As you get into project management, you will find that there are tons of technology tools out there to help you. If you learn to leverage those tools effectively, you will be much more efficient, your projects will run smoothly, and your stakeholders will respect you as a professional who has your crazy project under control. One of my very favorite technology tools is a simple plug-in for Microsoft PowerPoint called Office Timeline.
I love this tool for 3 reasons:
- It has a very useful free version
- It’s extremely easy and quick to use
- It communicates the high-level project schedule better than anything else I’ve seen using a graphic-rich visual presentation
Project Managers spend up to 90% of their time communicating, according to surveys done by the Project Management Institute. If you can make your communication more efficient with visual aids, your days will be much more pleasant. Trying to get untrained stakeholders to understand your network diagram is a nightmarish time suck on your already over-busy day. Throw a pretty picture in front of them from your Office Timeline plug-in and save yourself a few hours of anguish.
For a detailed graphic that really looks like you spent a lot of time and effort on it, timelines created with this tool take about 10 minutes to create. The hardest part is gathering all the milestone dates and task information that you’ll need to create your timeline picture. Everything with this tool is automated; you just enter the desired data, click a few buttons, and Voila’ – You will dazzle and amaze your stakeholders with a very professional looking and easily understandable schedule representation.
It’s so quick to build a graphic in Office Timeline, that I usually build 3 or 4 with slightly different data to model the potential outcomes of the project based on risk variables that may impact milestone achievement. And, since it’s all done in PowerPoint, I can readily flip through those different model timelines to show stakeholders during a briefing. Export it to a PDF, and you have a document to email or post on SharePoint for whoever needs to see the schedule.
To get Office Timeline, visit https://www.officetimeline.com/timeline-template and download the free plug-in for MS PowerPoint. Restart PowerPoint, and you’re ready to rock. There is a paid version, if you want to upgrade for more features, for $59 per year for a 1-user license.
Once you’ve got the plug-in installed, the menu is super-easy and intuitive to use.
The free version comes with 3 templates, and the upgrade unlocks another 22. The free version is all you need to get started, and will create stunning, graphic timelines. Choose a template to get started.
Once you’ve chosen a template, click on the Milestones tab and enter the name of your desired milestones, the dates and pick the color you want to use for the milestone flag. The flag icon is the only one included in the free version, while the paid upgrade gives you another 15 icons to choose from. You can also choose to position your milestone flags above or below the timeline bar.
Once you’ve fed in your milestones, click on the Tasks tab to enter the associated project tasks. Just like with the milestones, enter the name of the tasks and their dates and pick a color for each task. The free version gives you 3 shapes to choose from for the tasks and the paid version pluses up with another 6 shapes. A cool feature here is that the duration is automatically entered based on the dates you plug in. Also, your graphic automatically adjusts to show overlapping tasks with any lead or lag time.
Once you’re happy with your milestone and task setup, click the green check circle in the lower right corner and watch your timeline come to life!
If you find the timeline needs some tweaking so things don’t look so crowded, you can manually move them around on the screen, change the size/color of shapes and fonts. It’s very easy to do, and you may find yourself referring back to this timeline rather than your detailed schedule or network diagram for a quick look at where things stand with your project schedule.
Conclusion: Use Microsoft Office Timeline free plug-in for PowerPoint, and start making your stakeholder briefings more professional, efficient, and informative today.