Building Historical Timelines

To build a historical timeline slide in PowerPoint with Office Timeline Free or Plus Edition  use the historical date feature.  It enables you to enter AD dates that precede January, 1, 1753 in the Gregorian calendar. You can enable the historical date feature by right clicking in any date cell in the Milestone or Task Wizard (see  below).  From there you can enter historical dates back to year January 1, 0001.

If you are using the Plus version for building historical timeline where the year is relevant and the month and day may not be (as shown below), use the Milestone or Task Date Format button on the ribbon and set the date format to YYYY.   Also to vertically re-position your Milestones higher and create connectors, so their text does not overlap (4 examples below), please see How To Re-position Crowded Milestones

History template

Browse the free timeline template collection for more examples or free downloadable templates.

Re-position Project Milestones To Create Space

Complex projects have many milestones which can overlap with neighboring milestones when placed on a timeline.  With Diamond or Triangle milestones markers, the text for each milestone can overlap each other as shown below.  Re-positioning your milestones can help with spacing, allowing you to fit more milestones onto your slide, without having to abbreviate the text description for each.

With Office Timeline Plus edition you can manually position the text and date box of each milestone, and create a connector to it.  This can be done for milestones that are positioned above or below the time band. To do this click on the text box of the milestone you want to re-position and drag it vertically up or down to the new position. Once in the desired new position, click the Accept button on the tool bar which will create a connector to your newly positioned milestone.

Office Timeline Quick Start

This guide shows you how to create beautiful PowerPoint timelines slides in 5 easy steps. Before you get started you will need to have Office Timeline Free edition or Office Timeline Plus Edition installed and activated.  When this is done the Office Timeline ribbon will become available in PowerPoint.  The asterisks throughout this guide indicate functionality available in Office Timeline Plus edition .

STEP 1 – Click New

Start creating your project timeline by clicking the New button.  This launches the Office Timeline wizards which guide you through a couple easy set-up and design steps before creating your customized timeline slide.

STEP 2 – Select a timeline

Choose between a Metro, Gantt, Phases or Intervals style of timeline or use the Template* tab to browse through pre-designed, industry specific, fast-start templates. Click the Next arrow to begin entering your project data.   

STEP 3 – Add Milestones

  • Milestones are reference points that mark the significant events of your project on the timeline, for example “Project Kick-Off” or “Final Release.”

Add the Date for each of your project milestones and type in their Title or use the clipboard button* to paste complete data tables from Excel.  Next, select what Styleyou want your milestone marker to be and choose the color of each marker by clicking on the Color box, for example a red triangle marker or blue flag marker.  You can pick which milestones will be positioned above or Below the Timeband, or use the up/down button to automatically alternate them.  When you are done hit the Next arrow to enter your task information.

STEP 4 – Add tasks

  • Tasks are your project activities which have a start date and which need to be accomplished by a finish date, for example “Design and Develop Phase” or “Sourcing and Procurement”

Enter the Start Date and End Date for your tasks or use the clipboard button* to paste task data from Excel.  Sort and re-position the order of your tasks with the Order* drop down menu.  Choose a Color you would like for each of your task bands.  Click on theShape drop-down and pick the shape you would like for your task bands.  Click the Nextarrow to customize your timeline.

STEP 5 – Style it

Make style and design enhancements on the 4 Style Wizard tabs.

The General Tab is focused on the Timeband. Change the Band’s color and the color of the Text* on the timeband.  You can also enable and choose a color for  Elapsed Timedisplay which graphically displays how much time has passed.  The Today Makerfunction will show today’s date, which can be positioned above or below your timeband. The End Caps function will place the start year on the left of your timeband and the finish year on the right of your time band.   

The Milestone Tab is for formatting for the color, font style and size of your milestoneTextDates and Flag Connectors.  You can also change the color of your flag connectors.

The Task Tab is for formatting Text and Dates and adding extras.  You can turn on the Task Duration count for each task, choose to show it in weeks or days, and place it inside or below the task band. The Auto adjust long titles function will automatically place long task text titles above the task band when they are too long to fit inside the task band. You can also, turn on/off task Connectors here and pick their colors.

On the Scale Tab you can use the slider to change your timeline’s Intervals from months to days, weeks, quarters, or years.  You can also adjust the way the dates are shown on the time band, and you can specify an exact Time Scale rather than using the automatic time span.

Now you are done, click the green Check box and Office Timeline will build the presentation you have created.  To edit your timeline in the future, open it, click on it and the Office Timeline ribbon will become active.  You can now use the functions on the ribbon to make changes or to access the MilestoneTask and Style Wizards for updating your data and design preferences.

Importing and Exporting Excel Data with Office Timeline

In both Office Timeline Plus and in Office Timeline Free edition you can export your project timelines or Gantt templates from PowerPoint into Excel data tables.  Also, in Office Timeline Plus Edition you can quickly create a PowerPoint timeline or Gantt chart by importing your project schedule from Excel.

Exporting

Exporting project schedules back to Excel is an easy two-step process that uses the Chronology Template which is built into the product.  Here’s how:

  1. From your timeline click on the Change button on the Office Timeline ribbon and select the Chronology Table. This will insert a new PowerPoint slide with Milestone and Task data in table format. From there cut and paste the tables into Excel.
  2. From there cut and paste the tables from PowerPoint to Excel.

Importing (requires Office Timeline Plus edition)

If you built your project in Excel or have exported from Office Timeline to Excel, it is simple to paste your project schedule into Office Timeline Plus Edition. Make sure your Excel table columns are formatted to:

  • Milestone Table = Date, Milestone Title
  • Task Table = Start Date, End Date, Task Description

If you need to create space between your milestones after pasting your table please see Re-position Project Milestones To Create Space.

As Office Timeline iterates quickly, expect to see significant data integration enhancements with Excel and other project tools.

Are you running the latest version?  Check our Release Update site here.

Gantt Chart Presentations


A customer recently said something that really stuck with me.  He said that “teams and leadership are all bored to death of looking at complex Gantt charts and project schedules.” This was a senior Project Manager in a global aeronautics company.  My sense was that he has probably worked on some pretty big projects and that he had seen his fair share of Gantt diagrams.   His comment resonated because I have made this mistake in my career.

Over my tenure at a global enterprise, my early Gantt chart presentations must have bored audiences out of their chairs. The type of Gantt chart template my project software produced was too complicated for customer presentations and reviews with management.  Since these presentations were always done in PowerPoint, the Gantt diagrams that my project software produced just didn’t work well.  They were really difficult to present and hard for my audiences to get excited about.  Net, my presentations were not inspiring them.  I needed to build something simple and beautiful like this.Gantt Chart Made in PowerPoint with Office Timeline

Keep in mind these were not deep project reviews, rather they were important high level presentations.  I can categorize these audiences into three groups; my staff, my management and my customers.   Although they were gracious enough to never yawn loudly when I presented a slide with a Gantt diagram pasted on it, I did lose their attention.  These folks needed a different type of project presentation, much lighter, much more graphical and something produced natively in PowerPoint which was their preferred platform for communication.

As I look back the mistake was trying to use my project software or Visio for Gantt chart presentation work.  It was difficult to paste their images into PowerPoint and really hard to finesse them so they looked ok.  Despite best effort and lots of time trying to get these slides into a presentable state the result was never really that good.  They had too much data squished onto each image and the aesthetics were awful.  This is what made it difficult for audiences to follow.    I needed a Gantt chart maker that was native to PowerPoint so the slide could be manipulated, updated, edited and changed in PowerPoint as my project evolved.

Now there is only so much you can fit on a PowerPoint slide, so I also needed to learn which parts of my project schedule were “presentation worthy,” and which parts could be left out of the presentation.   Early on I thought presenting as much Gantt chart detail was the right thing to do.  But overtime I learned to summarize the key milestones and tasks, particularly for presentations to my leadership and to my clients.  When I was able to condense project schedules it was easier to build more engaging slides.  This made it much easier to communicate them and I felt like I could win the management and customer support I needed.

Gantt chart template by Office TimelineThe images above illustrate the difference between the complexity of a Gantt chart that my project management software produces and the summarized view of a PowerPoint Gantt template.  My lesson was to not “shoehorn” complicated project schedules from my project software onto a PowerPoint slide, but rather to summarize them and build them with a native PowerPoint timeline maker.  (see post How to make a PowerPoint Timelineor Gantt Chart quickly.)

Of course there are many scenarios where clients and executives required more than a simple summary level PowerPoint Gantt chart.   For example including a Gantt diagram in project proposals or scoping work.  Presenting richer detail in a clear and easy to read graphical Gantt diagram, like the one below, seemed to make a lot of sense since I would not have to talk through each item in high level presentation.  Rather I would be including them in the project plan documentation.Gantt Diagram made with PowerPoint Timeline MakerThe video below shows how to quickly build and manage Gantt chart presentations in PowerPoint and how to easily expand them into a Gantt diagram that includes another level of detail.

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