How To Set and Track Project Milestones

By Indeed Editorial Team

March 19, 2021

Project milestones mark key progress points on the path to achieving a goal and can occur as the result of individual or group efforts. The estimated date of the project milestone will depend on the timeline of the overall task, so project management and planning are essential in the development of milestones. 

What is a project milestone?

A project milestone is a goal that indicates significant progress in a project. Setting milestones may be preferable to looking toward the singular aim of completion, especially when the project is prolonged or multifaceted. Milestones are a series of events that build up incrementally until the project is finished.

Let’s look at an example of what can constitute a project milestone in the construction industry. When project managers oversee new construction projects, they must follow certain steps. The first milestone could be completing the floors within a week. After that, the next milestone may be finishing the roof within a month. By the end of the current month, another milestone would be installing and connecting the gas. All of these are key milestones in a project because they must happen in a certain order for project completion to occur.

Milestones often keep a team motivated working toward common goals. Project managers typically create these milestones at the beginning of a project, and the team agrees upon them to make sure they are reasonable. Project milestones are different from tasks, as teams complete small tasks on a daily basis. Tasks may include ordering supplies during the construction process or making a few phone calls, but milestones are monumental steps in the project.

No matter your final objective, the construction example is a good one to reference. Depending on what type of project you are working on and who is involved in it, some milestones include approving the project, reviewing the requirements and approving the final project.

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How to create project milestones

There are many ways you can set and track project milestones. Here are several ideas to incorporate into your work to make your next project easier:

1. Separate tasks from project milestones

One of the first steps is to identify your milestones in the project. You can typically do this by deciding what parts of the project will be the biggest accomplishments. Write down everything that needs to be done and then see if it is a deliverable or a task. Decide whether the current item will have a big impact on the final deadline. If the answer is no, it is likely a task.

When there is a crucial moment in the project that will help it move forward, it is likely a project milestone. If the project reaches a step that the stakeholders need to review, it is also a project milestone.

The events that are most important in the project should be written out so the whole team can see what they are working toward and make a plan. Some project milestones will have higher significance than others and will need the project manager to take them over while the team works on the smaller ones.

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2. Monitor deadlines

It is helpful to constantly monitor the deadlines you have for each project milestone. One way to make deadlines stand out is to make every deliverable a project milestone. Your team will want to periodically refer to your project plan so they can make sure they are meeting the deadlines that are assigned to them.

Having a visual representation of the project milestone deadlines is a good way to make them stand out. Use a different color or shape so they are obvious in the project plans. You will also want to list out all the tasks each team will need to complete to accomplish each milestone.

For each project milestone, list all the tasks with a box you can check when it is finished. If you have a milestone due in two weeks, check-in with the team to make sure everyone knows what tasks they have been assigned to help with this milestone. As it gets closer to the deadline, make sure a majority of the tasks are complete.

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3. Communicate with all teams

A majority of projects depend on external partners or teams to complete work. To make sure everything goes smoothly, make sure you communicate with those on external teams so they are aware of your project deadlines.

You should also be clear about your expectations for the external teams, any project milestones that involve them and what the timeline looks like. Check-in with teams on a regular basis to make sure they are still on track to meet their goals. All teams need to work together so you can produce the best results.

Methods for tracking milestones

When you have a group of people on the same project management team, they should align on a method for keeping track of milestones and deadlines. This is especially important for the leader, so they can stay organized. Choose a method that works best for you, whether that is writing on paper, communicating through email or using an online management system. Here are examples of each method:

Paper

There can be several advantages to writing plans down on paper. When you have meetings in person, it is very easy to see how a project is laid out when it is written on paper. You can also color-code project milestones to make them stand out more.

Email

Some people prefer using email to keep track of projects, and there are benefits to this, as well. Anyone in the email chain can immediately reply with questions they have or suggestions they want to offer for the project. You also have a record of the communication in case you need to review previous input from your team members.

Online management system

Online management systems are becoming more common to track key milestones for a project. There are many free and paid programs to choose from, and everyone who has a login will be able to access them. You can divide up project milestones and list individual tasks within these. Online management systems make it easy for the person assigned to each milestone to mark them as complete.

An online management system also allows team members to track who is in charge of each task, which aids communication. In addition, everyone can see the progress of their teammates to make sure they are also meeting their goals.

Having a way to set and track project milestones is crucial when you are involved with a large project. It is important to review goals and deadlines with everyone on the team and to continue checking in with them on a regular basis. This will ensure that you finish the project by the deadline and fulfill your client’s expectations.

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