Timeline image

We often encounter project managers and stakeholders who need more customization to their timeline views. Before now it was impossible using the native project views and tools. We’re happy to announce that with the release of Microsoft Project 2016 Preview, we have much more control of our timeline views!


NOTE! This blog post introduces features that are included in Microsoft Project 2016 Preview. This software is now available to Office 365 subscribers with Project Pro for Office 365 licenses. For more information visit https://products.office.com/en-us/office-2016-preview#howToGet


If you didn’t know, you can access the timeline from the View tab of the ribbon in the split view section. (You can also save specific timeline views and pick them from your Timeline view menu here as well, but we’ll save that info for a future article.)

Nate Auchter Figure 1

In the example below, I’ve started with a PMBOK-compliant project management template (which can be found in your out-of-the-box templates) on the “new” project page. I then condensed the outline view to level 2 and added all tasks to the timeline. You can see there are many tasks and milestones in the schedule that will appear in the timeline. The view is messy, and we can’t really tell what exactly is going on, as there are a lot of concurrent activities and “phases.”

Nate Auchter Figure 2

To start to clean up the view and provide some insight into our schedule, I’ll begin by adding a few additional timelines to the view. This is done on the format tab (timeline tools) from within a timeline. Click the “Timeline Bar” button in the “Insert” section to add a blank timeline.

Nate Auchter Figure 3

I’ve now added three additional timelines to the view.

Nate Auchter Figure 4

At this point it’s just a matter of dragging and dropping the tasks I want to move. I’ve decided that I want one “main timeline” that shows the overarching phases of the project, and then I want to break down each phase into key tasks to call attention to. My altered view now looks like the image below.

Nate Auchter Figure 5

This is a great start; however, some of these summary tasks aren’t needed in the view. Perhaps they don’t need the attention on the timeline, so I’ll remove them and begin to focus on the tasks that I care about.

Nate Auchter Figure 6

I think it’s starting to look pretty good, but everything is light blue and not visually distinct enough, so let’s add some color. Colored bars can be created by right-clicking the bar and then selecting the fill color we want.

Nate Auchter Figure 7

Great. Now just one final touch. Because I don’t need all that white space in each of my new timelines, I can change the date range of each timeline to reflect the dates I need. I first need to select my timeline bar, then on the Format tab (Timeline Tools), in the Show/Hide section, click the Date Range button. (Note that if I don’t select a timeline bar first, the button will appear disabled.)

Nate Auchter Figure 1

On the pop-up dialog, we can set start and end dates for each of our timelines. If we don’t specify, the timeline will use the start and end date for the project, so we can simply shorten or hide specific tasks or milestones if we want.

Nate Auchter figure 9

So with a quick modification to the other timeline date ranges, we now have the view shown below.

Nate Auchter Figure 10

Now with my finished view I can use the “Copy Timeline” button on the Format Tab to copy the set of timelines to other Office applications. Or I can simply select one of the timelines and copy that singular timeline to a PowerPoint slide or some other document. There are quite a few other view options that we have on the Format tab, including specifying how many lines of text we want to show (in case we need to wrap text), changing from a bar to a callout and others.

One other great use of this functionality is to show multiple projects at once. I’ll save this project as Project X, then I’ll go to my Project Center (within Project Web App) and open up Project X, Project Y and Project Z all at once in a temporary master project.

I’ve added all the summary tasks and milestones that I care about to the timeline here and color-coded them to allow me to see how these projects overlap. Project X is colored yellow, Project Y is colored orange and Project Z is colored light blue.

Nate Auchter Figure 11

Now with the same process as above I can reorganize the tasks onto multiple timelines and change bars to callouts or remove or add tasks and milestones if I wish. Ultimately, I end up with a great view of these three projects, their summary tasks and milestones. I can clearly see where they overlap, and make decisions around project planning and resource capacity management using this view as an aid.

Nate Auchter Figure 12

I hope you’ve found this article useful in detailing one of the new great features of Microsoft Project 2016 Preview!

Photo: Cropped and resized from an image made courtesy of Gord Fynes; shared through a Creative Commons license (CC BY-ND 2.0).