How to Make a Timeline

Need to learn how to create a basic project timeline? Read our project management timeline guide & try one of TeamGantt’s free timeline templates for your projects!

What some people call a timeline is actually a Gantt chart. What’s the difference between a timeline and the full Gantt chart? A Gantt chart is packed with details about the whole project. Things like dependencies, resource information, task discussions, and appropriate files and documents. A timeline is perfect for communicating high level project information and status. If you are looking to build a Gantt chart, we recommend you build one in TeamGantt.

Why use a timeline?

Timelines are the best way to share high level information about your project with managers, or stakeholders that don’t need all of the detail that the full Gantt chart contains. The detailed information that the full Gantt chart holds is vital to the project manager and the team members and resources working on the project but it can be too much to quickly wade through in a status meeting. That’s where your timeline shines. It’s all the pertinent data about where the project currently stands without all the extras that aren’t needed in that meeting.

How to make a timeline

Your projects aren’t static entities. Things happen over time. As such it’s important to be able to show important dates and events visually on a timeline to get the full picture of your project. In this guide you’ll learn how to make a timeline in Word, PowerPoint, and Excel that will highlight important occasions in your projects.

Here are the basic steps to create a timeline:

Breaking your project down into pieces.

When first planning your project, breaking it down into chunks or phases is a good practice to get into whether you’re planning to use a timeline or not. Considering the steps in your project as something of a hierarchy that can help you stay organized and determine task priorities.

For this document we’ll use the example of building a house. What are the main steps that have to happen to build a house from scratch?

1. First you need a foundation
2. Then the walls and roof.
3. Next the doors and windows.
4. Plumbing and electrical after that, and so on.

Of course there are many smaller steps that make up each of those phases, but for a basic timeline, these will suffice.

Insert the chart in your chosen application.

Luckily, creating a timeline for your project is a pretty easy task once you know where to look. What’s more, the process is basically the same whether you chose to use Word, PowerPoint, or Excel to to do it.

Which application you choose to create your timeline in is completely up to you. There are no real benefits of one over the other as the timeline itself is concerned. The best option is to choose the application that you are most familiar and comfortable with, or the one that is most commonly used by your team and project stakeholders.

Once you’ve chosen the app to use, creating your timeline is as easy as picking a spot in your document where you want the timeline to go and selecting “Smart Art” from the Insert menu and then choose a timeline from the Process section. Don’t worry too much about which one you pick right now, it can always be changed later.

Edit the timeline entries with events from your project.

Now that your timeline is created, it’s time to add your project events to it. Remember, this timeline is for the main phases and high level events. You don’t need too much detail here. The event, event date, and event status are probably plenty but every project is different.

Simply click in one of the default [Text] fields in the timeline editor and rename it to the first event in your timeline. Continue the process until all of your events are added to the timeline.

For purposes of this document we’re going to stick with high level timeline events. For a more detailed timeline with events and event details, see one of our pre made template pages.

Change the visual style of your timeline.

There are many different styles of timelines available to you. They all function the same, but some may be easier to read than others depending on the amount of data in your timeline.

To change timeline styles, highlight your timeline and choose new a new design from the Smart Art > Process menu. The design will update and your data will be left intact.