6 Steps to Creating a Realistic Project Timeline

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Whether you are managing a team or your own business, setting realistic project timelines will ensure success. 

Quite often, there is a disconnect between clients’ expectations and realistic timelines. This is due to a lack of understanding of the responsibilities that comprise the project at hand. Yet, internal teams can self-sabotage themselves with unrealistic project timelines as well. 

For example, PMI.org conducted a study finding that per $1 billion invested in U.S companies, $122 million went wasted due to poor project management. The fact is, your business can’t afford to have unrealistic timelines.

The following 6 steps will help you create a realistic project timeline and set your project up for success!

How to Make a Realistic Timeline

1. Define Your Project’s Scope

A project’s scope includes the goals, deliverables, and resources required to complete the project. 

Before you build a project timeline, define the results your team will produce. This ensures that everyone involved agrees on the goals and responsibilities of the project. In fact, 37% of projects failed due to unclear goals, so the more clear your scope, the better.

A clear scope helps you to set boundaries when clients try to add last-minute tasks or changes that could expand the scope of the project. 

2. Create a Work Breakdown Structure

After defining the scope of your project, develop a Work Breakdown Structure, or WBS.

To create your WBS, first break down your project into smaller work packages, or smaller projects. Then, break down these work packages by each task involved. Accomplishing benchmarks that are easier to execute and spaced out over the course of a project’s duration makes it easier to finish, as opposed to trying to tackle a large order all at once. 

3. Find Dependencies

After you have completed your WBS, you will need to pinpoint the dependencies of each work package. 

Dependencies are tasks that cannot start until another task has finished. After locating your dependencies, sequence your project’s tasks and work packages chronologically to create a consistent flow of accomplishments that lead to the appropriate next step. 

4. Estimate How Long Your Project Will Take

To estimate a realistic project timeline, ask your team members how much time they will need to complete each task. 

Next, build your deadlines around this information. You can also reference old projects to see how long they took to complete to estimate future timelines. Another important component to take into account is your team’s bandwidth. Their workloads will affect the time needed to complete your project, so ask them about their current bandwidth and what tasks they will be able to take on. 

Keep in mind, the WBS that you set up should also have potential execution dates that you can present to your team to see if they are doable. You can use this as a starting point and make course corrections from there. 

5. Establish Milestones

Once you have estimated how long each task will take, set due dates for each task, and milestones for your project. 

A milestone is a significant point in the project, such as a start date, end date, mid-check-in, and final review.  Milestones will help keep your project progressing on time, as well as help set important dates for each task, working your way steadily to when your project is due. 

6. Create your timeline

After you have set due dates and milestones for your project, compile your overall timeline.  

You can stay organized and construct your timeline using project management software such as Monday.comBasecamp, or Trello. Or you could use charts like a Gantt chartchronology chart, or excel spreadsheet. Once you have completed your timeline, it is important to enforce deadlines and hold your team accountable. 

Hire a Project Manager on Fiverr

If you need help creating or managing your timeline, hire a project manager on Fiverr to help you. They have an excellent pool of freelance project managers that will ensure your project is successful from start to finish. 

A realistic timeline will set your project up for success while managing the expectations of your clients. It doesn’t matter how complex your project is, having a realistic timeline will enable your team to complete your project, on time, and reap profits!

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Matt Clunan
Matt is a Director of Brand Marketing at Fiverr. He has 8+ years of experience in brand and digital marketing, working in technology and sports.