Project Managers: How do you create and share timelines?
February 27, 2017 5:01 PM   Subscribe

Fellow Project Managers out there, how are you creating, managing and sharing timelines internally and with customers/clients? I've joined an organization recently that uses basic excel spreadsheets with tasks tied to dates, which is okay but I feel like we can do more. I have previously used Microsoft Project to make large complicated gantt charts with tons of detail, but what are you guys doing these days?

We use trello, and I've tried their add-on elegantt and not really been blown away. I've also spent about an hour playing around with smartsheet trying to put together a cohesive timeline but it just seems clunky and doesn't look very modern when it's all said and done. Is there a solution out there that anybody really loves? My gut at this point has us using an excel based tasks tied to dates approach and then load those tasks into trello for tracking, but I would like to be able to share something with the client that isn't just a stripped down version of our internal excel document.
posted by pwally to Technology (12 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
 
Project and Gantt charts, here.
posted by BeeDo at 6:29 PM on February 27, 2017


Microsoft Project is absolutely horrible for most types of project.

It assumes that your most important asset is hours, and that people are interchangeable. Those are good assumptions if you are building an apartment block but are actively harmful if you are leading knowledge workers.

So, it depends on your context. For distributed teams we use Excel, Powerpoint (really!) and Atlassian's Jira.

But mostly we use walls covered in index cards. We happily run $100mm projects like that.
posted by Combat Wombat at 8:20 PM on February 27, 2017 [4 favorites]


Also, project managers should not be tracking tasks. You should be tracking valuable features
and outcomes.

Track the 'what' not the 'how.'

Why yes, I do have strong opinions about this.
posted by Combat Wombat at 8:22 PM on February 27, 2017 [11 favorites]


We use Jira combined with big picture timelines in teamgantt.com which has a lot of useful features.
posted by sleeping bear at 8:30 PM on February 27, 2017


Some questions that may help you narrow down the choices:

1. At what level of detail do you want to share with the client? - Key Milestones, Deliverables, Individual tasks?
2. At what frequency do you need to share progress? Daily, weekly, once in 2 weeks, monthly?
3. Are there dependencies with other teams that you don't control? These could be Business Analysts to give you specs/business rules, Architecture group to give you standards, other application teams to provide integration needs etc

Based on the responses, you may want a solution that is automatic - MS Project or Excel (can be painful). If you only want to show progress towards milestones at a weekly level (most common scenario), using the Timeline add on (Windows only) in Powerpoint link

Alternatively, there are many free & paid Excel based Gantt chart solutions that you can download and use for automatic generation (and progress tracking) - Example link here
posted by theobserver at 9:46 PM on February 27, 2017


I'm using SmartSheet.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:55 PM on February 27, 2017


I have several colleagues who are big fans of Tom's Planner for this.
posted by terretu at 11:20 PM on February 27, 2017 [1 favorite]


I'm sorry, but

Microsoft Project is absolutely horrible for most types of project.

It assumes that your most important asset is hours, and that people are interchangeable. Those are good assumptions if you are building an apartment block but are actively harmful if you are leading knowledge workers.
just isn't accurate. Project actually has a built-in bias for named resources, for one thing. For another, Project supports resource types that aren't enumerated in hours of effort.

Project is by far the most accessible tool for managing multiple efforts contributing to a shared goal. That's what Gantt charts are for. It certainly has some limitations and some baffling behavior, but most of that doesn't show up until you do a pretty deep dive.

If you have a timeline with multiple tasks that depend on each other (what project managers call a critical path), you're making things much harder on yourself if you try to manage it in Excel vs. something actually built to track tasks with dependencies. For example, if task A is to start an th 1st and finish on the 5th, and task B cannot start until A is complete, then you want something that will show B slipping if A takes longer than initially planned.

There are several such tools, but Project is the one most often used at this point -- especially outside very large-scale efforts (e.g., bridges, ships, etc.).
posted by uberchet at 6:03 AM on February 28, 2017 [4 favorites]


Firstly, I totally agree that MS Project is the best choice for this.

Second, I have had varying degrees of success creating dumbed-down Gantts in Excel, Visio, and Powerpoint. But I generally have to do this manually, though it is worth it when a) it's not too frequent and b) the intended audience only wants a visually pleasing, high level overview of a complex project.
posted by bluejayway at 10:47 AM on February 28, 2017 [1 favorite]


Let me add that the Gantt display in Project can be heavily customized. It'll take some experimentation, but it's often better to share data that's data rather than a picture derived from data, if you take my meaning.
posted by uberchet at 12:36 PM on February 28, 2017


MS Project for Gantts or Omniplanner

Smartsheet is the other one I use. It's fine.
posted by Medieval Maven at 1:02 PM on February 28, 2017


Omniplan is popular at my office OSX heavy office.
posted by keeo at 8:26 PM on February 28, 2017


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