Project Management

How to Improve Accuracy in Project Planning Timeline

Dovile Miseviciute ·

Passionate content marketer looking to bring better solutions to the project management space. 2020 - Present Marketing specialist at Teamhood. 2014 - 2020 Marketing manager for Eylean.

project planning timeline

The saying, “You may delay, but time will not,” by Benjamin Franklin is profound. Well, it’s a nudge to remind us that time waits for no one, especially when dealing with project plans. Project planning and timelines tend to get underestimated or overestimated, especially when you lack familiarity with the involved tasks and how much time each task will take.

Overlooking unexpected events, and urgent tasks or not considering the complexity of a task can cause serious issues later on. Although you may want to please your client by skipping timelines, doing so can lead to problems when working in a team, especially if tasks depend on individual contributions from your team. Hence, an accurate project planning timeline is vital for project success.

So what does it take to build a strategic project planning? It involves careful planning, effective communication, and collaboration with your team, plus a lot of other ingredients to create that perfect recipe. In this article, we provide some tips and steps to help you create a more robust and strategic planning timeline. Before we get to it, let’s understand the basics of project timelines and why it is important to have them in your project.

What is a project planning timeline?

A project plan and timeline is a visual representation of the chronological sequence of tasks and milestones within a project. It provides a clear roadmap, detailing when specific activities are scheduled to begin and end. The timeline plan template helps in planning, coordination, and monitoring, ensuring that the project progresses systematically and meets its objectives on time.

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Visualizing a project plan in Teamhood online Gantt chart

The project timeline serves as an effective tool to achieve accuracy in planning, facilitating communication with stakeholders, and effectively managing potential risks and challenges. It goes beyond a mere schedule, offering clarity, structure, and significant contribution to the overall progress of your project.

Why do you need to have a project plan timeline?

For a moment imagine you’re throwing a birthday party at home. You need to do a lot, like finding a place, making a guest list, choosing the menu, handling decorations, and getting a birthday cake. It might feel overwhelming, but if you make a list, decide what’s most important, share tasks with your family members, and remain accountable for getting it done. It becomes a lot easier to plan and make it a success.

gantt chart online

Having a strategic project plan timeline is similar to organizing a birthday party or any other event. Just as you’d need to carefully plan each aspect, a project timeline involves mapping out tasks, setting priorities, and assigning responsibilities. 

To have accuracy in your planning is critical for several reasons listed below:

  1. Provide a clear roadmap: Your project plan timeline will provide a clear roadmap of tasks, milestones, and deadlines, ensuring that everyone involved understands the project’s progression and what needs to be accomplished by when.
  2. Helps in resource allocation: The project plan helps allocate resources effectively by identifying when and where they are needed throughout the project lifecycle, ensuring optimal utilization of resources and avoiding bottlenecks.
  3. Facilitate coordination and communication: It facilitates coordination and communication among team members, stakeholders, and other parties involved. Your timeline can set expectations and keep everyone aligned with the project’s goals and deadlines.
  4. Identify risks: By having a visual representation of the project timeline, you can anticipate risks and proactively address them.
  5. Aids in performance monitoring: It enables you to monitor progress against the planned schedule, identify any deviations, and take corrective actions promptly to keep the project on track.
  6. Helps in client and stakeholder management: It helps in managing your client and stakeholder expectations by providing transparency regarding project timelines, milestones, and deliverables, thereby gaining trust and confidence in the project.

Overall, your project timeline is a foundational tool for effective project management, ensuring that projects are completed successfully, on time, and within budget.

How to achieve accuracy in planning your project timeline?

For accuracy in your project timeline start by taking smaller and more thoughtful steps. It involves defining the scope, objectives, deliverables, and milestones for your project. Further, you will break down tasks, estimate time, identify dependencies, and allocate resources based on team skills and availability. Lastly, visualize and make updates regularly to keep refining as per the progress of your project. 

Gantt-view-v3

We will explore each step with practical examples for a detailed understanding to create an accurate project planning timeline:

1. Lay down the scope of your project

Define your project scope to set clear expectations, parameters, and limitations to accomplish a particular goal or objective. Craft a “Statement of Work” or project scope document with details on your project goals, providing direction. Specify deliverables for the client to receive upon completion. Include limitations such as rules, guidelines, deadlines, and budget constraints, establishing the framework for your team. Explicitly state what is beyond the project’s scope to ensure clarity.

This document created by either of the parties will become an official agreement including their review and approval with the signatures of all key stakeholders to ensure complete transparency of your project.

2. Use a work breakdown structure (WBS)

A work breakdown structure (WBS) is an important component of your project planning phase. In essence, it divides your project work into smaller, more manageable phases. These elements aren’t tasks per se; instead, they represent smaller deliverables. For example, onboarding your client, gathering project requirements, design phase of the project, creating a prototype, testing, and finally deployment. 

The creation of project phases in the WBS format serves the dual purpose of making a complex project appear less daunting and breaking it into smaller, more digestible parts. It becomes more manageable and allows for efficient delegation to smaller teams, facilitating a smoother project execution process.

3. Create a list of tasks as per project phases

Once you’ve broken down your project into deliverables using the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS), the next step is to identify the specific tasks required to achieve each deliverable. Let’s take one of the examples of gathering project requirements. 

The required tasks for this deliverable will be:

  • Create a list of questions and specific project requirements you need from your client.
  • Add this list in a slide or a document in your Kick-Off presentation deck. 
  • In the Kick-Off meeting or the Onboarding meeting with the client, present the requirement slide and address any specific questions or doubts they may have.
  • Make sure to ask for the requirement to the correct stakeholder, if not get those clarified with the stakeholder present in the meeting.
  • Post the Kick-Off meeting send those requirements in the form of an email or any other communication channel for them to remember and respond to your requests. 
  • Finally, make sure to receive those requirements in time from your client to begin the next steps in your project. 
project management templates
List view in Teamhood

By breaking down the deliverables of gathering project requirements into these distinct tasks, you establish a clear and actionable roadmap, to manage and complete each phase of your project more effectively.

4. Determine dependencies for your tasks

The subsequent step in project planning involves defining dependencies between tasks. Dependencies are the relationships that govern the order in which tasks should be executed. To identify dependencies, consider tasks that must be completed before others can start, tasks that need simultaneous initiation or conclusion, and tasks requiring commencement before the completion of others. 

Project Planning Timeline

Visualizing dependencies can be achieved through a Gantt Chart or a dependency diagram, facilitating a clearer understanding of the project’s sequencing. There are four distinct types of task dependencies:

  • Finish to Start (FS): Task B cannot commence until Task A is completed. For instance, creating tasks in a project management software requires signing up for an account.
  • Finish to Finish (FF): Completion of Task B is dependent upon the completion of Task A. For example, publishing a book requires you to wait for designers to finish the cover design.
  • Start to Start (SS): Task B cannot start until Task A is initiated. An example can be starting to cook dinner, where groceries and ingredients must be prepared before initiating the cooking process.
  • Start to Finish (SF): Task A must be initiated before Task B can finish. An example is a shift-based work scenario, where one worker cannot finish until the next shift starts.

Identifying dependencies in this format will help you gauge a clear picture of which tasks are completely independent and can be completed without any critical dependencies and which tasks are most dependent on external and internal factors in your project.

5. Set milestones and completion criteria

Setting project milestones is crucial to indicate significant accomplishments and act as a benchmark to track progress. For example, completion of sprints, project planning cycles, quarterly or annual targets, etc are known to be common milestone achievements in your project progress.

Project Planning Timeline

Some of the other examples include:

  • Project phase start and end dates: Identify the start and finish dates of your project phases to mark transition and progress.
  • Key deliverables achieved: Completion of project deliverables and showcase of tangible outcomes and accomplishments.
  • Securing project funds: Getting the necessary funds for the project represents a critical milestone in ensuring financial support.
  • Conducting significant meetings: Organizing key project meetings, such as kick-off sessions or strategy discussions, to mark important collaborative efforts.
  • Stakeholder approvals at each level: Receiving approvals from stakeholders that signal the project’s readiness to move forward to the next phase.
  • Customer approval: Obtaining approval from the customer or client, indicating satisfaction with project outcomes and endorsing further progress.

These milestones allow you and your team to celebrate achievements, assess progress, and make informed decisions as the project unfolds. It contributes to effective project tracking and ensures alignment with project goals and expectations.

6. Estimate a realistic time for each task

To achieve the previously mentioned milestones, meticulously plan tasks for each of the project phases and estimate time accurately for each of the tasks. Determine the time allocated for each task with a realistic approach. When setting project deadlines, incorporate buffer time to ensure the project’s timely completion, even when you have unexpected challenges.

Avoid setting unrealistic dates to impress stakeholders but burden the team, leading to potential overtime and low-quality outcomes. You can use various time estimation techniques to accurately estimate the time; some of the methods are listed below:

  • Expert Judgment: Draw on the insights and expertise of experienced individuals for task duration estimation. Consult with seniors or advisors to realistically estimate time for each of the tasks.
  • Analogous Estimation: Use historical data from similar projects to estimate durations for current tasks. Refer to past data and reports to understand the time taken for each task and project phase. Take advantage of available project management software. Teamhood has a layer that forecasts the completion time of each task on your board based on previous performance. Giving you an option to estimate based on your actual performance.
when it will be done
Forecasts in Teamhood
  • Parametric Estimation: Apply mathematical models and algorithms to calculate the costs and tasks needed to finish a whole project.
  • Three-Point Estimation: Incorporate optimistic, pessimistic, and most likely estimates to account for uncertainties. The optimistic assumes to go everything according to plan while the pessimistic considers risks that could delay the project. The most likely estimate falls somewhere between the optimistic and pessimistic options and is based on the estimator’s best judgment.
  • Bottom-Up Estimation: Estimate task durations by breaking down the project into smaller components and phases individually.
  • Top-Down Estimation: Derive estimates for the entire project based on high-level assessments and then break them down.

Tres Roeder, a certified project management author, emphasizes the significance of crafting project timeline estimates that allow people to adapt comfortably to change, he states:

A timeline should include an allocation of time for people to get comfortable with the changes. Most who create timelines understand that it is important to create the “critical path” of elements that are dependent on each other. Very few, however, put people into that formula. People need time to understand, process, and react to the project.


Tres Roeder

7. Determine resource availability and assign tasks

Now that you’ve outlined deliverables, tasks, milestones, and deadlines. It’s time to focus on assigning resources for your project. Consider your team’s strengths, talents, and skills to match the right person to strategically assign tasks. 

workload resources
Workload tracker in Teamhood

For example, if designing a wildlife book cover is on the agenda, assign the main design to a person in your team who is passionate about animals and has some experience with them. Others can contribute by designing smaller elements and helping to deliver them on time. Additionally, make sure the project schedule aligns with team members’ existing workloads and schedules on other projects. It shouldn’t be at a point of overburden or burnout for the assigned team member.

Visualize your timeline in a project management tool

With the help of your project management platform, utilize features like Gantt Charts to visualize your project timeline for a clear representation of tasks, dependencies, duration, and milestones. 

gantt chart online

Explore our interactive Gantt Chart demo to understand how you can use it internally for project visualization. Teamhood’s Gantt Chart feature ensures that your teams, stakeholders, and partners stay on track. You can organize the entire project timeline into stages and child levels for both strategic planning and operational efficiency.

9. Monitor and update your timeline at regular intervals

All your hard work pays off when you monitor and update it regularly. Creating the project timeline isn’t the final step; it’s an ongoing effort to keep it current as you move through different phases or milestones. Regular updates help you catch any missed details during unexpected situations and keep your team informed about progress and next steps. Keep your project timeline relevant to stakeholders by regularly updating it based on project developments.

Summary

By combining all of the techniques listed above you can craft a thorough project planning timeline that is realistic, achievable, and can be adjusted as the project progresses.

Let us help you in crafting a strategic project planning timeline for your projects. Compare the best timeline management tools to see how they can aid you with your efforts. Or continue your learning with this guide to implementing timelines within a Kanban working environment.

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