Why you need a project plan timeline
Any IT consultant or project manager will tell you that projects can be unpredictable. That’s why they turn to project plan timelines to help manage goals, tasks, and deadlines to keep projects on target and clients happy.
Benefits of a project plan timeline
Whether you’re helping a client develop a new app or evaluate new software, a project plan provides a step-by-step guide to keep projects on track and on budget. It gives your clients a visual roadmap of the tasks, processes, and people your project requires from start to finish.
Tech projects often come with dependencies and hurdles that can make managing a project difficult. Just one missed deadline can easily send your entire project off course.
Creating a project plan or consulting project timeline can’t prevent the unexpected from happening. But it does allow your client to track your progress and goals, and alert them to potential obstacles along the way. It’s also an important time management tool for you.
A project plan is a great way to ensure you and your client are on the same page. It will help you:
- Report your progress. Regular updates will keep your client up-to-date on project status.
- Track your goals. A timeline can help you track progress and meet deadlines.
- Identify roadblocks. A project plan can help you identify and eliminate problems that could slow your project down.
- Manage client expectations. A plan can help you keep clients informed of possible delays or obstacles before they happen.
- Appropriately invoice clients. You can ensure timely client invoicing when project milestones are achieved.
- Improve future estimates. Tracking how long each project step takes and any issues you face will help you create more accurate estimates in the future.
8 steps to create a strong project plan template
Making a great project management plan takes time and planning. The best plans try to anticipate and prepare for potential problems before your project even begins.
To ensure your tech projects go smoothly, follow these eight steps to build an effective template:
Step 1: Outline the project scope
For example, a food and beverage startup hires you as the project manager to develop a new app that helps customers find specialty coffee shops across the country. They want the mobile version ready to launch in six months.
You and your client should discuss and agree on the project’s scope. This scope should:
- Spell out what the product/result will be upon project completion.
- Detail any project deliverables and project requirements in a client contract or statement of work.
- Establish deadlines for tasks as well as a project end date.
- Define roles and responsibilities.
- Set project costs.
Step 2: Define smaller deliverables
Once you understand the “big picture” goals, you can identify project milestones you’ll need to achieve to reach those goals.
Using the example above, to launch the mobile app you’ll first need to develop:
- A user interface
- A database of coffee shops
- A search feature
- A user location feature
Step 3: Create task lists for each milestone
After you’ve defined your project goals and milestones, you can start planning how you’ll accomplish them. To do that, you’ll need to identify the tasks required to achieve a milestone.
These tasks should cover every step involved, from an idea to a functioning feature for the coffee shop app. Many project management tools even offer project timeline templates to help you organize individual tasks.
Tasks that might fall under our mobile app’s user interface could include:
- Conduct competitor research
- Build wireframes
- Get client approval for wireframes
- Develop home page
- QA testing
Step 4: Map any project dependencies
Task dependencies are tasks or deliverables that can’t be finished until another task is complete.
- Technology projects are full of dependencies.
- You’ll want to identify them while creating your project timeline so you can prioritize them.
- Making sure those tasks are completed first can help you avoid roadblocks later on. A Microsoft Excel flow chart timeline template can help you identify dependencies and educate your client on expected project flow.
Step 5: Estimate task timeframes
Make sure your planning timeline includes estimates for how long you’ll need to complete each task. If you’re unsure, reach out to industry peers or experts for advice. Even rough estimates can be helpful.
- Keep in mind, it’s always a good idea to add a little time to each task for some extra breathing room.
- You can always set more aggressive internal deadlines than those you share in the project plan and your client will be thrilled if you’re ahead of schedule.
Once you have your estimates, you’ll need to create a project schedule using a Gantt chart. This schedule will show each task, any dependencies, and the time it will take to finish it.
- For help making one, you can use a simple Gantt chart template in Excel.
- Or if you use project management software it may include this feature.
- These templates are a time-saver because you simply fill in details about your project to create a timeline.
Step 6: Assign responsibilities
Now that you’ve identified the tasks involved, you need to decide who’s responsible for completing them. Assign every task, and allow ample time for you, your team members, and contractors to get the work done.
Step 7: Finalize your project plan timeline
Take all the project plan information you’ve gathered and organize it into a single project plan. A project management tool like Asana or monday.com makes it easy to organize and share your plan with a client such as this hypothetical food and business startup.
Whatever tool you use, your timeline should be clear, detailed, and easy to update throughout the project.
Step 8: Track your project progress
Your project plan should be a flexible, working document. It’s a great time management tool to help you stick to deadlines, reach milestones, and achieve your ultimate goal.
As your project progresses, revisit the timeline often. Note how much time you’re spending on each task, and shift responsibilities as needed to keep the project on track.
How to get the most out of your project plan timeline
While any project should begin with creating a project plan timeline based on a template, that doesn’t mean it's written in stone. The best timelines bend and change in real-time based on new opportunities that come up.
Do your best to stay ahead of deadlines, hit your goals, and deliver results that will wow your client. However, some clients understand that the unexpected may happen.
Include the updated project plan timeline in regular client status updates. Explain any potential issues that could delay your progress, and let your client know right away if you need to adjust the plan. Remember, careful planning and open communication are the best ways to keep a client satisfied.
Keep in mind that no plan is immune to errors and omissions lawsuits over delays and disagreements. Securing the right business insurance is a key part of planning too.