Project Milestones: A Necessity in Project Management

Milestones are crucial in managing a project, especially one of a large or complex scope. Project managers who employ methods of tracking milestones are likely to enjoy success in the projects they undertake. Learning how to plan and space milestones will make your team more engaged and efficient when working on projects since they’ll know exactly what they need to complete. 


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Where to begin with creating project milestones

A project milestone marks a key achievement that contributes to a larger goal. Project milestones help teams track their progress when working on projects, and allow a project manager to see what has been done during a specific time frame. Milestones also:


  • Act as deadlines within the larger scope of a project by making each milestone a deliverable
  • Highlight important dates, such as a holiday, training or other events that will take away from the project schedule
  • Identify potential bottlenecks in advance so you can adjust the plan accordingly

Creating milestones can be as simple as identifying the overall scope of the project, identifying needed tasks and assigning those tasks to team members with dates attached. The typical timeframe between milestones is about a month, but some project management methods, such as Scrum, use one- or two-week cycles. Choose whatever timeframe makes the most sense for your team and the deliverable. 


Milestones should be clearly identified on your project schedule as an important date without a task attached to it. If reaching the milestone requires a task to be completed, add the task before the milestone to continue. For example, if the milestone is "go to print," but a signed contract is required before going to print, add the task "get signed contract to go to print" just before the milestone. 


Three crucial steps for establishing project milestones

Use these steps for creating a project timeline and establishing clear milestones:


  1. Establish a clear end goal
  2. Put tasks in reverse order
  3. Assign tasks for reaching milestones


1. Establish a clear end goal

Start by establishing an end goal that is clear, detailed and precise. If the end goal is to produce a finished product, you must clearly identify the requirements for considering the project finished. For example, if the goal is to produce a finished e-commerce site, you must be able to define what quantifiably constitutes "finished." While one developer may consider a basic framework "finished," another may say that the job isn’t done until there are five blog posts, 25 items in the e-boutique and established automation of weekly emailed sales announcements.


Establishing a clear set of requirements, a specific breakdown of steps and the resources required will save your team time and energy and ensure that everyone is in agreement about what the goal of the project is. 


2. Put tasks in reverse order

Once a clear, specific goal is established and communicated to each member of the project team, you can start working backward to determine the steps required to achieve said goal. Each of these steps is a milestone, and each milestone is achieved due to the result of completing a certain set of tasks. 


It’s important to keep milestones and tasks separate. Attaching each task to the overarching desired outcome forms a clear perspective of the time needed for each individual task as well as the collective of all of the tasks. Working backward also ensures that no tasks are forgotten, and illustrates how each step relates to the others. 


3. Assign tasks for reaching milestones

When the team is collectively in agreement with the scope of the project and its goal, divide the action steps among the members of the team. Consider the strengths, interests and schedules of each team member when assigning the tasks so you can meet your milestones one time. Consider giving team members tasks that help them learn new skills or develop professionally. 


Related: How to Create a Performance Improvement Plan


Top tips for meeting project milestones

Keep these tips in mind when you develop project milestones:


  • Monitor continuously: When undertaking a large or complex project, it’s important to continuously monitor the progress. Milestones are helpful for tracking individual progress, especially if they’re established as deadlines for deliverables. This will encourage your team to monitor their own timelines in order to meet individual deadlines. 

  • Get visual: Visual tracking of project milestones is another effective way to ensure that they aren’t lost or forgotten. Many teams utilize Gantt charts, which is a bar chart, but you could use collaboration software, checklists or any other type of tracking tool that works for your team. 

  • Communicate often: Communication between team members is one of the most important things to do throughout a project. Regular check-ins with individual team members can allow you to track their progress and keep them on schedule, and team meetings can create an open space for questions, concerns or clarifications. Make adjustments to the tasks or timelines based on their feedback.

Related: Employee Evaluation Form


Project milestone FAQs

The following questions are commonly asked about creating project milestones:


What are some best practices when planning project milestones?

Milestones are control points in the process of an overall project. This not only helps the team to stay on track but also provides accountability to executives, investors and other stakeholders. In the process of creating your project timeline, schedule the projected completion date of key milestones to help upper management establish expectations.


How many tasks should I need to complete a project milestone?

Depending on the milestone timeline, purpose of the project and how many team members you have, you could have 10 or 100 tasks. As long as each task has a definite purpose and contributes to the milestone, add as many as you need. Make sure each team member receives an equal number of tasks so you can stay within your schedule. 


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