Keep it Simple, Stupid (2/3): Project Date Labels

In this second installment of our KISS series for project reporting, we’ll continue to look at ways to be smart about what you include in a Gantt chart or timeline and what you don’t. This week, our focus turns to dates, which every project manager agrees are a pretty important part of the profession.

How much is too much when it comes to calling out specific dates in a project schedule? Many PMs incorrectly believe that more detail is better when it comes to understanding dates. It’s not. In fact, throwing too many dates at your team or at an executive does nothing more than muddy the waters. Instead of focusing on a few key dates that actually matter, your colleagues get bogged down, lose focus, and ultimately don’t remember which dates are important anyway.

Use the Time Axis

The time axis at the top of your project report is the easiest way to avoid unnecessary detail when it comes to tracking dates:

Time Axis

OnePager Pro allows you to customize the time axis to show whichever units you want. In this example, we’re showing year, month and week. Even at this level of detail, it’s pretty easy to understand what is coming due when.

Don’t Show the Year

If you can’t avoid labeling dates individually, be smart how how those labels are formatted. If your project lasts less than a year, you don’t need to show the year in your date label. In fact, if you have the year on the time axis at the top, you don’t really need to show the year in the date labels for a multi-year project either.

Take a look at the cluttered date labels in the Project A swimlane versus the year-less labels in the Project B swimlane. Project B is much easier to read, and no one is ever going to complain that they don’t know what year your project is in:

No Year Label

Highlight Key Milestones Only

Labeling doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing. In fact, it’s better when it’s not. Take a minute to ask yourself which dates really matter to your audience and which dates are the most important to track. These key dates are the ones where you should show a label. In many cases, this means showing a date for key milestones, but omitting specific mention of dates for any intermediate tasks:

Milestone Only

This option gives you the best of both worlds, focusing on what’s important while maintaining a clean, understandable report.

Until next week, remember to KISS!

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About Safford

Safford is a versatile technology professional with a solid history of empowering emerging growth companies in a broad array of industries. His employment history includes energy industry consulting at Quorum Business Solutions, Senior Manager of Business Development and Technical Sales at telecom service aggregator GetConnected, and Vice President of Strategic Partner Management at electronic payment processor IP Commerce. Prior to his tenure as OnePager's COO, Safford was the company's Vice President of Marketing and Alliances. Safford holds a BA in Psychology and management from Rice University.

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