Timelines show the lifespan of a project or process in a linear format that includes tasks, milestones, and intervals, as Figure 12-2 shows. A timeline can help you visualize a sequence of events or the high-level tasks associated with a complex project. Whether you're trying to keep track of hiring processes, development timelines, product release schedules, or project cycles, a Visio timeline can clarify critical milestones.
To create a timeline in Visio, you start with the Timeline template in the Project Schedules folder. You can enter starting and ending dates to generate an initial timeline, and then use the shapes on the Timeline stencil to provide details. Or you can import existing schedule information from a text, Excel, or Project file.
Figure 12-2. A timeline clarifies project milestones.
When you start a diagram with the Timeline template, Visio opens a letter-sized, landscape-oriented drawing page and the Timeline Shapes, Backgrounds, and Borders And Titles stencils. Visio includes six styles of timeline shapes for you to choose from, which differ only in their look on the page: Block Timeline, 1-D Timeline, Ruler Timeline, Divided Timeline, Cylindrical Timeline, and Chiseled Timeline. When you drag a timeline shape from the stencil, Visio prompts you to set start and end dates, specify a time scale, and choose formatting options in the Configure Timeline dialog box, as Figure 12-3 shows. When you click OK, Visio adds the timeline to the drawing page.
After the basic timeline is in place, you can add milestone shapes for the events or tasks you want to track. Visio can even update milestone dates as you move milestone shapes along the timeline.
Follow these steps to create a timeline:
Figure 12-3. When you drag a timeline shape onto the drawing page, the Configure Timeline dialog box appears. If you don't specify starting and ending dates, Visio uses today's date and a six-month duration.
To document important tasks, events, and hand offs, you can add milestone shapes to your timeline. The Timeline Shapes stencil includes several styles of milestones. Milestone shapes snap into place on timeline shapes. A few, such as the Cylindrical Milestone, are intended for use with a specific style of timeline shape. Even so, the milestone shapes differ only in their look, so you can use the one that looks best to you. Like the timeline shapes, milestone shapes prompt you for date information when you add them to the drawing page.
Follow these steps to add project milestones:
Even if you drop a milestone on the drawing page away from the timeline, Visio snaps the milestone to the timeline shape, displays the Configure Milestone dialog box, and sets the milestone date based on the shape's position on the timeline.
After typing a milestone or interval description, the date disappeared.
If you accidentally type over the milestone or interval dates when you add the description text, you can restore them. Right-click the shape, and then choose Show Date (for milestone shape) or Show Dates (for interval shapes).
Intervals show the starting and ending dates of a task or process, as Figure 12-4 shows. The interval shapes on the Timeline Shapes stencil aren't quite as smart as the milestone shapes—after you have added an interval to the timeline, you can't change its look as you can with milestones.
Figure 12-4. Interval shapes snap onto a timeline to show ongoing tasks.
Depending on the size of your timeline, an interval shape can obscure markers or milestones. Remember stacking order? You can change a shape's stacking order so that it appears on top or in back with the Order commands on the Shape menu.
Follow these steps to add an interval to a timeline:
Like milestone shapes, interval shapes snap to the timeline even if you drop them elsewhere on the page.
To capture a different view of your project, you can create a Gantt chart based on the dates in a Visio timeline. Choose Tools, Macros, Project Schedule, Export Project Data Wizard. The wizard uses the milestone and interval dates in a timeline to specify starting and ending dates. You can then add the additional project information that a Gantt chart can display.
For details about Gantt charts, see "Scheduling Projects with Gantt Charts."