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What is Project Milestones? Uses and Definition

Understanding and Setting Project Milestones

When it comes to running any project successfully you need to know how to get from beginning to end. While it may seem simple or you may think it’s all about the tasks, the truth is milestones are the most important part. Sure, you need to complete the tasks within the project. And you need to focus on the ultimate deadline. But if you’re not creating milestones throughout the project you’re going to find yourself struggling to maintain the pace that you need or struggling to know if you’re on the right track. That’s where project milestones come in.

What Are Project Milestones?

Project milestones are specific things that you need to have done for the project within a specific amount of time. These are the places in the timeline that you expect to have some measurable level of work completed that can either be turned in to a project manager or even to a client. Milestones need to be somewhat major rather than just being the minor tasks that you’re completing on a day-by-day basis. That’s because their purpose is to help you know if you’re going to finish the project on time.

Now, the important thing here is that you’re also going to be letting others know how you’re doing on the project. Those milestones can help you showcase just how far you’ve come and how much further you have to go. By looking at the milestones that you’ve achieved your team can see the progress and so can a client. They can see that you’re moving forward and that you’re putting a lot of time and effort into their project rather than just waiting until the last minute. These milestones can be deliverables or they can just be signposts that you use along the way to mark your progress.

Why You Need Project Milestones

When you set up project milestones you’re deciding when specific things need to be completed by. When you reach the deadline set for that milestone you can look at where you are on the project scope and whether you’ve achieved the things that you wanted to achieve. If you have then it means you’re likely on target to meet the overall deadline. If you haven’t it means you’ll need to speed up or you may need to adjust your final deadline in order to be able to complete everything that needs to be done.

You may need project milestones just to make sure you’re on track. You might need them in order to keep the client apprised of what’s going on with their project. You also might need them to show your boss that everything is moving along or that your team is really getting the work done. These milestones are going to help everyone stay accountable and they’re going to allow you to keep an eye on everything. All you need to do is set up the milestones that are necessary for your project.

How to Set Project Milestones

Just how do you go about setting up project milestones? Well, it’s going to require you to take a close look at the overall goal of the project and the tasks that make it up. What all needs to be completed in order to consider the project a success?  Write down the final deliverable that you need to provide and the deadline that has been decided. You may want to write down a deadline that’s earlier than the agreed-upon one in order to give yourself somewhat of a buffer for problems.

Then, write out each of the major things that need to be done along the way in order to reach the deadline. What are the major tasks that would tell you that you’re on track? Those are your project milestones. You want to make sure they’re spaced out throughout the length of the project. You might have one each month for a shorter-term project or one every quarter for a longer-term project. The goal is to have a setup that works for the type of project that you’re working on.

Keep in mind that a milestone doesn’t necessarily have to be a single task. It can be a set of tasks or it could be finishing the design aspect of the project or finalizing the blueprints. There are a number of different types of things that could be considered your milestone. The most important aspect is that it’s essential to the completion of the project and that it will let you know whether you’re on track or not. It also needs to have a firm deadline so you know if you’re going to follow through with the rest of the project within the agreed-upon amount of time.

Where to Add Project Milestones

We mentioned that project milestones should be key points in your project. But they should also be areas where you might struggle or have some type of problem. You might find a specific area in your project that requires a task completed by one department in order for the next department to do what they need to do. If that’s the case this might be a good spot to have a project milestone. After all, this is an important handoff that needs to happen in order for the project to be completed. If the first department isn’t done on time the next department won’t be able to get started.

Another area to add in project milestones is if you need to get approval from your client or a higher-up within the company in order to continue. If the client wants to evaluate the progress every two months then you’ll need a milestone every two months to show them some progress. If they want to approve one portion of the project before you continue that’s a milestone as well. The same goes for a boss who wants to do any of these things. You need to make sure that you have a milestone set up to get them the updated information.

Create Milestones in Your Gantt Chart

Now, what if you have Gantt charts set up for your project and you want to add in milestones? It’s actually a very simple process, which is another reason that Gantt charts are such a great way for you to keep track of everything. When you first set up your project you’re going to have the opportunity to put in as many tasks, deliverables, and dependencies as you want. That makes it easy for you to create the type of project that you need for any aspect of your business.

Once you’ve done this you can easily add in milestones as well. Add them on top of deliverables and tasks or add them as their own separate aspects of the project. You get to decide on everything to make sure that your project timeline is going to work for your business. That means making sure that you have tracking abilities for each of the milestones that you have as well. And because milestones can be set up independently of everything else you’re doing, you can even check milestones without looking at other tasks on your chart.

Who Creates Project Milestones?

There are actually a number of people that should be a part of the process when it comes to creating project milestones. First, you need to talk with the client about what they actually want from the project. They’re going to set the final deliverable and the two of you (and potentially a boss or manager) will decide on the deadline for that final deliverable. This allows you to set up the plans for everything that needs to be completed in the meantime and allows you to start the process of setting milestones.

You’ll also want to discuss with the client any intermediary deliverables that they want. They may want you to deliver smaller updates throughout the course of the project. They may have other deliverables that they want to see while you’re working on the project. In either of these cases, those types of documents and updates will be milestones that you want to mark and make sure you’re meeting in order to keep your client happy. These might have deadlines that you and the client or you and your manager agree on upfront.

Once you’ve worked with these people it’s time to look to your team. Hopefully, you’ve already talked to your team in the process of agreeing on a deadline for the project, but either way, you’ll need to talk to them now. You want to map out each of the tasks that need to be done and find out just how long it takes for them to complete different types of tasks. Your team will be able to help you figure out a realistic timeline for each task. Once you’ve done that you’ll be able to map it out on your Gantt chart and see where everything falls in line.

Make sure you’re accounting for each task that needs to be completed when you’re looking at creating milestones. Let the team know if there are any milestones that have already been set by the client or if you have specific things that need to be done at set times (some financial documents are required to be submitted by certain dates under the law). These things are milestones that you don’t have control over and you have to be able to meet.

Work with your team to set up any other milestones and use the timelines that they help you create to get them to those milestones. It’s okay to push your team a little and try to get them to work a little bit faster. It’s not a good idea to agree to milestones that push them too hard because they might not be able to complete a high-quality job within that span of time. Even worse, if there’s a problem along the way or a setback in any way it could cause problems for the final deliverable.

Common Project Milestones

Within a project, there are a number of different things that could be considered a milestone but there are some that are more common than others. These are the things that you want to take a look at in order to make sure you’re following along the way you should be and to make sure that your team is executing their tasks. By fitting these project milestones into your plans you’re going to be better prepared along the way.

Start and End Dates – These are two of the most important milestones because they let you know when things are getting started and when your first team or individuals need to get working on their tasks. It also lets you know the last possible day that you should be working on the project and when the client is expecting the final deliverable.

External Review – If you need someone outside of yourself or a direct member of your team to review something then that’s another time you’re going to need a milestone. This is where you will need to halt some of your steps and whatever you’re working on to wait for that higher-level approval.

Budget Checks – If you need to check in with the client or with a project manager or boss before spending outside of a specific limit this is another area where you’re going to need to have a milestone. You’ll need to stop your work until you can get the budget evaluated and get approval to continue.

Major Deliverables – If the client has requested deliverables outside of the final deliverable each of these deliveries is considered a milestone. You will need to have all of the tasks leading up to that deliverable complete and then turn the item, document or whatever else it may be over to the client.In general, there are a number of things that could be deliverables. The most important thing is that you check in with the people higher up the chain than you and your client to find out what it is that everyone expects. By working from this foundation you may be able to set yourself up for better success and you will be able to make sure that all of your tasks are being completed the way that they should be. Setting your milestones will get easier then.

What to Watch Out For When Creating Project Milestones

When it comes to setting project milestones there are some things that you need to keep a close eye on as well. You need to make sure that you’re watching for each of these things to make sure you stay on target and on task. If you don’t think about all of these things when making your chart and your timeline you could find yourself in big trouble when it comes to actually execute the final project. You could find that you don’t have things done on the schedule that you thought and that’s not going to look good to your managers or to your clients.

Dependencies

One of the first things you need to look at when it comes to creating timelines and project milestones are dependencies. Anywhere that one of your team members or one of your smaller teams is going to be dependent upon another one is a place where there’s the potential for problems. It’s a place where you could have a delay in the handoff which means that the next team or individual isn’t able to complete the task that they’ve been assigned. This is something to keep in mind when you’re setting up a milestone.

Delays Outside of Your Control

When it comes to the delays outside of your control we’re talking about problems with getting supplies or getting things that you need from outside vendors. These types of things could happen for any number of reasons and they could occur at any point during the process of setting up and executing the project. You may end up with something that comes in wrong or doesn’t come in at all. There may be issues with vendors or even with shipping products to your location. You need to account for each of these things in planning out your milestones.

Team Delays

Team delays are things that happen within your team. These are things like someone getting sick or your team even going on strike. There are a number of different ways that the people who work on your teams could slow down the process either by intention or by accident and you want to be prepared for any possibility. There are always going to be some things outside of your control within the team or they might be slowdowns that you can’t account for, but most of them you can build in buffers to deal with.

Client Changes

As you’re going through the process of executing a project it’s always possible that your client may have requests for changes along the way. You want to make sure that you’re prepared for any type of change that they may want and that you are updating your milestones to reflect them. If a client makes a change to one milestone let them know how that affects the rest of the milestones and the overall timeline. It’s best to try to keep on track as much as possible but that’s not always going to be possible. Be upfront with clients about what their changes are going to mean for the project.

Longer Timelines Than Predicted

Your team is all going to give you timelines and ideas for how long different things will take within the project. The best thing that you can do is build a buffer into these areas to make sure that you’re prepared for any other delays. You may find that something you thought would take only a week suddenly takes two weeks or that something you thought could be done in a day will take several days or longer. Budget in some extra time for each task so you’re not hopelessly behind if one thing doesn’t get the way you expected.

Unplanned Needs

You may start working through your project only to discover that there are other things required that you didn’t foresee. Maybe you thought you could get by with the blueprint you had but then discover that it doesn’t work. Or maybe you thought that the client was going to supply a specific item for the project but they didn’t. All of these unplanned needs are going to affect your ability to reach the milestones that you have set and that means building in more room.

Conclusion

When it comes down to it, project milestones are what keep you going and keep your project going. They’re what helps you achieve the goals that you set and deliver the final results to your client. They’re the things that will help you know if your team is doing what they should be and they’re the things that will allow you to meet all of your deadlines. But being prepared for problems along the way is important as well. By knowing how to set up and plan for milestones you’ll be preparing yourself and your team better all around.

By having the right milestones you’re going to feel like a whole lot better project manager and all you need are the right tools to help you do it. After all, creating milestones is only the first step. You also need to have a way to keep track of all of those milestones and your progress toward them. By working with a Gantt chart for your project and setting up your milestones and tasks this way you’re going to have a much better chance of meeting all of those important goals and making sure that you’re ready when the client wants that final deliverable.

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