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K-State Today

June 8, 2011



Linking updatable data to a timeline with Microsoft Visio

By Shalin Hai-Jew

Manually building various informational graphics can be time-consuming and tedious, particularly if the data is continually changing. One feature of Microsoft Visio 2010 enables the integration of existing information from a variety of sources -- an Excel workbook, an Access database and others -- to be pulled into an informational graphic. This also enables easy updating of previously connected data for an engaging and up-to-date visual.

First, open Visio and in the File Menu, go to New. You will be asked to choose from a range of templates.

Select Project Timeline by clicking the highlighted template. Then click the Create button at the right, just below the image of the timeline.

The workspace is defined as follows in the sample provided by Microsoft Visio of the fictional Contoso Pharmaceuticals.

Using the premade timeline as a template for the building of a new timeline, you will be going to the Data tab in the menu bar in order to change the information that is in the timeline.

At the top left of this tab, go to Link Data to Shapes. When you click that, you will see a Data Selector window.

Click the radio button next to your selection to indicate the type of data that you would like to import. For this example, we will be using a Microsoft Excel workbook. Make sure that the first row of items contains labels for the information below.


You will be asked to locate the file. Once you’ve found it, click Next.

The next slide clarifies that all data from each row and column will be included.


Click Next once you’ve made your selections. The next window reads: “Configure Refresh Unique Identifier.” This feature enables the timeline to be updated as the data in the Excel Workbook are updated.

Going with the default assumes that your data is labeled appropriately by what is at the head of the columns. (This will mean that as the Excel Workbook is updated, the former structure is maintained.)

Click Next for the screen, or go directly to Finish.

The External Data window below will be refreshed.


Click on the timeline elements in the workspace that are not related to your project, and delete them. If there are any text elements and tables that you do not want, you can delete those. Or, you may use a Ctrl + A to delete all elements. To change the name of the file, go to the VBackground-1 tab to make the change. That tab is directly to the bottom left of the workspace.

To change the “Project Launch Timeline,” you must go to the Design tab, change the design theme…and then you’ll be allowed to make a change to that text.

To relate data back to a particular shape, you will first need to drag the timeline shapes onto the workspace. Once those have been placed, you will be dragging each of the column elements onto the various objects.

To create a timeline, highlight “block timeline” in your Timeline Shapes column at the right. For our purposes, we’ll use the fictional dates set up in the Excel chart. (Be sure that you’re back on Page 1 and not on Background. The Background is used to create recurring uneditable elements. Because a timeline should be malleable and should change with new information, it would not be advisable to place a timeline on the background.)


Click OK.

Next, we want to place events on the timeline. In the Timeline Shapes area, choose how you want particular dates to be represented. For this example, we will use a Pin milestone.


To place events on the timeline, go to the External Data below, and drag each event onto the work space.

As each element appears on the screen, a “Configure Milestone” window appears for you to verify the information. Just click OK, and the event will go automatically to the correct space in the timeline. Simultaneously, the External Data will show a link next to the dates that have been linked into the timeline. In the following screen capture, the first four dates have been expressed on the timeline, but the latter three have yet to appear.

Different types of symbols may be used to indicate different types of milestones. To update the data, go through the same processes as before in terms of uploading a new updated Excel Workbook with new data, and either manually update the timeline or use the automated update feature.