Microsoft Excel—everybody knows what it does, but what can it really do for you and your business?
Suppose you’re the owner of a startup and just learning the ropes on running your company. As things go when owning a small business, you have to invest in some form of technology that can smoothen your operations, but you will happily work with what you have. You want to propel the company forward by organizing a product launch sometime within the next year or two, and you want every step done as close to perfect as possible.
After assembling your teams, choosing the person in charge of the project, conceptualizing your idea into something concrete, and setting a feasible launch and end date, you can now create a timeline to make sure everything runs smoothly. You know that office software giant Microsoft Office is an accessible tool that you can use for creating project timelines, but how do you make one that can be used throughout your company? To help you out, we’ll show you simple steps to get you started on creating your own Microsoft Excel project timeline template.
But before we get into the nitty-gritty of how to create a timeline template in Excel, we need to describe what a timeline is.
Nowadays mention of Microsoft Excel typically gets a sound dismissive response from the new generation of software virtuosos populating the IT halls of modern software organizations. Their latest acquisition of the latest IT management tools simply gives them enough reason to come out like that. Of course, accountants and project handlers who have invested thousands of man hours completing tasks through the venerable software would probably like to have a word with these new upstarts. For them, the antagonistic attitude towards their savior office software smacks of blasphemy of another dimension.
If they would go any further, they could cite that the sheer number of Excel users backs them up: more than 1.2 billion use Microsoft Office, with the majority of them using Excel one time or another. A software that’s been around since 1987, supports 91 languages and sold virtually all over the world would certainly not go down that easily.
It also helps that Microsoft provides a tightly integrated software ecosystem like no other. Buyers of any Microsoft offering expect nothing less than their purchase would work intuitively and seamlessly with other Microsoft products from the get-go. For example, anyone who purchases Microsoft’s team collaboration software Microsoft Project is certain that they could hook up the software with Microsoft Office or any other Microsoft software that they intend to purchase later. Not only that, the applications themselves are designed to work with external third-party programs too.
The result: 95% of organizations still go for Microsoft Excel as their financial tool of choice. That staggering figure makes it loudly clear that it would take a herculean task for any other program to confine this legendary piece of software into the dustbin of history.
In the most basic sense, a “timeline” is defined as “a visual representation of a sequence of events” or “a table listing important events for successive years within a particular historical period.” These are standard dictionary definitions that you can easily search online. However, a more business-specific definition of “timeline” would be “a plan or a line that shows the dates when the different stages of an activity or process should be completed.” Timelines feature prominently in the booming market of project management platforms, the foundation of many of their functionalities.
When creating a project timeline template for your business from scratch, you are laying out the schedule of activities involved in a certain main event or project. Your timeline should also include certain details such as the launch and end dates of your project, the names of your key tasks, important deadlines, and the duration and progress of each activity. You should be able to design it in a way that can accommodate data from other teams within your company, creating a unified template that is professional and easy to read.
Now that you know what timeline creation entails, here are some steps that you can follow when making an effective Microsoft Excel project timeline template that you can use for numerous projects in the future.
After opening a new blank Excel workbook, make a table for your project timeline. Use column headers for easy labeling, then list every task and activity in your project along with their durations, start date, and end date. This is especially important for deliverables with critical due dates as well as key milestones in between the phases of your project. Once you’re done listing the events, make a bar chart; go to the “Insert” tab, click the “Bar Chart” icon, and choose the 2-D “Stacked Bar Chart.” An empty chart should appear on your workbook.
Once you have a blank timeline chart, right click on it and click “Select Data”. Look for the “Add” button under “Legend Entries,” click it, and it will show the “Edit Series” window. The “Series Name” field should be empty, so fill it in by looking at the table you made earlier and clicking on the cell labeled “Start Date.” Once it’s filled in, click the spreadsheet icon next to “Series Values” to open a different “Edit Series” window. Select the first start date under the header then drag until you’ve highlighted the rest of them. Confirm the selection by clicking the spreadsheet icon to display the window from earlier and clicking “Ok.”
Simply repeat Step 2 to achieve the same results for the duration of your project tasks. Right click on your chart and click “Select Data,” choose “Add” under “Legend Entries,” then fill in the empty “Series Name” field by clicking the cell labeled “Duration.” After that, fill in the “Series Values” again with all of the duration entries under the header, then click the spreadsheet icon to display the window from earlier and click “Ok” to confirm the addition to your timeline chart.
By now, your timeline should have sets of different-colored bars; right-click on any one of those followed by “Select Data.” On the new window that appears, look for “Category (X) Axis Labels” and click the spreadsheet icon located next to it. You don’t have to click on the header of your “Task” column; simply highlight all the names your project tasks, then keep confirming by clicking “Ok.” The names of the tasks will now be visible on the left side of your chart, and your timeline begins actually taking shape.
Start by right-clicking the area on your chart displaying your tasks, then select “Format Axis,” and tick the checkbox next to “Categories in reverse order.” This will place your X-axis on top of the chart, and your timeline events will be arranged from earliest to latest.
Second, you need to hide the bars connecting your timeline durations to the task labels; these unnecessary bars are usually colored blue. Click on one of them and select “Format Data Series,” and you’ll see some design options. Under “Fill,” tick ”No Fill,” followed by “No line” under “Border Color,” and unchecking the box next to “Shadow.” In an updated version of Excel,
Once you’ve double checked the information on your timeline draft, it’s time to get personal! You can start by deleting the legend on the right side of the chart to maximize its space, change the colors of your timeline, select a specific font, add depth to the duration bars, and more. You will have to invest some time in experimenting with different styles to achieve the formatting that you want.
While an effective Excel timeline template can be reused many times for future projects, making one comes with a few challenges that might hinder you from investing your time in it. Firstly, creating a flexible one from scratch can still take up a lot of your time. Projects—no matter how well thought out—might encounter some roadblocks along the way; and you, as a project manager, will have to adapt to the situation accordingly. This will mean that you have to make a lot of manual adjustments when you need to change a deadline, add a new task, plot a project milestone, and more, which might force you to redo everything just so you don’t miss a detail.
Secondly, the design and format possibilities of your timeline template might be restricted just so it can be used across all departments in your company. Creating document and timeline templates that you use for your company requires uniformity in design while requiring some level of flexibility that can match that of good project managers. This means that the appearance of a project timeline for the payroll department might have to be different from that of HR, which could make it difficult for your company to achieve the uniformity you have in mind if you wish to appear more professional and reliable to clients as well as competitors.
Lastly, there’s the matter of updating your template as needed. If a small, short-term project will require tons of manual adjustments in Excel to keep up with possible changes that occur, what more when your startup grows and takes on larger-scale, more daring projects? Your activities will become more complex, there will be additional project milestones and deliverables, and more people will have to be involved, to say the least. While you can choose to have someone update your Excel timeline template, you might want to invest your time and manpower in more important matters, such as keeping your day-to-day operations smooth and engaging your prospective clients.
It helps to have a timeline template is just as adaptable as you, but making the right one using Excel could be time-consuming. Why not use something more powerful to make timeline creation—and ultimately other project management tasks—easier for you? You can opt for a powerful project management program, and Wrike is a top-notch tool that definitely fits the bill.
Among the list of leading project management solutions, Wrike has tons of features that can help you plan your projects. One in particular is its timeline (or Gantt Chart) creation tool which lets you modify your existing due dates, project activities and milestones, durations, and more. There’s no need to readjust any value on a spreadsheet, format the design of a table, or plot on a chart space. Just add the title of the task, input its start and end dates, click Enter, and you have your project event.
Wrike creates the Gantt Chart for you, and you can do a lot of automatic adjustments by simply clicking and dragging the horizontal bars that appear on the right side of the chart. You can schedule these events, connect them by setting up dependencies, adjust their duration to extend the due dates, and more. The software uploads your chart on the cloud and automatically saves any changes you make, which eliminates the risk of downloading an outdated version or deleting the file altogether.
Should you want to investigate the platform firsthand, you can easily do so when you can sign up for Wrike free trial here
The Gantt Chart you have created is then reflected in the overview generated by Wrike, which updates in real-time. That way, you’ll be able to catch any overlaps or mistakes in the scheduling process. Once you’re happy with the timeline, you can share it with your colleagues and give them editing access with a few clicks. You can also take a snapshot of the timeline’s progress and send it to your client for evaluation. If any changes are needed, you can apply them just as easily and respond to your client with the updates in a heartbeat.
When it comes to choosing a project timeline template Excel has to offer, there are certainly different options available. However, while free timeline templates are available to make things easier for users who aren’t tech experts, learning how to create a timeline that fits your business needs is still a better option if you want to truly make it your own. Regardless of the plans you have for your company, having a personalized timeline chart template that you can use for future projects or marketing campaigns is certainly a good investment.
Hopefully, this article is able to help you learn the basics of creating a unique and effective Excel timeline template—one that you can use across all the departments in your business. When this process is done right, you’ll be able to show uniformity in every project timeline created for your company through its style and formatting, which should look clean, professional, and easy to read. Also, should your small business grow into a more successful enterprise, you’ll be ready to put the “pro” in project management, whether you opt for Excel or Wrike for setting up and editing your timelines.
And if you decide it is time to check out Wrike, you can’t do any better than sign up for Wrike free trial here for a start.
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