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Using Timelines in Microsoft Project 2013: A Tutorial

written by: Swapnil Wale • edited by: Carly Stockwell • updated: 1/13/2015

The timeline feature of Microsoft Project 2013 is a very simple but powerful tool for presenting the overall timeline of the project. You can show high level parent tasks or you can show only a subset of tasks depending on your needs. Follow this tutorial to get started!

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    Adding Tasks to the Timeline

    Adding Tasks to the Timeline 

    Adding tasks to a timeline is a very simple. You have two options to add a task to the project timeline. First, you can add a task by right clicking on the task and then select timeline. Second, by going to the task tab and pressing the Add to Timeline button. There is a third option but you can use only when the timeline is created.

    To remove the tasks from timeline you can again follow the same steps by selecting Add to Timeline option. It works like a toggle switch, if the task is in the timeline then it is removed if not then it is added to the timeline. To see the timeline you will need to enable the Timeline check located in the far right on the View tab. You can also remove tasks from timeline using the Remove from Timeline option when in the timeline view.

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    Formatting the Timeline

    Formatting the Timeline 

    After you have added the tasks you need to enable the timeline and you should see a similar view. While the view shows all the phases of the project it is not that clear and presentable.

    Apply two simple formatting changes to make the timeline more clear and presentable. First, right click on the tasks and select a color. And give each phase a different color. Second, drag and move the tasks below each other to depict a natural waterfall or flow model which is understood by most people. If you have any milestone tasks then they will appear on top of the timeline and will stand out as important dates.

    You have two options to display your timeline. You can display your task as a Bar which the type used above or you display your task as a callout.

    When your timeline is ready Microsoft Project gives you options to directly copy the timeline into your email, power point or full size. You can do that by using the Copy Timeline option. The copy timeline is available by right clicking on the timeline or in the format tab. Depending on the option you select Microsoft Project will re-size the timeline for you.

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    Other Formatting Options

    Other Formatting Options 

    Text Styles - The text styles option allows you to set fonts for all the text used on the timeline. You can set font, color, style, and background color for Task Name, Task Date, and Today’s Date etc.

    Date Format - The date format allows you to select the date format for the dates displayed for the tasks. The date format has quite a few options and you can select the format that suits you.

    Detailed Timeline - The detailed timeline is useful if you want to display the task without the details in it.

    Existing Tasks - You can add existing tasks to the timeline using this option. The option presents you with a dialog with the project tasks populated.

    The overlapped tasks option when unchecked allows you to display all the tasks at the same level. Text lines allows to increase or decrease the height of the task bar displayed in the timeline. 

    Tip: You can do additional formatting and resizing if you copy the timeline to a power point presentation.  You can add additional text or information to explain the timeline in detail.

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    About the Author: Swapnil Wale is an IT Professional based in Sydney, Australia with over 10 years of experience in technology and project management. He is a passionate blogger and focuses on project management and BRMS articles on his blog