One thing that I find continually challenging is to efficiently and constantly communicate the overall project timeline to my project teams. I’ve tried a number of techniques to do this including emailing copies of status reports, reviewing timeline at status meetings and nothing seemed to really take hold. I’ve discovered the SharePoint timeline web part and have been utilizing it on my project SharePoint sites. Here’s an in-depth look at how you set it up to work for you.
Create Your Task and Milestone List
This post won’t go into detail on how to create a custom list in SharePoint but the crux of it is that your timeline is dependent on a list of items that have a start and end date to them. The out-of-the-box Project site in SharePoint will typically have a Tasks list that you can utilize for this purpose. From the project plan you have developed, simply add in your tasks, milestones and phases (yes, you can make them all fit on the timeline).
Maintaining Your Schedule
To state the obvious, your schedule and dates are likely to change throughout the project. It’s important that your timeline reflect the current state of the project. Maintaining your timeline data in SharePoint is incredibly simple to do. Simply navigate to the list that comprises the data in your timeline, select the appropriate items and edit the dates. The timeline is automatically updated to reflect this new information. The one drawback of this method is that SharePoint does not have any out-of-the-box way to track dependencies so that if you change a date for a predecessor task, a subsequent milestone is automatically updated. This is where a possible integration to another third-party PSA could come in handy where the data for those dates is automatically updated so that you have only one place to make schedule updates.
Displaying Items on Your Timeline
Now we get to the cool part – showing what you’ve got. One feature in SharePoint task lists is that when associating to a timeline, they – by default – do not show up on a timeline. You need to manually indicate whether or not to show the task/milestone on a timeline. This is done simply by clicking the list item and selecting the ‘Add to Timeline’ option. You should immediately see your timeline contain the task you just edited. If you have a milestone, you only need to enter the due date for the milestone (leaving the start date blank) and when it’s added to the timeline, SharePoint intuitively knows to display it as a milestone rather than a task. If you want to show a task as a phase (i.e. a container of tasks) you can alter how it’s displayed on the timeline by selecting the task and selecting the ‘Display as Callout’ option on the ribbon.
It’s the job of the project manager to make sure all stakeholders (team and customer included) are aware of your project timelines and schedule. Using the SharePoint timeline is a great ‘quick-win’ if you are already using SharePoint for your project site. I wouldn’t recommend implementing SharePoint based on this alone however it is a nice piece of low-hanging fruit that – if positioned and implemented properly on a site your team regularly visits – can be very valuable in communicating overall project timeline effectively and efficiently.