Milestones are enormously beneficial in project management. Vital to tracking performance and keeping everyone well informed of project progress, milestones can be used to ensure even the most complex projects run smoothly.
In this article, we’ll discuss milestones in detail, taking you through the different types of milestones you’ll find in project management before explaining how milestones can be used effectively for tracking and monitoring.
Read on to find out more about how to make the best use of milestones in your project management strategy.
What Are Milestones?
A milestone is a point in a project that signifies that something has been accomplished. The number of milestones in a project can vary quite significantly, depending on its complexity and scale.
Milestones will usually note the start and completion of a project, but can also be used to mark the close of different phases of work, or project deliverables. They’re crucial in project management because when a milestone is reached, all teams involved are immediately aware of where they stand and how the project is progressing.
Definition and Significance
Milestones can be defined as certain points in a project that can be used to mark how far the project has progressed, and how far it is from competition. They’re a reference point that is easily understood by all involved. Sometimes, milestones are also used at branching points in a project, where decisions need to be made before work can continue.
Milestones vs. Tasks: Key Differences
Milestones are quite different to tasks in project management. A task can be used to describe a wide range of pieces of work that might be required for a large project. A milestone, on the other hand, is a marker of a much more significant achievement in the life cycle of the project.
The Importance of Milestones
We’ve talked about what milestones are, but now it’s time to consider why they’re so vital in project management. Of course milestones help to bring teams together and keep everyone aware of progress, but they’re also enormously important when it comes to achieving success.
Milestones as Progress Indicators
Tracking progress is an integral part of good project management, and milestones make this job infinitely easier. When milestones are used, project managers can make more accurate estimates of timescales. This is enormously helpful when it comes to the planning and scheduling of future tasks.
Aligning Milestones with Project Goals
When aligned with project goals, milestones become more valuable still. Project managers will often use milestones to help with the goals that make up the bigger picture, from those deadlines that can’t be missed, to budgeting and expectation management.
Milestones also help managers make the best use of the resources they have available, improving the overall effectiveness of their teams.
Types of Milestones
Milestones are hugely versatile, which is why you’ll find a whole range of different types of milestones in widespread use within project management today.
Common types of milestones include time-based milestones, deliverable-based milestones and approval-based milestones, but this is by no means an exhaustive list.
Let’s take a closer look at these different types of milestones.
A time-based milestone is a milestone which ends on a predetermined date, or after a predetermined period of time has passed. We see these milestones used in two-week sprint cycles, but they can also be used for monthly tasks such as the planning of a monthly content calendar.
Deliverable-based milestones are amongst the most common forms of milestone we see used in project management. These milestones denote the completion of a specific phase of work, and the achievement of a certain deliverable. The deliverable itself is a quantifiable item that has been created in order to achieve this type of milestone.
Approval-based milestones clearly show how far a project has progressed. Project managers will often use these milestones at certain points in the project, ranging from the approval of the project itself marking the start of work, through to the approval of specific deliverables such as designs or prototypes.
Creating Effective Milestones
The impact milestones can have depends on how effective the milestones are to begin with. And that’s why it’s so important that project managers take the time to create quantifiable milestones that really work for their teams.
SMART Criteria for Milestones
When planning milestones, bear the SMART criteria in mind. Milestones should always be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. If planned according to this criteria, resultant milestones are far more effective when it comes to tracking progress.
Milestone Attributes and Labels
Attributes and labels can be used to further define milestones, adding another level of depth and context that will help teams understand the role they have to play in the achievement of different milestones.
Monitoring and Tracking Milestones
Milestones must be tracked and monitored throughout the lifecycle of a project. The way in which project managers choose to do this varies, but simple project management software often proves invaluable in the effective tracking of a whole range of different milestones.
Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
Key performance indicators go hand in hand with milestones in helping to establish how successfully a project is being run, and how likely it is to achieve its goals.
Enormously helpful in tracking and monitoring milestones overall, KPIs are metrics that provide quantitative data on how well a project is going, in light of its goals.
Tools and Software for Milestone Tracking
Thankfully, manual milestone tracking and monitoring is now a thing of the past. There are some great tools and software now available to project managers, created with milestone tracking in mind.
Hello Ivy takes the guesswork out of milestone tracking, putting everything teams need in one place. Designed for speed and performance, Hello Ivy gives everyone access to a noise-free inbox, project overview and real-time updates on the tasks and milestones that matter to them.
Milestones in Hello Ivy's Project Management Software
Hello Ivy simplifies milestone management, with an intuitive dashboard designed for clarity, not chaos. The project management software provides real-time task management that helps teams move forward.
With Hello Ivy, team members have the ability to create tasks and subtasks in seconds, adding due dates to keep everyone on track as they move towards the milestones that matter.
The project management software means that tasks can be easily assigned and prioritised, and subtasks can be added as needed. Team members can then choose to view their tasks on a Kanban board, in a list view, a timeline or on a calendar. Project milestones are fully visible to all involved in the project, and everyone can be easily updated when milestones have been achieved.
Best Practices for Milestone Management
Milestones can make a profound difference to the success of any project, but of course the potential of individual milestones relies hugely on how they are used. Let’s take a look at some best practices for milestone management.
Communication and Collaboration
Integral to good project management, communication and collaboration can make or break a milestone strategy.
First and foremost, milestones should be clearly communicated at the outset of any project. Real-time updates are important in ensuring no team member is ever left out of the loop, and it’s vital that project managers provide team members with the opportunity to collaborate and share ideas as work progresses, particularly in the run-up to important milestones and decision-making points.
Adapting to Changes in Milestones
Milestones are typically created at the outset of a project, but this doesn’t mean there’s no room for flexibility in project management strategies like these. In fact, it’s down to project managers to ensure that there is scope for changes to milestones, even when deadlines are looming and work is nearing completion.
Great planning is one thing, but organisations will often come up against challenges that no one could have expected. In situations like these, it’s down to the project manager to adjust milestones and equip teams with the resources they need to adapt to these changes.
Celebrating Milestone Achievements
Never underestimate the power of motivation within teams. As milestones are reached, mark the occasion with a celebration of what has been achieved so far.
Remember, milestones are used to signify considerable achievements in the life cycle of a project, and that means huge amounts of work that has been completed by teams involved. Celebrate successes and show appreciation to keep motivation levels high as you move forward.
Common Challenges in Milestone Management
There are a number of common challenges in milestone management that it pays to be aware of. Some of the challenges that crop up most often involve resource allocation and scope creep, but dealing with missed milestones can also be problematic for project managers.
Scope Creep and Milestone Changes
Scope creep refers to an issue that’s all too common within project management.
When new features or functionality are requested, workloads can grow quite significantly, which has a knock-on effect on milestones and milestone management. The issue can also affect milestones themselves, for instance when a milestone is updated to include more deliverables than it had initially.
Resource Allocation for Milestones
Resources are carefully planned according to the overall availability of resources for the project, and any relevant budgets.
If resources prove insufficient, or availability changes at the last minute, it can affect the timescale in which milestones can realistically be achieved. This has the potential to negatively impact motivation within teams, if they feel that workloads are no longer achievable.
Dealing with Missed Milestones
Milestones are brilliant when everything is going well, but in the real world it’s rarely plain sailing.
Missed milestones can be hugely challenging, as they signify potential problems in the project which must be dealt with swiftly to avoid further delays.
A missed milestone is also likely to affect the scheduling of future tasks and milestones, so adjustments will often be required to ensure that future milestones remain relevant and achievable.
Future Trends in Milestone Management
Milestone management has changed dramatically in recent years, thanks to the advent of increasingly intelligent tools designed to lighten the load of project managers as they oversee projects of incredible complexity. And if the last few years are anything to go by, we can expect some transformative developments in this field in the future.
Artificial Intelligence and Predictive Milestone Analysis
Artificial intelligence is set to change the world, and milestone management could be one area where AI makes a dramatic difference.
Algorithm-based systems could be used to make increasingly accurate predictions that will help project managers to create and manage milestones in a range of different projects.
Look out for some incredible developments in the world of predictive milestone analysis over the coming years.
Agile and Flexible Milestone Planning
Adaptability is vital in project management, but milestones aren’t something that have often been thought of as incredibly flexible.
This looks set to change, though, as increasing numbers of project managers start exploring the options of flexible milestone planning as they set out their plans for the future.
Over the course of the next few years, we’re predicting a huge rise in the popularity of more flexible milestone planning methods, helped by the advent of smarter tools that will free up time for project managers as they pursue goals in the most efficient ways possible.
Milestones as the Cornerstone of Project Success
The cornerstone of project success, milestones have some brilliant benefits to bring to the table.
A great way of tracking progress and keeping everyone on the same page, milestones are also crucial when it comes to allocating budgets and resources. And let’s not forget the enormous impact that milestones have on motivation and performance, particularly when key successes are marked and celebrated accordingly.
Start Implementing Milestone Management Today
Start implementing milestone management today and boost the potential of your teams as you work towards the goals that matter most right now.