How to make a timeline easily

Timeline makers are powerful visual tools for presenting project or planning information clearly.  This post will show you how to easily make a timeline slide for client or management presentations, with a simple template driven timeline maker that plugs into PowerPoint. 

In the past it has been difficult to create a timeline that is graphically appealing or to make a timeline that is appropriate for presentations to staff, clients or managers.  Free timeline makers, also called timeline creators or timeline generators, are a category of software tools that make this task much easier. This post shows how to make a timeline easily with a free timeline creator that builds professional timelines quickly, right inside PowerPoint.    Timeline template made with timeline generator Office Timeline

Office tools do not manage timeline data or automate timelines.

To create a timeline with Visio or make a timeline with Excel is painful because neither are automated for this work like a timeline creator is.   A timeline creator or timeline generator is specifically set-up to create graphical images and to manage project schedules.  (project schedules are the dates and events that make up your project).  A timeline creator or timeline generator simplifies how this project schedule is used to make a timeline and how to update it easily.

The ability to continually make changes is important because project schedules frequently change.  For example if any of your milestones slip the timeline creator would automatically update the entire timeline.   Without the automation of a timeline creator, making even simple changes like this would require painful manual editing of the graphics for each Excel data point or Visio object.Project Schedule for timeline creator

Project tools are too complicated for presentations to clients and managers.

Heavy-weight project tools such as Microsoft Project, like a timeline creator, are also equipped to make a timeline or Gantt chart.  Although these tools are automated to manage project schedules elegantly, they are complicated to learn and too heavy for high-level presentations.  Since project software is not designed to be graphical, it is difficult to make timeline presentations that are suitable for reviews with staff, customers and executives.  These audiences expect a PowerPoint presentation.

Office Timeline is a free timeline creator that solves these problems.

The best solution for project presentations is a light-weight timeline generator that integrates into a familiar presentation tool like PowerPoint.  It should create a timeline template or Gantt chart natively in PowerPoint so it can be updated, shared and modified simply by any PowerPoint user.  The post below shows how to easily build a timeline, right from PowerPoint, with a free timeline creator called Office Timeline.

Follow these steps to make a timeline quickly. 

Download and install Office Timeline.  Once installed it will add an Office Timeline tab to your PowerPoint ribbon.

Step 1: From the ribbon click New to launch the timeline creator wizard which will guide you through easy set-up and design steps.Timeline creator ribbon in PowerPoint

Step 2: Browse through styles of timelines, Gantt charts and templates.   Select the style you would like to build, then click the Next arrow to style your timeline.Make a timeline in PowerPoint

Step 3:  Enter the key project milestones and tasks and set their dates or durations (in the Office Timeline Plus edition you can paste schedules directly from Excel).  Make some optional style choices such as changing the color or shape for each item.  When you have finished click the Next arrow to create a timeline.Timeline creator milestone wizardTimeline generator task wizard

Step 4: Choose how you want milestones, tasks, timeband, and scaling to be presented.Make a timeline in PowerPoint _Style WizardMake a timeline in PowerPoint _Scale Wizard

Step 5: Done, just click the green Check in the timeline creator to make a timeline slide that looks like this.Make a timeline template in PowerPoint with add-in from Office Timeline

You now have a professional looking timeline slide that will stand out in high-level presentations. At any time, you can make changes to the slide by simply clicking on the Milestone, Task or Style buttons on the timeline generator ribbon. This will re-access the wizards so you can quickly update your timeline, and easily change any of the design choices you made. Office Timeline will instantly rebuild your slide with those changes.

See a this short video of how it works.

Download Office Timeline Free Edition

Suggested Reading
Using timelines for IT projects
Exceptional PowerPoint Add-Ons
Steps for creating a Gantt chart in Excel

Steps for creating a Timeline in Excel 

Timeline Maker for Grant Managers using Grant Application Software

Last month I attended a workshop for Grant Managers.  It covered a wide range of topics ranging from writing a sponsorship proposal and grant administration to how to effectively manage funded projects with grant application software.   One observation I came away with is that grant management professionals are being required to provide increasingly more documentation concerning the distribution of project funds and tracking progress against the initial sponsorship proposal or charter.   I heard that the administrative tasks involved with gathering data, creating reports, holding status meetings, plus all other tasks has been increasing along with the ever higher need to communicate with colleagues, contractors, staff, funding agencies, and facilities managers.

My take-away was that more people needed clearly communicated information about status and the progress of funded projects.  I noticed in the workshop that the grant management process, including project reviews, are very often managed with Excel worksheets and similarly communicated as Excel tables in PowerPoint.  In discussing this at one of the break-out sessions, I learned that, although PowerPoint was frequently used, creating a grant management timeline slide for a project presentation is tough to do, even for those who had strong PowerPoint skills.

This is an area in which Office Timeline could help.  It is a free timeline maker embedded into Microsoft PowerPoint (2007, 2010, and 2013), so using it is intuitive and easy.  If you need to prepare the grant, compose a sponsorship proposal, or manage research projects, you can leverage Office Timeline to create visual, project timelines that will drive the narrative.

Any grant management professional needing to effectively communicate plans or funding status can use Office Timeline to quickly create and share slides that are easy for funding agencies and project teams to understand. It starts with a simple wizard, where a user chooses a template and Office Timeline guides them through the entire process, making the design and creation of project slides a quick and intuitive process.  I have captured the process in a series of screenshots below and would be interested in your experience with it.

Making a sponsorship proposal timeline template

Make a sponsorship proposal timeline in PowerPoint

Sponsorship proposal timeline templateDownload Office Timeline Free Edition

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Steps for making a timeline
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Simplifying Gantts for important presentations

Suggested Video
Cutting and pasting your grant schedule into PowerPoint

Get a Free license for Office Timeline

Project Timelines Communicate for Instructional Designers

A friend of mine is an instructional designer at an international financial institution. When new or updated courses for their 50,000 employees are conceived, the rollout date becomes one of the most important items to be managed.  Due to financial legislation, each course must be scrutinized and signed-off by each department’s project manager. I often heard tales of trying to coordinate the various signoffs using an analogy involving kittens.

A delayed rollout date would have an impact on employee training schedules worldwide. A delay of one day on receiving expected reviews and validations can cause havoc with the schedule.  Beyond emails, instant messages, and frantic phone calls, there has been no easy or effective way to effectively communicate the need to meet expectations to the department project managers.  All-hands-on-deck fire drills were not infrequent. Their project management system will not interface with PowerPoint and so there has not been a good way to illustrate the project timeline during status meetings.

PowerPoint is the standard for creating powerful, effective, and memorable presentations. The challenge for instructional designers is that PowerPoint is a blank slate and there is no simple way to create insightful timeline or Gantt chart presentations. I recently mentioned Office Timeline to my friend and it has solved the problem.

Office Timeline is a plug-in embedded into the PowerPoint ribbon, so using it to create, manage and present compelling project timelines or Gantt charts is intuitive and quick.  It starts with a simple wizard for entering importing tasks and milestones directly from an Excel spreadsheet. At a touch, these tables are turned into a beautifully laid out timeline slide in PowerPoint. PowerPoint Templates and Themes provide the powerful tools to control and format the timeline or Gantt chart so presenters can test various ways to emphasize key events.  With Office Timeline, instructional designers who are managing projects can develop presentations on project proposals or status reports in just minutes – making updates a minor task – not a major interruption.

As an Instructional Designer for over 20 years, she mentioned that it is always difficult to communicate the critical need for prompt validation responses to ensure an on-time roll-out. Further, it used to be difficult just to create a single timeline slide or Gantt chart illustrating these few vital steps in the months-long development cycle.

“There’s no better way than a picture to show the project managers how important this is. They’re the ones who need to ensure the deadlines are met.”  After trying Office Timeline, I asked what she thought; “It took just a minute to look it over. I watched the tutorial. Then I used the spreadsheets from our last project. Copy, paste, and voila’ – I had an effective management-level slide. What’s better is that I didn’t have to take up valuable Instructional Designer time to get this great slide. That particular timeline was really effective for displaying the critical project steps. I think our project managers understand this timing issue now. Office Timeline has helped remove a major tension point. ”

Download Office Timeline Free Edition

Suggested Reading

Steps for making a timeline
Tutorial for making a Gantt chart with Excel
Exceptional PowerPoint Add-ons

 

Timeline Templates for Teachers

I got an email from an industrious kid.  He was a high school student preparing a history project and he wrote to us asking if we would give him and his classmates the premium edition of our timeline maker software.  Good for him.  He said they were struggling to build timeline templates because his school’s gantt chart tool was “complicated and ugly.”  I wrote to him and he responded that they needed something that was more graphical, template driven, easier to use and something that could be presented in a simple way.  It got me thinking of the value of timeline makers and timeline templates as education tools.Timeline Template HistoryI was interested because I had just recently done bit of family history homework on a timeline.  My family seems to have moved around over the past couple centuries, and there were some diligent family historians recording this along the way.  So I had a pretty good log of when and where my ancestors were.  I turned this information into a timeline and found it to be a really cool visual tool for understanding my origins.  Plotting my ancestor’s history in timeline maker had me simultaneously thinking about the events and circumstances of their day.  So then I plotted the significant historical events of the time on top of my family’s timeline template, and that was very educational.

Correlating the major historical events with my ancestor’s timeline made learning history personal.  I spent time researching each event as I was entering it into the timeline maker.  The tool rendered all of this into a beautiful, visual PowerPoint slide, which I shared with my siblings, cousins and parents.  They loved it because it was very visual, therefore easy for them to consume and digest.  I think the high school kid got this (smart kid) and that is why he wanted our timeline maker.

Since my experience of learning was richer with a graphical timeline maker, I assumed I would see plenty of educators in our database.   I ran some queries to check this and can confirm there has been considerable use of Office Timeline by educators, academics and historians.  Much like my experience and the high school kid’s, these folks also understand that engaging their audiences in a visual way creates a more effective learning environment. (Side note: We get frequent comments on the historical date feature in our timeline maker – see the Building Historical Timelines post).

There also has been significant usage by students.  I corresponded with a few of them and it turns out they are using it to make timeline templates across every subject imaginable.  For example political science timelines, historical timelines, science project timelines, one on the history of manuscripts, one on reducing lighting consumption of a corridor, financial forecasting timelines, and even a timeline template that plotted the important milestones of a multi-national corporation.

The net is that graphical timeline slides can be an interesting way to supplement learning and a timeline maker or timeline templates can be powerful teaching tools.

Office Timeline is a free timeline maker add-in for PowerPoint.

Once installed, students and teachers use intuitive wizards to easily create timelines or curriculum plans in a few simple steps.  First select the type of timeline style or template you want to build.

PowerPoint template tool from timeline maker Office Timline

Next enter data, make a few style choices on shapes and colors and then click the Green Check button when done.  Your timeline is instantly built in PowerPoint and it can be shared with and edited by any PowerPoint user or pasted as a image in documents, on websites or other materials.  Also your timeline can easily be changed, updated, or edited automatically at any time.

Free PowerPoint add-in for teaching history and curriculum planning

The short video below shows how it works and you can download Office Timeline Free edition from www.OfficeTimeline.com

Suggested Reading
Steps for making a timeline
Tutorial for making a Gantt chart with Excel
How to paste Excel timeline tables into PowerPoint

Gantt Chart Presentations

A customer recently said something that really stuck with me.  He said that “teams and leadership are all bored to death of looking at complex gantt charts and project schedules.”   This was a senior Project Manager in a global aeronautics company.  My sense was that he has probably worked on some pretty big projects and that he had seen his fair share of Gantt diagrams.   His comment resonated because I have made this mistake in my career.

Over my tenure at a global enterprise, my early Gantt chart presentations must have bored audiences out of their chairs. The type of Gantt chart template my project software produced was too complicated for customer presentations and reviews with management.  Since these presentations were always done in PowerPoint, the Gantt diagrams that my project software produced just didn’t work well.  They were really difficult to present and hard for my audiences to get excited about.  Net, my presentations were not inspiring them.  I needed to build something simple and beautiful like this. Gantt Chart Made in PowerPoint with Office Timeline

Keep in mind these were not deep project reviews, rather they were important high level presentations.  I can categorize these audiences into three groups; my staff, my management and my customers.   Although they were gracious enough to never yawn loudly when I presented a slide with a Gantt diagram pasted on it, I did lose their attention.  These folks needed a different type of project presentation, much lighter, much more graphical and something produced natively in PowerPoint which was their preferred platform for communication.

As I look back the mistake was trying to use my project software or Visio for Gantt chart presentation work.  It was difficult to paste their images into PowerPoint and really hard to finesse them so they looked ok.  Despite best effort and lots of time trying to get these slides into a presentable state the result was never really that good.  They had too much data squished onto each image and the esthetics were awful.  This is what made it difficult for audiences to follow.    I needed a Gantt chart maker that was native to PowerPoint so the slide could be manipulated, updated, edited and changed in PowerPoint as my project evolved.

Now there is only so much you can fit on a PowerPoint slide, so I also needed to learn which parts of my project schedule were “presentation worthy,” and which parts could be left out of the presentation.   Early on I thought presenting as much Gantt chart detail was the right thing to do.  But overtime I learned to summarize the key milestones and tasks, particularly for presentations to my leadership and to my clients.  When I was able to condense project schedules it was easier to build more engaging slides.  This made it much easier to communicate them and I felt like I could win the management and customer support I needed.

Gantt chart template by Office TimelineThe images above illustrate the difference between the complexity of a Gantt chart that my project management software produces and the summarized view of a PowerPoint Gantt template.  My lesson was to not “shoehorn” complicated project schedules from my project software onto a PowerPoint slide, but rather to summarize them and build them with a native PowerPoint timeline maker.  (see post How to make a PowerPoint Timeline or Gantt Chart quickly.)

Of course there are many scenarios where clients and executives required more than a simple summary level PowerPoint Gantt chart.   For example including a Gantt diagram in project proposals or scoping work.  Presenting richer detail in a clear and easy to read graphical Gantt diagram, like the one below, seemed to make a lot of sense since I would not have to talk through each item in high level presentation.  Rather I would be including them in the project plan documentation. Gantt Diagram made with PowerPoint Timeline MakerThe video below shows how to quickly build and manage Gantt chart presentations in PowerPoint and how to easily expand them into a Gantt diagram that includes another level of detail.

Download Office Timeline Free Edition

Suggested Reading
Steps for making a timeline
Tutorial for making a Gantt chart with Excel
How to paste Excel schedules into PowerPoint

Gantt Charts for Business

Someone I know well runs a large sales team.  She is on the hook for delivering $200,000,000  to the business each year. That is a pretty big nut but she smart and exceptionally good at what she does.

If you asked her what a gantt chart or gantt diagram was, I doubt you would get a good answer because she doesn’t care about project management and does not find gantt charts particularly interesting (what a surprise).  I suspect she would probably tell you that gantt charts were for product development teams, and gantt diagrams were for IT folks or consultants.  Fair enough.

Interestingly though, she breaks down her $200,000,000 quota and forecasts it on a timeline predicting revenue attainment goals (milestones) at key points throughout a fiscal year.  She also lists the necessary activities (tasks) her team must do to accomplish these milestones.  Then she breaks down each of those activities into smaller pieces (sub tasks) and assigns them to her team.  The model sounded like a gantt chart to me so I made the template below with Office Timeline

gantt chart template for business planning

Click for detailed image

Office Timeline is a free timeline maker that is embedded into PowerPoint, so using it to create and share a gantt chart or and gantt diagram templates is intuitive and quick.  It starts with a simple wizard for entering the key milestones and tasks of your business plan or you can import that data directly from Excel. Then with a push of a button this business plan is turned into a graphical gantt chart on a PowerPoint slide.

Now my friend above does not intentionally use the principles of gantt, however she is applying one of the fundamental rules of project management, WBS (work breakdown structure). The benefit of this is that she can deliver a repeatable rhythm to her business year in and out. She showed me how this was all planned out for her business planning reviews…and they were gantt templates that she re-purposes each fiscal year.

The process of using a timeline maker for business planning made me realize how powerful and ubiquitous they are.  Since so much in business is about planning and executing campaigns, timelines are very relevant.   Although gantt charts have typically been the domain of project oriented people, I can recall them being effectively used in business roles.

Beyond using gantt diagrams for sales planning, here are a couple other scenarios of business leaders using them to effectively communicate business plans.  The first was a training scenario where the general manager mapped out specific training due dates to his team in the field.  In his case he used a PowerPoint timeline template to clearly communicate the training commitments and the due dates (tasks and milestones) he was holding his team accountable for.   The second scenario was a marketing leader who was communicating a marketing plan to her team.  She also used a gantt template to map out the phases of her campaign (tasks) and the key deliverable dates (milestones).

As I digested all of this I realized that PowerPoint is the way they communicate and being able to easily present business plans on a gantt chart or timeline makes sense.

Download Office Timeline Free Edition

Suggested Reading
Simplifying Gantts for important presentations
Tutorial for making a Gantt chart with Excel
Exceptional PowerPoint Add-ons