What Are Project Milestones (And How To Use Them)
Project milestones play a vital role in business, helping you to track progress and providing a valuable tool for measuring your team’s success rate. They can be useful in keeping everyone involved in a project aware of its end goal and the various, smaller goals that should be met in getting there. This article will help to define milestones in project management and give you some valuable information on how to use them to move your project forward.
What is a Project Milestone?
Before being able to determine how to best use project milestones, it is important to have a good idea of what they are.
Project milestones help you break down a project into smaller sections so that you have a clear idea of what tasks need to be done and when they should be done by. Unlike deadlines and goals, which can refer to smaller, more specific tasks, milestones tend to be part of the project’s bigger picture.
As an example, when working on a construction project, a goal could be set in place for smaller goals of the construction, while a milestone will refer to a bigger part of the project and when it needs to be done by, as illustrated in the example below:
Get all tools necessary for the project gathered by 8 AM.
Floors will be finished by Monday.
If you are working in a more office-oriented field, like an ad agency, milestones and goals may look more like this:
Brainstorm ideas for client ad.
Present ideas for an ad to the client.
How to Use Project Milestones
Now that you have a better understanding of what a milestone is, here is some information on how you can implement them into effective project management.
Milestones should be used in planning to mark the beginning or end of a significant phase of work, an important deadline or when an important decision is being made.
You should update project management plans once a month to include various milestones as certain developments can affect the way your plan is being carried out. Some months may have more activity than others and you may have to hang on certain milestones while for longer amounts of time while in the execution phase. In any case, it’s a good idea to have at least one milestone in every reporting cycle to ensure your team is working towards its goal.
How to Communicate Project Management Milestones
In order to make sure everyone on your team is on the same page regarding project management milestones, it’s a good idea to create a central image, like a chart, that you can give out to your team or display in a convenient location in your office.
One convenient way to illustrate your milestones and the goals of your project is with a Gantt chart.
A Gantt chart is a chart that shows all the different sub-tasks of a project and how they relate to each other in terms of time. It displays your project schedule and helps keep your team productive. It shows all tasks that need to be done, the amount of time you expect each task to take and the relationship between the various tasks making sure work is completed efficiently and according to plan.
(Image Source: Brandon Freitag)
On these charts, milestones are displayed as diamonds. Completing a milestone will provide your team with a sense of satisfaction and a feeling of moving forward.
If for some reason the Gantt chart doesn’t work for you, there are a number of alternatives you can use. These include task lists, spreadsheets, flow diagrams, Kanban boards and status reports.
Naming Key Milestones (incl. Project Milestones Examples)
Milestones should only be identified in the most general terms. They should not fully describe the task, but only what the task represents. Tasks may be added to your chart which may provide a more comprehensive description of what the milestone entails, but they are their own entity and should be designated as such.
For example, again referencing an ad agency situation, Phase 1 may include working up to client approval on an ad while Phase 2 might refer to the actual execution of producing the ad.
Keeping that in mind, here is an example of how tasks and milestones might be communicated to your team:
Create a presentation.
Although it is not necessary to number milestones, many marketing project managers choose to do this to avoid confusion. Keeping track of milestones can be especially difficult for projects that span several months so figuring out a way to differentiate each milestone can be helpful when communicating with your team.
Communicating with Project Milestones
Project milestones can also be useful in helping create progress reports for your project. Looking back on your plan, you should be able to pull the tasks out and the milestones should provide you with all the necessary information on how your project is moving forward.
These milestones can be helpful when you are creating a report for a client, sponsor or supervisor in your office. In many professional situations, it is likely you will have to prepare some sort of progress report on a regular basis to show your sponsors or superiors how you are progressing. The milestones should provide you with all the details you will need to present them with the information they are looking for.
(Image Source: The Agile Warrior)
When thinking of the format conventionally used to report these milestones, a table is often used. Here, you will list the milestone description, the date it was due and the new forecasted due date. Completed milestones will be added as well, along with the date they were completed.
Although these tables will make it obvious that certain goals weren’t achieved on time, examining them in advance can offer some time for reflection so you are able to answer the higher-ups when they ask why you weren’t able to hit a certain milestone when it was due. It will also help you look at your project and see where improvements can be made.
Since longer projects will tend to have a lot of milestones, limit your report to include only milestones that have been completed or are pending for the current quarter. This will make less work for you and also allow your sponsor or higher up to better focus on the progress that has been made recently, and what still needs to be done.
How to Use Project Milestones Effectively
Although milestones can be useful in keeping a project on track and keeping employees motivated, project managers must know how to use them to make sure they are effective. Here are some things to keep in mind when implementing milestones in your project planning.
Because milestones can work as a motivational technique, project managers may have the tendency to overuse them. They do this by identifying tasks and other less significant goals as milestones. This frequency of use can make meeting milestones seem more commonplace and can actually cause workers to become less motivated overall.
Be sure to limit milestones to goals that can be considered junctions on a critical path and important deliverables.
While it is important not to present milestones too frequently, it is also important not to space them too far apart. This will cause your staff to lose momentum and motivation. Ideally, try to space milestones so they land approximately two weeks from each other.
When establishing milestones, all workers should be on the same page. Project managers should be sure that their team is aware of each milestone by distributing the necessary charts or spreadsheets to each team member and keep them displayed prominently in the workplace.
Every member of your team must realize the importance of meeting milestones in a timely fashion. If they are unable to do so, this is an issue that needs to be addressed immediately. If your team is unable to meet a milestone by its due date, a discussion should be held as to why this happened and what can be done to increase productivity in the future.
Not every milestone will be met with success, and that’s okay. In fact, it’s a good idea for project managers to create milestones which may be more difficult to meet and may end up in failure. This can provide a learning experience for workers and give them something to aim for in the future.
Milestones in MS Project
Using project milestones in your planning can be an effective way to keep your workers on track and can make scheduling and reporting easier. Try different methods to see how you can best integrate them into your project management. Then see how they can work to move your project along smoothly allowing you to get work done more efficiently than ever.
Max is a SaaS enthusiast and loves actionable content that provides direct value.