like the construction of a single-spec home, can be managed with more general project timeline tools as opposed to industry-specific options.

How to create a project timeline

Project timeline checklist

If you’re ready to begin using project timelines to visualize key tasks and support your project managers, here are eight easy-to-follow steps for creating project timelines:

  1. Define the scope of your project. Before you can begin identifying specific tasks or creating your project timeline, you must first define the scope of your project. The project scope should outline core objectives and goals so that managers understand exactly what’s expected of them when the project gets underway.
  2. Break your project down into smaller sections. One purpose of a project timeline is that it helps your team look at a huge project at a more granular level. That means you need to break your project down into smaller digestible components. Using construction as an example, your sections might include building an asset’s exterior walls, installing infrastructure, and so on.
  3. Create tasks based on those small sections. Once you’ve divided your project into smaller sections, start forming several tasks for each section. If a task is still projected to take a month or more to complete, consider segmenting it further to keep each piece of work manageable. For instance, instead of listing “install infrastructure” as one task, you might break this section down into three or more subtasks like installing electrical, HVAC, and plumbing systems.
  4. Link task dependencies. Managers may lose sight of otherwise obvious dependencies during the mad dash to complete a project. Link task dependencies together to help teams stay aware of what tasks must be completed before others can begin. Keeping with the construction example, you could link tasks like installing structural walls to dependencies such as pouring the foundation.
  5. Determine the time required for each task. As an experienced organizational leader, you likely have a pretty good idea of how long a task should take. Put your expertise to use to create accurate time estimations for each task, and make sure to space them out accordingly on your horizontal chart.
  6. Assess your resources. Next, you’ll need to assess the talents and abilities of the project team. While it can be tough to take stock of all of your resources, spending the time to thoroughly complete this process will help you set appropriate milestones and support the success of your project.
  7. Set milestones. Milestones are used to denote the end of a major phase of work and the start of the next one. You should set a milestone for each significant task sequence or deliverable. When you reach a milestone, take some time to meet with your team and gather feedback about the project. Reevaluate your resource allocation strategies to promote operational efficiency, if necessary.
  8. Track your project timeline. Once work begins, refer back to your project timeline continually to ensure that your team stays on track. Monitor each team member’s workload, keep a close eye on resource allocation and availability, and quickly respond to any bottlenecks that may cause you to miss important deadlines.

These eight steps can be used to create a project timeline for virtually any industry, including product or software development, marketing, web design, and others.

Project timeline software

In the past, project timelines were created and managed using rudimentary spreadsheet software. While this approach can support the management of relatively linear, simple timelines, more complex projects can easily become too involved and difficult to manage this way in real time.

To overcome these hurdles, forward-thinking project managers have turned to robust project timeline software. These technologies enable users to create, manage, and alter project timelines in an intuitive virtual environment.

Timelines allow project managers to view every task that a particular project calls for in one place, ensuring that they can maintain visibility over the start and end dates for all sets of work.

If your organization wants to elevate its project management capabilities through the use of project timeline software, it’s essential that you vet prospective solutions carefully to ensure that they align with your unique needs.

When exploring potential software platforms for your business, look for features and functions like:

Each project timeline software should list all of the key features clearly on its product page for easy comparison. But if you want to explore the capabilities of a particular solution more thoroughly, try to find an overview video showcasing the tools included with it.

Leading vendors will also give you the opportunity to schedule a product tour or book a customized demo so you can see the software in action and ensure that it’s the right fit for your organization. After all, the success of your various projects will depend on it.

Evaluate a project management software that creates project timelines

Incorporating project timelines into your management strategy enables you to visualize all details of your company’s projects in chronological order. Moreover, project timelines can help keep teams on track to meet set deadlines by making sure they never lose sight of important tasks or their dependencies.

Due to their versatility, project timelines can be a valuable tool for any organizational leader tasked with planning and overseeing large-scale projects.

As you prepare to integrate project timelines into your management framework, consider whether your current project management platform can create charts that meet your needs. If it doesn’t, your organization would undoubtedly benefit from upgrading its existing solution to a more robust, cloud-based platform like Adobe Workfront.

Workfront is enterprise-grade project management software that tears down barriers between strategy and work to deliver powerful business outcomes and facilitate enhanced collaboration across your organization. Success is 10% inspiration and 90% process. We’ve got the 90% covered with Workfront.

Connect, collaborate, and simplify workflows using our innovative solution to launch campaigns and deliver personalized experiences at scale.

Take a product tour or watch an overview video to learn more.