What Are Milestones in Project Management?

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Key Takeaways

  • Milestones in project management mark important points of progress in the project life cycle.
  • Knowing your priorities as a team is needed to determine your project milestones.
  • Project milestones help facilitate allocation of focus and resources.

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What are Project Milestones?

Project milestones are reference points in your project’s life cycle that mark important stages of progress. Each milestone allows you to evaluate the project’s incremental progress with scrutiny, while having clearly defined checkpoints to ensure you’re headed in the right direction.

How Do You Set Project Milestones?

As a project manager, it is essential that you know how to identify project milestones. Here is a guide to help you get started:

  • Know your project objectives. Setting milestones starts with knowing what the project aims to achieve. These objectives serve as the foundation of what your project milestones should be, so it’s important that you understand them.
  • Dissect the project into phases. Splitting the project into smaller stages helps you set milestones that are realistic and attainable. This will also help you create a roadmap toward achieving the project’s primary goal.
  • Identify essential deliverables. Finishing a deliverable that is essential to the completion of the entire project signifies progress. It is important to be able to identify what these key deliverables are when determining project milestones.

Read more: Deliverables in Project Management


  • Follow a reasonable frequency. Having too many milestones to work toward is not beneficial for your team, but setting too less is also counter-productive. When creating milestones, make sure they are not too far apart or too close.
  • Involve your team. Project milestones should be created by all team members and known to everyone involved in the project. Having them in place will keep them motivated, ultimately boosting productivity.

Project Milestone Examples

Project phases

Marking the beginning and the end of each project phase is a good option for projects that tend to progress in a linear way, such as those following a waterfall methodology. Event planning and construction, for example, tend to move forward methodically after every step is finalized.

Example: Event Management
Project PhaseMilestone
Conception & InitiationEvent Pitch & Proposal (June)
Definition & PlanningEvent Planning (July-October)
Launch or ExecutionEvent Pre-ion (November-December)
Performance & ControlEvent ion & Execution (January)
Project CloseEvent Evaluation (February)

Important resources and approvals

Dependencies can be crucial for outsourced teams working with clients or in-house production teams reporting to an external board. If your project’s progress is dependent on green lights from stakeholders, you can organize your milestones around completing requirements and gaining approval.

Examples:

  • Successful prototype for an investor pitch
  • Budget request approval
  • Proposed feature set approval

Events

If your project completion is tied to a business or marketing goal, you can plan around launch dates and marketing events. Likewise, consider known operational disruptions when making milestones. Anticipate circumstances that can disrupt your team’s progress, so the project can reach a pre-planned stage of progress before they come.

Examples:

  • Target launch date for a product or its features
  • Sales events and conventions
  • Long holidays that can halt team momentum
  • Scheduled outages or maintenance

Core features and deliverables

Many software development teams use the agile method because they deal with a lot of ambiguity. Agile projects can evolve along the way, and the final product won’t always end up being what was initially planned. For such projects, forming milestones around core features can be a good solution. This will allow the team to build in increments and welcome important changes as they go.

Examples:

  • Minimum viable product (MVP)
  • Content complete
  • Feature complete
  • Software updates
  • Post-launch patches and fixes

Critical tasks

Operational tasks that allow for swifter development can also be marked as milestones. At certain stages, consider prioritizing important plans or resources that will help your team along the way.

Examples:

  • Procuring an important development kit
  • Completing the project team
  • Finalizing project estimates
  • Completing the project roadmap

The way you determine milestones can be different for each phase of your project. There will be times when operational and management tasks are paramount. But there will also be instances when progress will rely heavily on your production team. Use a combination of milestone types in a way that fits your needs.

Benefits of Project Milestones

Here are the ways milestones can help facilitate project management.

  • Identify potential bottlenecks and make better estimates. By focusing on digestible steps, you and your team can more effectively identify factors that will get in the way of your progress. Apart from tasks, it’s also important to allocate time for contingencies when making project estimates. Anticipate blockers and plan accordingly. This way, their negative effects can be managed and minimized.
  • Allocate focus and resources. Projects can feel daunting and overwhelming. Clear milestones can help your team focus on what’s in front of them, instead of worrying about what they need to do ten steps ahead. Milestones can also help you better line up your resources. At each step, you’ll easily see key tasks and persons that will take center stage. This will enable you to focus on them better and offer assistance when needed.

Read More: What Is Project Quality Management?


  • Align teams and stakeholders. As you progress in the project, reporting on the status of each milestone is an easy way to communicate how near—or far—you are from achieving your goals. Project milestones will put your team and your stakeholders on the same page. They clarify priorities and provide tangible success indicators.
  • Avoid scope creep. Having clear goals for each stage of project execution helps you evaluate the implications of new requests. As a project manager, this allows you to spot and filter incoming scope creep. By communicating how a request affects current and future milestones, concerned parties will have better information to assess if it’s necessary.

Introducing project milestones is an effective way to ensure productivity and alignment with business goals. Designate them according to your project’s, team’s, and stakeholder’s priorities. When milestones are done right, you can be sure that you’ll maximize their benefits to your project operations.


Read next: Agile Manifesto Principles and Values

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