As one of the biggest product management content creators and a product manager with almost eight years of experience, I often stress that there should be a clear difference between product and project management. Mixing them up can result in situations where the product manager simply doesn’t have time to plan, investigate, and discover where their product should go next. The more the product manager lives in the here and now, the less they’re in the future.
But the reality is that it’s never that black and white.
No company I’ve worked with or heard of separated the product manager from the delivery aspect of making a product a reality. If the PM wants to provide meaningful work timelines and have the team reliably deliver the promised increments, setting each project timeline will be a must.
In this article, you’ll learn the best tips for setting project timelines so that you can deliver products with ease.
A project timeline in product management is a visual representation of the tasks, milestones, and deliverables involved in developing and delivering a product or feature live. It shows the chronological order, duration, and dependencies of each activity, as well as the resources and responsibilities assigned to them.
A project timeline helps product managers plan, monitor, and communicate the progress and status of the product development process. This can often be confused with a project schedule, but the schedule is a more comprehensive document that includes detailed information, such as the resources, responsibilities, and processes involved in product development.
Because PMs don’t live in a vacuum, you’re tasked with leading product development and that often means “end-to-end.” A mature organization cares for one main thing: predictability.
As part of the business you need to adapt in order not only to deliver great product updates but also to deliver them within a predictable timeline. Expected results should come when expected.
But before the update hits the live product, one thing needs to be stressed: product development is messy. A lot of things can go wrong and that can range anywhere from bugs, team members getting sick, or finding unknown dependencies.
That is why project timelines are so important. They help determine how long different elements of the project will take and when everything will be ready. This also enables better communication with the stakeholders as well as puts clear deadlines for supporting teams such as design or data analysis.
The common components of a project timeline are:
This is a document that defines the goals, deliverables, and scope of the project. It provides the basis for creating the project timeline and helps you to track your progress.
A work breakdown structure is a graphical tool that breaks down the project scope into smaller and manageable work packages. The WBS helps to identify and organize the tasks, milestones, and deliverables of the project by hierarchy and chronological order.
Ideally, this would be done by your development team (the breaking down of the project) and all you need to do as a PM is to input those chunks into a WBS. However, for bigger projects, you may want to collect a set of tasks into:
These are significant events or achievements that mark the completion of a phase or a major deliverable in the project. Milestones help to track and celebrate the progress of the project, as well as to motivate and align the project team and stakeholders. With each milestone, the project should take shape and be presentable to the stakeholders.
Task dependencies are the relationships between tasks that indicate which tasks must be completed before or after other tasks. Task dependencies help to determine the sequence and duration of tasks, as well as to identify potential risks and delays in the project. It will help you visualize project risks to stakeholders.
If the whole company uses a common tool to flag dependencies (it usually is a part of the WBS), this may help to flag if the selected team has too much on its plate when it comes to its own commitments due to supporting projects of other teams.
This is the estimated time required to complete each task in the project. Task duration helps to set realistic deadlines and allocate resources for the project. Modern code development hardly ever estimates coding tasks in hours. Instead, it’s done using task complexity estimations using a logarithmic scale. Since the work breakdown usually requires tasks to be completed within a sprint, it should be used as the basic time unit for a project timeline.
These are the dates by which tasks or deliverables must be completed. Deadlines help to monitor and control the progress of the project, as well as to communicate expectations and responsibilities to the project team and stakeholders.
Here are the components listed above in a more practical visual demonstration. As you can see, the project of adding online payments to “the product” consists of three milestones:
Selected dependencies are highlighted, but some of them are hidden; For example, the “code wizards” don’t have a dependency on themselves for adding PayPal support, as this relies on the credit card aspect to be completed. It is understandable that the delay in the prior milestone will delay the following one.
For visual clarity’s sake, the work time spent by each team has been color-coded to better tell who is working on what and when.
This is obviously a simplified scenario that can get progressively more complicated when more teams and difficulties are added to the mix. However, the graphic below should help you also build a more complicated version on your own.
While taking risks and succeeding might be the key to your product successes, this isn’t a long-term viable strategy. You have to choose your bets carefully and hope they work out. In the meantime, a project timeline is one of those tools that will help you maintain a steady stream of delivery for solid updates that will build up your reputation as a reliable PM.
While I always say that true product focus requires separation from the delivery part, it’s not currently the reality in agile companies. I hope today’s article will help you build excellent project timeline documents that will result in successful updates. With those you will build enough credibility with the stakeholders to take your big bet when the time is right!
Featured image source: IconScout
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