An important aspect of project management is milestones, which are used in order to indicate a critical point in the schedule of a project. Those points can mark the start and end of a project, and a major phase’s completion. Milestones can symbolize anything that’s started or finished, but they’re mostly used as scheduling tools.
Milestones themselves can be considered mini-projects within a project. And they should be taken as seriously as the project as a whole. If a milestone focuses on major progress points in a project, you can see how it is useful in scheduling. In the same way that tasks break up a large project into manageable pieces, milestones are used to provide project managers with guidance about how to plan, schedule, and execute each phase of the project.
Scheduling with Milestones
Milestones help you estimate how long your project will take by marking important dates and events, making them essential for project planning and scheduling. Since they are versatile in nature, they make up an important part of project documents, such as the project schedule, the project charter, and the project schedule plan, because of their versatility.
Additionally, they can be used in scheduling methodologies, such as the Critical Path Method, or in project management tools like Gantt charts, which can be used to determine major scheduling periods for a project. By segmenting the project timeline into intervals, or smaller time frames, you can better control and track your progress.
Using project management software, such as Microsoft Project or Primavera, makes it easy to create a milestone-based schedule and they’re relatively easy to learn. But if you don’t typically run your projects with formal project management software, we at Valens Project Consulting can track projects for you and provide frequent updates on major milestones.
A milestone can be linked to a task, just as a task can be linked to a milestone. As the name suggests, this occurs when a milestone requires the completion of the phase preceding it before the new phase can start. As a result, you won’t be blocking team members by having them wait or by not allowing them to get the things they need to move forward with their tasks by preventing them from doing so.
With this understanding of the role of milestones in the planning and scheduling of projects, let’s define a common concept of project management, that of the milestone schedule, so that we can get a better idea of what it is.
What Is a Milestone Schedule?
A milestone schedule, or milestone chart, is an outline of the timeline of a project that uses milestones to divide it into major phases by using milestones as the dividing lines. As a result of its simplicity, it is often used by project managers or sponsors to share a summary of the project schedule with stakeholders or team members without going into every detail of the project schedule.
How to Decide What’s a Project Milestone
It should be noted that, as mentioned above, project milestones assist in determining the progress of the project by dividing it into phases. A milestone separates the end of one phase from the start of another. It has been established by the project management institute (PMI) that there are five phases involved in project management: initiation, planning, execution, monitoring & controlling and closure. But when exactly do you add the milestones? Too much of anything becomes bad eventually. Project milestones are a great motivation tool but you should be careful not to overuse them.
In the simplest terms, this is the moment when you have completed everything related to that particular phase of the project. For example, completing the project charter is usually the last step in the initiation phase of a project. This would be when you place your milestone to indicate you’re moving from initiation to planning.
It is important to keep in mind, however, that the exact point at which you wish to set your milestones can differ depending on your project, your organization, and other factors. It is always best to seek assistance from experts in the industry and in your own company or team when it comes to solving a problem. The right guidance at the beginning can save a lot of headaches in the long run.
As milestones tend to relate more to time periods than to the completion of specific tasks or project deliverables, the question arises as to whether you can establish milestones that are not related to project phases or stages of the project at all. The short answer is yes. It is possible to set any kind of milestone in a project that you want. The traditional way for projects to be broken down is by phases but you can also create a milestone to denote a significant task, an important event, a deliverable, etc.
Project Milestones Examples
What could be better to explain how to use milestones in project management than some examples? Let’s look at some common project milestones examples for each phase of the project life cycle.
- Project approval
- Start and end of project phases
- Getting your project charter approved
- Securing financing, equipment or resources
- Assembling a project team
- Getting your project plan approved
- Project kick-off meeting
- Completing critical tasks
- Producing key project deliverables
- Reaching project goals and objectives
- Project completion
No matter what industry your project is in, these milestone examples apply. As a project manager, however, you can define the milestones you need to plan, execute, and track your project. At Valens Project Consulting, we always make efficient use of milestones to keep your organization informed while ensuring the project moves along efficiently. Claim your free operation audit today and ensure that your projects and operations are running as efficiently as possible.
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