Timeline vs. Gantt Chart quick guide

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 Gantt Chart vs. timeline? 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.

Just a side note, the timeline in software engineering has a long history and was used extensively until the Agile method gained popularity. 

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.


Regardless of which project management methodology like Agile or waterfall you are using, Timelines help you plan and share project status better.Click To Tweet

Timeline and its benefits

Each project is consists of many tasks, events, and milestones. A 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 or a Gantt Chart 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.

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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. A 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 overtime to make sure each task gets the resources it needs.

The timeline graph helps to visualize resource loading and to take action 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

The timeline 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 other tasks that need to be finished before we can start working on this task.

As an example of the 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 chart can easily identify the critical path in a project.

All tasks on the critical path should be paid special attention to. A delay in any one of these tasks means a delay in 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 good 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’s due date and start date 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 shortcomings too. The following is a list of issues with the timeline graph.

Inaccurate or 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 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 should start and end. 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 take 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.


Timeline vs. Gantt chart is used a lot in search queries, but they are the same. Gantt charts are a great presentation of the project’s data plotted against time.  

David Robins


David Robins is the founder and CEO of Binfire. David studied at both Cornell and MIT, and was the Director of Software Engineering at Polaroid for 11 years.

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