Project presentation is a critical part of project management. Whether gaining stakeholder commitment or updating clients or executives on progress, success depends on a your ability to effectively present the project plan. This article reviews approaches and techniques for creating an impressive project reviews for important client or executive meetings.
Avoid complex project documentation when communicating with management
Project communication to clients and executives should be kept at a high level, to avoid having overly complicated meetings which loose focus. Rather than re-using detailed project documentation, clients and executives expect a project review, with the option to drilling down into the details of the plan.
Most often project planning is done with specialized software like Microsoft Project. This software is perfect for managing the complexity of many interrelated tasks and events, and for creating detailed project documentation, however, it falls short in generating high-level executive summaries for important meetings. The reports tend to be overly detailed and too complicated to use for client and executive reviews. An exec-level project review should summarize the plan and it’s progress in graphical way, making is easier for those audiences to quickly digest the information and understand implications to the business.
Creating a Graphical Project Presentation
The best technique for presenting a project plan, is to make a chart that visually connects the critical tasks of a project to its important milestones, on a common timescale. This is typically called a project schedule. Presenting your project schedule as a visual helps clients and management quickly see the activities required, the duration for each activity, the dependency of task completion (critical path), and the important milestones the project is striving to achieve. Additionally the entire project schedule is presented on a timescale which makes it easier for them to review your plan against other adjacent or dependent initiatives they may have.
Techniques for Creating Visual Project Charts
The easiest and most familiar way for creating a graphical project presentation is to make it in PowerPoint or Excel. There are two charting techniques for presenting project plans.
- The first is to show the tasks and how they are interrelated. This is typically done with a Gantt chart.
- The second technique is present the major deliverables or milestones of a project schedule. This is done with a timeline chart.
Since the intention of an executive project review is to connect both the critical tasks with the important milestones on a single timescale, your presentation should include both a Gantt chart and a timeline presentation on a single unified chart.
Below we will show you easy alternatives for creating project charts with Excel and with PowerPoint. We will explain how to make a Gantt chart in Excel using a bar graph, and how to make a Excel timeline using a scatter graph. Also we will show how to quickly make a single, unified Gantt chart + Timeline presentation in PowerPoint using a timeline maker, add-on for PowerPoint.
First step is to get your project schedule into Excel
To begin building a project presentation you may need to do a work breakdown exercise or work breakdown structure. This is breaking down the project into smaller deliverables and listing out each of those activities in Excel table. These will form your Gantt chart. You will also need to have an Excel table that includes the key milestones of your project schedule. This will form your timeline presentation. I have included a simple example below. If your project schedule is already in a tool like Microsoft Project, you should export that to Excel. Once there you will need to summarize the number of tasks you want to present to 20 or less tasks, and 20 or less milestones. As discussed above you will want to limit it to the right amount of detail for an executive level review.
Presenting a Project Plan with PowerPoint
PowerPoint is the best for a project presentation. Since it is a graphical application, it is a better choice for creating and communicating charts in a visual way. Additionally, since PowerPoint is pervasive throughout enterprises it is familiar and what clients and executives expect it to see. There are three ways to build project slides in PowerPoint:
- Use a timeline template and manually customize it with your project data.
- Create the slides natively in PowerPoint using a timeline maker.
- Create your charts in Excel and paste or embed those images onto your slide
Create Your Project Presentations Natively in PowerPoint
Option 1: Use a PowerPoint Timeline Maker
The easiest way to turn your project into a chart, is with a timeline maker. Office Timeline is a timeline maker that plugs into PowerPoint and automatically turns plans into a graphical project presentation. To do this you would simply paste your project schedule from Excel into the timeline maker, and it automatically creates a slide which includes both a Gantt chart and a timeline. It is integrated natively into PowerPoint so it is easy to share project slides with your audience, and anyone with PowerPoint can easily edit, format and update the presentation as plans change.
- To begin with you will need to install Office Timeline Plus, which will add a new project schedule tab to the PowerPoint ribbon. Once installed open it, select the type of Project schedule you want to build from project plan templates and paste your project schedule from Excel into Office Timeline’s wizard. It automatically builds your project schedule as a PowerPoint slide. You can see how this is done it the short video below. Download Office Timeline Free Edition
Option 2: Use a Timeline Template.
An alternative to using a timeline maker, is to download and edit a free timeline template. These are PowerPoint templates that have been graphically designed and are usually made available for free. The benefit of using a timeline template is that they are pre-formatted, however, unlike the automation of a timeline maker, they require manual editing which can become tedious particularly as things change.
- Download a timeline template from a PowerPoint template collection and customize it by entering your project’s tasks and milestones. Then manually adjust the objects so the dates of your tasks and milestones are properly aligned with the timescale. As shown in the image below, you can find a free timeline template collection here. It has been professionally designed specifically for project presentations. You can also search online for sites that provide a wide range of PowerPoint Templates.
Make Project Presentation charts in Excel
Although Excel is easier to use than Microsoft Project, it is not as graphical as PowerPoint. Because of this any project presentation you build with Excel charts pasted into PowerPoint, will tend to look more graph-like, rather than a Gantt or timeline presentation. Also, Excel does not combine Gantt charts (tasks) with timelines (milestones) so you will need to create two separate charts and combine them on one slide or present them individually. To do that you will first need to make a Gantt chart showing the tasks of your project plan, and then make a timeline with your project milestones. Here’s how
Step 1: Make a Gantt chart in Excel with the Stacked Bar chart function
- Once you have your project schedule in Excel you will add the task data into an Excel Stacked Bar graph and then follow approximately 20+ formatting steps to transform it from a Stacked Bar chart into an Excel Gantt chart, which will look something like the chart below. You can see screen shots and a step by step guide of the formatting steps needed to create an Excel Gantt chart here:
Step 2: Make a timeline in Excel using the Scatter chart function.
- To make a timeline in Excel use a Scatter chart. Add your data to the Scatter chart then follow approximately 25 steps to format it so it looks like a timeline presentation, as shown below. You can see easy to follow screen shots and a step by step how-to-guide here:
Drawbacks to creating project plan charts with Excel?
Excel is familiar and accessible however there are a several limitations for a creating project presentation with it.
- You can’t combine a Gantt chart with a Timeline. Executives and clients want to see both a Gantt chart and a timeline simultaneously. They want visibility into the critical milestones and important tasks of a plan. This can’t be easily done with Excel.
- To make a timeline presentation or Gantt chart in Excel requires moderately advanced Excel skill. Converting Excel’s Stacked and Scatter charts into Gantt charts and timelines depends on properly following a specific sequence of formatting steps. This requires Excel proficiency.
- Excel charts don’t look as graphically appealing as PowerPoint, and therefore miss an opportunity to create impressions clients and execs.