March 31, 2017

Why setting a realistic project timeline matters

Ania Wilson - Project Manager

Do you remember the last time you felt excited about beginning a great new project, only to be put off after a kick off meeting when the reality of the deadline set in? Most people can relate to this, no matter what industry you work in.

Unrealistic timelines are an unavoidable part of any project manager’s life, often dictated by stakeholders who only see the tip of the iceberg, instead of the whole project. It is the project manager’s responsibility to set realistic timelines to avoid a project’s failure from the start.

Developing a project timeline takes time, but there are many benefits to putting in the time and effort to creating one that is realistic. If done correctly, the project timeline should be an iterative process that involves several team members. By involving all parties right from the beginning of the planning process, you gain the buy-in of each individual to each stage of the project. This way team members develop a stronger connection to the project and own the responsibility of delivering their tasks on schedule.



Before you can start creating a timeline, it’s necessary to break down the project into smaller, easier to manage components. These smaller deliverables are known as Work Breakdown Structure (WBS), and they make any large or small project easier to control.

Next, set up milestones. These are a useful measurement tool to ensure the project is progressing at a planned speed. Milestones in a project management sense can be anything from start or end date, design approval, development delivery, or user acceptance testing, and they are a good measurement tool for reporting to management.

A strong project timeline gives good visibility to a project’s progress, accounts for dependencies between tasks, clarifies in which order they should be scheduled, and gives task assignees visibility of when their input will be needed.

Finally, a timeline is an excellent tool for reporting on and controlling a project’s progress.



There is no single set of rules to follow when creating a project timeline, but there are a few steps that are relevant to the development of nearly all timelines.

  1. Choose a project management tool. For example: Smartsheet, Asana, Trello, Slack, or Teamwork Projects, the list goes on…
  2. Use WBS to define activities and break down work packages into smaller components if necessary
  3. Sequence activities in the order they will be conducted in
  4. Estimate activity resources needed to complete each task
  5. Estimate activity durations
  6. Develop timeline



Unrealistic timelines can compromise the quality of the end product and lower customer satisfaction, so make sure to spend the worthwhile time and effort creating a solid project timeline. In a time management process, creating the timeline is just the beginning. It will be followed by task monitoring and adapting during the execution process (but that’s another blog post!) Having a solid timeline to begin with will set the whole project off on the right foot.


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