Timelines are more than just dates on a calendar; they're your sanity, the faith and glue that keeps a team working together towards in organised chaos, your roadmap to successful project completion.
Timelines provide a detailed overview of when each task should start and finish, ensuring all team members, stakeholders, and clients are on the same page. Properly constructed timelines help manage workloads, prevent delays, and ensure we meet our commitments.
Timelines are…. Important. Things don't get done without deadlines, this is true for our teams and for our clients.
The Power of Deadlines
In my experience, clients benefit from hard deadlines, not flexibility. Accepting late deliverables or feedback might be appreciated in the moment, but when your leniency delays the project it will damage the relationship. I am for visibility and accountability, with the occasional flexibility.
Thus I recommend to always set deadlines, and to stay firm when possible.
When it comes to ideation and complexity - a project deadline removes the superfluous, the decorative and the ordinary. It gives a sense of direction and progress. The deadline offsets perfectionism and encourages us to produce something different, something creative, while keeping a healthy budget.
I love a good deadline. Although keep in mind that a bad deadline is unhealthy and stress-inducing, you need a healthy deadline!
Creating Effective Timelines
…Can be tough, nuff’ said. It requires a deep understanding of the project's scope, the resources at hand, and the project's milestones.
A good starting point is breaking down the project into by discipline, in chronological order. Each discipline (design, development, qa) should have a defined start and end date, considering dependencies between tasks.
The buffer time also allows for unforeseen delays or changes, and always be realistic about what can be achieved within the given timeframe.
Tools for Managing Timelines
There are countless tools for timeline and team management, you’ll see and use several of them in your career - each agency or client has a preference. I've been an advocate of Airtable and Asana for the flexibility both give on task management and customization.
Tools like Microsoft Project, Trello, or Jira are also popular choices that provide features like Gantt charts, dependency tracking, and progress reports.
The right tool for your project largely depends on the project's complexity, team size, and most importantly: the team's familiarity with the tool.
Manage your team’s work, projects, & tasks online • Asana
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Adjustments and Flexibility
Timelines aren't set in stone; they need to be flexible enough to accommodate changes while remaining firm to maintain progress. Scope alterations, resource changes, or unexpected hiccups might require timeline adjustments. Regularly review and adjust the timeline as needed, but remember to keep all involved parties informed about these changes and their implications.
Communicating the Timeline
Clear communication of the timeline is as crucial as its creation. Everyone involved should understand the timeline: what is expected, when, and why. Otherwise it defeats the purpose of having the unifying direction the whole team can aim towards. Which is why you want to use a tool that is simple and that your team is familiar with - the timeline shouldn't be yours alone!
Be open and transparent about any changes, and manage expectations proactively. Remember, a well-communicated timeline fosters trust, keeps everyone informed, and helps prevent misunderstandings or last-minute surprises. But most importantly - it continues to remove the superfluous (whether these new ideas come from the client or your team), it’ll be your greatest weapon to help prioritise.
Example Summary Timeline
Here's an example of a simple project timeline for a proposal (not for production management):
- Week 1-2: Project Kick-off & Research.
- Week 3-7: Design & Prototyping.
- Week 8-16: Development (with a 2-day internal buffer).
- Week 16-18: Content integration, playtesting.
- Week 18-21: Testing & Quality Assurance.
- Week 22: Final Delivery.
Continue building your hypothetical project, try a free version of any of the tools I’ve described and prepare a production timeline (a Gantt timeline) that you could share with a team or client.
If you’re using Asana:
If you’re using Airtable: