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How to use the MS Project Timeline to produce a Plan on a Page (POAP) summary

MS Project comes as standard with the “Timeline” view. This allows you to easily add any task, milestone or summary to the timeline to build a summary “Plan on a Page” report which can be copied for use in PowerPoint etc. The items on the timeline can be coloured to show groupings.

Below is a complex example of a timeline to illustrate the power of this standard functionality.

Timeline view in MS Project to produce a POAP.

There are two ways to add a task to the timeline:

  • Right mouse on the task or selection of tasks and chose “Add to timeline”

Right mouse menu to add a task to the timeline

  • Right mouse outside the timeline in the timeline view and chose “Existing task” and then chose which task(s) you want to add to the timeline.

Chose which tasks are on the timeline using check boxes

Once the tasks are on the timeline MS Project will arrange them so that they don’t overlap. You can now drag them to re-position them in the timeline.

If you right mouse on a task you can select the fill colour for the task. This can be done to multiple tasks at once by selecting them whilst holding the <CTRL> button down.

The timeline can only be used once in each project plan. This means that you can’t tailor your POAP report to different audiences. However, if you have a Master / Sub plan setup you are able to produce a separate Programme Plan on a Page from the Master plan.

Out of the box Microsoft has provided a useful tool, which has improved over the years. However, if you want more flexibility and the ability to combine data from multiple sources or to produce multiple summary plans from the same data you need to use another tool; SummaryPro. The POAP below uses the same data:

A Plan on a Page - POAP - produced using SummaryPro

Below I have listed the relative strengths and weaknesses of Timeline and SummaryPro.

Investment   Cost Free One-off or subscription (offset by efficiency gains)
Learning Curve 10 mins 1 hour as the tool is more flexible.
Software needed MS Project MS Excel and Visio
Display       Milestone position Top and Bottom only Anywhere on the page
Display Baseline? No Yes
Display Progress? Yes Yes
Group tasks into Swimlanes? No - have to use colours to suggest divisions 2 levels with Swimlane titles
Show comments? No Yes - attached to tasks or standalone.
Able to group tasks? No Yes, tasks and milestones flagged together will form a single bar.
Freedom to change the task name? No Yes
Use      Re-position tasks Drag and drop individual bars on the summary Set locations in the Excel engine. Able to do wholesale changes.
Setting colours Individual bars, although you can select multiple. Apply styles with linked legend / key. Fast and easy
Data Source(s) Single MS Project File Many plans across a variety of planning tools
Able to output multiple POAPs from one plan? No Yes
Speed of update Real-time 10-20 seconds
Easy to see which tasks are on the POAP Right mouse can list the tasks however this is hard to use on a large plan. Yes - you can easily see which tasks are related to each bar by their flags

If you have any questions please get in touch.

Miles Goodchild

Miles Goodchild has been a Program and Programme Planner, PMO lead and Project Manger since 1998.  He enjoys using MS Office, especially Project, Excel and Visio to make life easier and simpler.  In the course of this he created SummaryPro.  In this blog he shares some of the tips and techniques he has learnt over the years in the hope that they will be useful to you.