Proposal Graphics: Communicating Project Management Timelines

Graphics are critical to any proposal process. They can convey a wealth of ideas—from the simplest to the most complex— at speeds up to 60,000 times faster than the written word. Good graphics can increase the chances of a win, while poor graphics can have a detrimental effect on the chance of success.

Gantt charts are often used to communicate project plans, including milestones, dependencies and roles. Data visualization expert Edward Tufte describes a few best practices for creating these timeline maps in his essay, "Project Management Graphics."

Free Content from "Grid Prisons"

Tufte describes the typical Gantt chart as being trapped in a "grid prison." The lines and boxes drawn to delineate items become the strongest visual element instead of the content within. Tufte recommends removing lines and allowing the information itself to shape the timeline.

Illustrate Context and Detail

Tufte states that Gantt charts can be ineffective as aids to manage or track projects because they lack depth and detail. He suggests creating an overview in the form of a context-bar, and displaying more detail about a particular section of a project beneath it. 

In the illustration below, the highlighted area of the context-bar notes the location in the project timeline. The table beneath describes the tasks by role.


Consider Using a Graphical Timetable

Tufte suggests that timetables, such as those used for railway schedules, can communicate timing of activities in an efficient format. Graphical timetables display a whole system, as well as the details of components.

This example of Tufte's design edits to an 1880s era train schedule from Paris to Lyon highlights his presentation of content on a light grid to focus on the data. The intended location of trains along their routes by time is clearer than when the schedule is shown on a dark grid.


Project management timeline illustrations can provide an effective summary of detailed proposal elements. Applying Tufte's principles and techniques can help to make your proposal graphics more clear and impactful.

For collaborating with team members on proposal graphics, Privia's Graphics Reviewer allows your team to review, add comments, and have a virtual discussion simply and efficiently.

Download Video Now: Privia Graphics Reviewer: Collaborate on Image Files

Topic(s): Best Practices