Presenting the outlines of a project to stakeholders, the management or team members have always represented a major pain point for project managers. Let’s face it, most project management software is excessively complicated or lacks the level of standardization that can be achieved through templates. In the absence of any graphic representation, it’s difficult to wrap your head around complex data.
To create compelling project visuals, PMs spend hours every week tweaking and fiddling with the output; quite often, it’s time they don’t have or that could be better spent working on more important tasks.
If you’re confronted with these challenges on a regular basis, rest assured there are solutions that can help. This project management software review looks at Office Timeline, one of the most popular choices in the field, thanks to its intuitive interface, a comprehensive list of professionally designed templates (including roadmaps and swimlane diagrams), PowerPoint integration, and time-saving features.
The app comes in two versions: a PowerPoint add-in and a browser-based, standalone web app. What’s the best one for you? That depends on your priorities. Let’s see what it has to offer and why it might just be one of the best project management tools around.
What is Office Timeline?
Basically, Office Timeline is a roadmap, timeline and Gantt chart maker, all of which are highly popular methods of data visualization in project management. By showing tasks and milestones on a timeband, it becomes considerably easier to determine your progress and stay on track with deadlines. The app only needs you to input titles and dates for your tasks and milestones, and it automatically generates a graphical representation based on the style or template of your choice.
Drag & Drop Editor
Further on the idea of simplicity and intuitiveness, Office Timeline leverages the PowerPoint interface to convey a sense of familiarity. The Edit Timeline section takes users to a workspace where they can make changes to their Gantt charts and timelines by dragging and dropping the tasks and milestones with their cursor. If you’ve opted for a swimlane diagram, you can also drag and drop tasks into different lanes, or you can rearrange the order of the lanes. This feature definitely comes in handy when you’re working with a considerable number of tasks and milestones, because it helps you address possible overlapping.
The Style Pane
Once you’ve generated the timeline or Gantt chart, there’s plenty of customization options available in the Style Pane. You can add your company’s branding elements or color scheme, change the fonts or date styles, define your project’s working days, etc. One feature than can definitely save you time is “Apply to all”: you can start by personalizing a specific element – a single task or milestone – and then apply these properties to all others.
On the same note, it’s worth mentioning that you are even free to apply only certain specific properties to all elements, like color, shape, size, spacing, or outline. Therefore, the app allows for quite a lot of versatility in terms of bulk customization.
Styles and Templates
We’ve mentioned earlier that one of Office Timeline’s greatest strengths resides in its template diversity. The default gallery of free Gantt chart timeline, roadmap and swimlane diagram templates is quite comprehensive and covers niches like IT, law, pharma, education, event planning and many more.
You can also download these Gantt charts and timeline templates completely free of charge, by visiting their website. Another ace up Office Timeline’s sleeve comes from the users’ ability to create, save and reuse the templates they’ve customized with their own branding, which can be immensely helpful in cutting down the time they spend on future presentations.
In addition to repurposing and reusing the templates, Office Timeline conveniently permits sharing them with your team as images or PowerPoint slides from within its interface.
They have been mentioned earlier in our Office Timeline review, but we feel like swimlanes deserve more attention. Here’s why: there aren’t many products in the project management software category that include swimlanes. The project management tools that do have them are generally geared towards creating flowcharts and Kanban boards, rather than roadmaps, timelines and Gantt charts. Swimlanes can be incredibly useful in this context because they allow you to define the team handling a certain type of tasks, the stages of your work, and so on. Therefore, Office Timeline’s capability to make diagrams with swimlanes in PowerPoint is more than welcome.
Office Timeline add-in vs. Office Timeline Online
At the start of our review, we noted that there are two versions of Office Timeline available to users. The add-in requires PowerPoint and will need to be installed locally. Once the installation is complete, it pops up as an extra section in your PowerPoint ribbon tab and grants you access to the controls of the timeline and Gantt chart maker.
Compared to Office Timeline Online, the add-in presents an extra layer of functionalities and perhaps its biggest edge are the swimlanes, which the browser-based version doesn’t include yet.
On the other hand, the online version does bring something unique to the table: real-time collaboration on timelines. To support collaboration, Office Timeline Online also allows you to assign users to tasks, write helpful notes and create folders to stay organized.
Therefore, the choice between the add-in and its browser-based counterpart boils down to whether swimlanes trump collaboration. If you can’t decide, you can always go for both.
The world of project management is rarely simple. PMs often rely on a number of tools to make sense of the data and typing in all the task names and dates can be incredibly time-consuming. Fortunately, the team behind Office Timeline did take this aspect into account and enabled users to import data from popular external applications like Microsoft Project, Excel, Smartsheet, and Wrike. You can also copy-paste data tables into the app from Google Sheets if you’re more of a G-Suite fan.
Plans and Pricing
Both Office Timeline and Office Timeline Online have free and paid versions available. Naturally, the free versions come with certain limitations, like the number of items per timeline or the addition of a watermark to your output; otherwise, they are fully functional and can give you a sense of how the project management software looks, feels and behaves. For the Pro Edition of the add-in, the price is $99 per year, while for Office Timeline Online, the Plus version is currently $59 per year. Their website features a few helpful comparison charts that show you exactly what features you unlock by switching from free to paid.
There’s still room to grow for Office Timeline, and what could really help this project management software reach a broader audience would be expanding the range of project visuals it can render. At the same time, the add-in is exclusive to Windows at this point. Mac users can offset this limitation by switching to Office Timeline Online, which is browser-based, so it’s free from the shackles of any operating system.
Office Timeline is excellent in tackling a number of issues that project managers encounter daily. The in-depth understanding of the PM field and the attention to detail come through in every pop-up window and tooltip. The interface blends so seamlessly with PowerPoint that it feels like an integral part of Microsoft’s presentation software. Simple, clear, and packing multiple professionally designed templates, this tool can guarantee 5-star presentations every single time.