If you are managing a project, you need a graphical view of your work’s tasks and their progression in chronological order. What you need is the Gantt chart or as some people call it the Timeline.
So what is the difference between a timeline and a Gantt Chart? the short answer, nothing! they are the same type of graph used to show tasks over time, just different names.
Throughout this article, we will refer to this type of graph as the timeline rather than the Gantt Chart
By the way, this article is not about why people call the Gantt chart a timeline, but about how to use this type of graph for managing your projects better.
Timeline and its benefits
Each project is consist of many tasks, events, and milestones. Timeline graph is a fantastic tool to show all these elements over time and how they are related to each other in a simple graph.
The timeline shows graphically the start and the end time each task in a horizontal bar which is shown over a span of time like days, weeks or months.
This graphical view clearly shows the relative position of each task, event or milestones relative to other tasks and events in the project.
Complexity- The graph clearly shows the complexity of the project. This is valuable information for all project stakeholders.
As projects get bigger, they tend to become more complex and harder to plan and manage. For this reason, the majority of large projects end up finishing late.
Helps with Planning– Project planning for large projects is very time-consuming. Timeline helps to view the plan and find mistakes or issues.
Everything that needs to be done in the project is viewable in one simple graph.
For example, consider resource planning. The project needs to be planned in such a way that not to strain the resources in the project.
By resources, I mean workers, equipment, and facilities. In large projects, there are hundreds of tasks if not thousands that need to be scheduled.
By viewing the chart and considering the available resources, the team can decide on how to scatter tasks over time to make sure each task gets the resources it needs.
The timeline graph helps to visualize resource loading and to take actions to balance it if needed.
By looking at the graph it becomes immediately obvious who has been assigned too many tasks in any day, week or month and who has free time to spare.
Dependency Rules- Graph makes it easy to visualize dependencies in the project.
If you are not familiar with dependency, it simply means in order to start working on a task, there might be others tasks that need to be finished before we can start working on this task.
As an example of dependency rule, assume you are building a house. Before you can start installing doors and windows, you need to finish the wall first. No wall, there is nothing to place doors and windows.
In the timeline, dependencies are shown by an arrow originating from the due date of one task to the starting date of the dependent task.
This visualization tool is very powerful and helps everybody in the team to know when and in what order they need to work on tasks in the project.
Critical path identification- The critical path is the longest path from the start of the project to the finish date. The timeline can easily identify the critical path in a project.
All tasks on the critical path should be paid special attention to. A delay on any one of these tasks means a delay of the project’s finish date.
For this reason, experienced project managers keep a close eye on the tasks on the critical path.
View Tasks and Subtasks- In google timeline graphs like Binfire you can click on the parent task and see all its subtasks.
The tasks and subtasks are color coded. So you can easily differentiate between tasks and subtasks.
In addition, the application uses the subtask date like start and due dates to set the parent’s start and due dates.
In some applications which have a false understanding of proper project management, parent tasks and their subtasks are totally independent.
That is absurd, you can’t have a subtask with start or finish dates before its parent.
Binfire enforces these rules automatically to free you to do finish your project and not manually adjust the project plan.
Sharing Project Status– It is important to make the status of the project known to all its stakeholders. There is no better tool to do that than the timeline graph.
Everybody from the senior executives to team members can access the graph to view the status of the project.
If you have an online timeline graph, then that is fantastic. If not print the graph and place it someplace that everybody can see it.
Better Scheduling- Timeline is a huge help in scheduling a project. It lets you prepare all items/requirements needed for a task before it starts.
Shortcoming of Timeline
Like anything good in life, there are sometimes shortcoming too. The following is a list of issues with timeline graph.
Inaccurate/dated Data-The biggest issue with the timeline is that what you see on the graph is only as accurate as the data entered into the system by people who work on the project.
This is a big problem because of the data needs to be imported into the system manually. So there is a delay as of when the data is gathered and entered as to when the system is updated and available to everyone.
In the old days, the gap between the real status of the project and what was shown in the timeline graph made the graph totally wrong.
Nowadays, with the advance of the new online project management applications, everybody can input his/her data to the system in real-time, this error gap is shrinking.
But even with online PM tools, the timeline needs constantly to be updated to be viable.
Does not show work- Another issue with Timeline is the fact that the bar in the graph only shows when a task starts and ends. It does not show the amount of work needed to finish that task.
To understand this problem, consider this. Is it 24 man-hours of work that needs to be finished in 8 hours? or 4 man-hours of work which has 8 calendar hours to finish?
DO you see the issue? The bar in the graph only shows how long a task is scheduled to lat but does not show how much work it takes to start and finish the project.
Information overload- For large and complex projects, it is impossible to show all the project’s activity on one page. It requires the user to zoom in and out constantly.
As the project grows bigger, the timeline gets more complex and harder to read and digest.