Effective project managers know there are several steps to lead a project successfully, but they always begin with this: A detailed, thorough timeline. It confirms the scope so everyone is aligned, laying out a clear path of what needs to happen and when, and makes the hierarchy of the project straightforward. Doing this prevents bottlenecks in the process and ensures a smooth process from start to finish, as well as client satisfaction.

Before you begin a project, there are several factors to consider:

  • What are the tasks (WBS = work breakdown structure)
  • Task duration
  • Milestones
  • Dependencies 
  • How many days the client might need for approvals
  • What do approvals look like on both sides / who needs to be involved in each step
  • Available resources 
  • Holidays
  • Vacation
  • Buffers to account for the unexpected

Actively managing the timeline can help identify conflicts early on so you can start figuring out another plan. For example, you might look at your timeline on Monday and see that copy approval is due at the end of this week, but the client needs additional time to review. Design R1 is dependent on copy approval. However, Design R1, has a duration of one week, and that resource has PTO two weeks from now. If the copy approval doesn’t happen until the following week, design won’t be able to start, and that resource may be on PTO by the time it’s ready. Time to start looking for another resource in case approval is late. 

Noting any occurrences that may have caused the completion date to shift will give you the opportunity to ensure the client has an accurate picture of when and why the shift occurred. Delays in a project are common and can be attributed to a number of factors, from changes in scope to work taking longer than expected. When a due date is at risk, look through the rest of your timeline to see how scope or durations may be adjusted to still meet the overall project due date, if pushing it out is not an option.

Another advantage to building out timelines is that they can be reused! YES, I said reused. Regardless of what system you are working in when building out these beautifully structured pieces of art, save a record of your timeline. Use these as templates for the next similar project(s) that comes across your desktop. It will allow you to quickly identify how long this type of task has taken in the past, and inform the estimate on your new deliverables.


Following these guidelines while working through projects big and small will create a structure for organization, visibility, and accountability. By keeping teams aligned, always having a clear point of reference and ensuring efficiency, you will lead your team successfully to the finish line.