What are Milestones and How to Use Them in Project Management?

Photo by Luke Southern

team does not have to wait until the end of a project to celebrate their accomplishments. Recognizing project milestones is exciting for any team to be able to appreciate the work they have accomplished. Leaders use milestones as a way to gauge a project’s health. As milestones are fixed points, they can be used for reference to assess how a project is moving along.

A leader can reflect on the projects progress at these markers to evaluate the work completed to date. Further, they can use milestone moments to determine whether or not the project is heading in the right direction. If they discover that the project is veering far off the tracks, they can use the milestone as a moment to regroup with the team to come up with a new plan.

But what exactly are milestones? And how does a team leader decide on milestones when creating a project timeline?

What Are Milestones in Project Management?

Project milestones represent notable achievements that bring a project closer to its completion. A milestone can provide context for understanding how a project is advancing. Not every teammate is aware of the daily steps taken towards the project completion, but milestones allow teams to get a clear picture of the project progress and provide understanding of their part in it.

Milestones are often confused with other project management terms. Let’s see how to differentiate between milestones, deliverables, goals and tasks.

Milestone vs Deliverable

Deliverable is a result of the project processes. There are project deliverables — the outputs of project management efforts such as project plans and reports, and work product deliverables — software, application, contract, test assessment results. Milestones on the other hand are checkpoints and notable points moving the project towards its goal.

Milestone vs Goal

In terms of project management, every project has only one goal — the desired outcome of the project, usually with a specific end date and measurable results. At the same, milestones are smaller goals distributed across the project timeline, marking important checkpoints that contribute to the project goal.

Milestone vs Task

Not every completed task related to a project can be considered a milestone, otherwise milestones would be achieved every minute. Milestones are more significant and meaningful than completing regular tasks. Usually, milestones represent a chunk of work that has been completed, which has more impact than a single task.

How to Identify Project Milestones?

Project milestones usually involve some of the following factors:

  • It is an important achievement that contributes to the project’s success.
  • A team leader makes an important decision related to the project.
  • The project has reached a specific stage marking a percentage of its completion (e.g., 50% done).
  • A deliverable is produced.
  • It involves other special circumstances the project managers deems worthy of recognition.

So to define a project milestone, ask the following questions:

  • Is the task measurable?
  • Does this task reflect a significant achievement in relation to the project’s overall objective?
  • Does this task have consequences if it does not meet the deadline?
  • Does successful completion of this task indicate that the project is effectively progressing?

If you answered yes to all of the questions above, then you’ve identified a project milestone. However, if you have yet to begin the project, it’s important to note that milestones may evolve as the project progresses. Just as details in a project can change, project milestones can change too.

Further, milestones will be different for every project depending on its primary objective and details. For example, consider two projects for website developments. One team might celebrate a milestone after a certain number of webpages are published. However, the other team might not consider this same number as a milestone if their webpages are much shorter in length, meaning they can attain that milestone much easier than the first team. Every team leader needs to consider the specifics of projects to determine what is worth considering a milestone to avoid labeling too many insignificant events as such.

Examples of Milestones in Project Management

Here are a few examples of project milestones you may include in your project plan:

  • Project approval
  • Client and stakeholder approvals
  • Securing financing, equipment or resources
  • Reaching Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
  • Completing critical tasks
  • Producing key project deliverables
  • Reaching project goals and objectives
  • Project completion

These milestone examples can be applied to any project regardless of the industry. However, milestones are not limited by these examples and may include any other important checkpoints that will help you plan, execute and track your project progress.

How to Work Towards Project Milestones

The best way your team can work together towards project milestones is by communicating them. All team members need to be aware of the milestones and understand their role in attaining those milestones. It’s also important to make sure that milestones are clearly defined so that these markers boost your team’s productivity.

Further, if it is clear that a milestone will not be met, a team leader has to consider the repercussions and act accordingly. For example, if the minimum number of webpages required for a website to be published is not completed, the team leader will take the proper steps towards delaying its publishing date.

Using Project Milestones After the Project’s Completion

Project milestones don’t only serve a purpose during the project, and they can also be used as a tool to help with reporting the project’s details following its completion. Even if your team did not meet all project milestones, it could be helpful to reflect on what worked in the project and what didn’t. Often, seemingly insignificant details get overlooked, and reflecting on milestones can bring those details to light so that you do not repeat them on your next project.

To complete your report on the project, consider answering the following to reflect on your project milestones:

  • Were all the milestones met? If not, how many were missed?
  • If any milestones were missed, why did this happen?
  • Was there a significant impact on the project from missing the milestones? If so, what was the impact?
  • Did the milestones achieved hold any real significance to the project’s objective?
  • Which of the milestones were most significant to your team members?
  • What did you do to mitigate the damages caused by missing one or several milestones?

While this reflection process might be painful if an overwhelming amount of milestones were missed, it will help prevent these mistakes from being repeated in the future. Regardless, milestones are a helpful way for measuring a project’s progress. It’s particularly useful for leaders who prefer not to micromanage and would rather utilize the data gathered from milestones to assess what worked well in the project and what didn’t work so well.

Achieve Project Milestones with Project Management Software

For your team to successfully hit the project milestones, your team members need effective project management practices. The easiest way to monitor milestones is by using project management software to ensure that your team stays within your timeline schedule. actiTIME can simplify scheduling and planning so your time can be better spent celebrating the milestones once they are achieved. Any team can benefit from using actiTIME as an effective way to start managing time-sensitive projects.

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