Whether you’re overseeing an Agile software development effort or are the project manager tasked with creating a major process change for your business, you and your team must define and complete a series of steps to reach success. To stay on track with project progress, it helps to have a map. A Gantt chart with milestones provides a top-level view of that journey to success, helping teams and leadership see and manage the project schedule.
In this article, you’ll learn more about project planning, including the use of milestones. We’ll specifically cover how Gantt chart software, such as monday.com, can help teams move seamlessly through project phases and proactively react to alter schedules, crash projects, or take other actions when needed. You’ll walk away ready to leverage these tools to chart milestones and with some insight into further project management software benefits.
What are project milestones, and why are they important?
In project management, milestones are specific points within the project schedule that help teams measure their progress toward an ultimate goal. For example, imagine a manufacturing team that’s tasked with increasing productivity for a process that outputs loaves of bread. Some milestones for such a project might include:
- Documenting the current state of the process
- Developing measurements for outputs
- Conducting a root cause analysis to identify the most important inputs
- Choosing an input to work on
- Coming up with a potential solution
- Getting approval for the solution
- Implementing and testing the solution
- Setting up a control process
- Completing a successful hand-off to day-to-day process teams
The biggest benefit of project milestones is that they divide a larger effort into smaller tasks that are easier to manage.
Teams tend to remain more motivated when they’re looking toward short-term goals because those goals seem more realistic and easier to hit. Milestones provide a rest stop along the project completion journey where teams can celebrate something.
Milestones can also help project managers track task dependencies. In the bread-manufacturing example above, implementing the solution is dependent on first getting approval. By setting the appropriate milestones, project teams can ensure everyone is aware of when in the process that dependency occurs so they can stay on top of deadlines and hand-offs that are required to get through those milestones.
A big-picture, visual view of the project schedule with milestones keeps team members even more aware of the relationship between all tasks within the project. A Gantt chart provides that view.
How Gantt charts are helpful in visualizing project milestones
A basic Gantt chart is a graphical timeline of work or any other effort. Typically, the horizontal axis on the chart represents time. Teams can use hours, days, or weeks as the unit of time, choosing what best fits their project or work. Each task is listed on the vertical axis and shading or coloring is used to indicate when during the project that particular task should occur.
This simple bar chart approach makes it super easy for project managers and team members to get an at-a-glance picture of the project timeline. With a basic Gantt chart, you can quickly see:
- How long the project should take
- What tasks are part of the project
- Whether any tasks run simultaneously
By adding milestones to a Gantt chart, you provide even more information. Teams can quickly see which milestone they’re on, so they know how far they’ve come and how much work is left. Leadership can see how close the team is to an upcoming milestone, offering insight that can help them coach the team through more challenging parts of a project. And project managers can see whether the team is in danger of missing planned milestone deadlines and make adjustments proactively, such as updating the schedule, bringing in new resources, or crashing the project.
Of course, using a Gantt chart with milestones is just one great way to handle project scheduling. Teams have more success when they use a variety of best practices and tools.
Other best practices for project scheduling
To successfully create a Gantt chart, you need a well-defined project and at least a basic understanding of the overall timeline. Many of the rest of the details come together better, and you can tweak them, as you go through the process of making the Gantt chart and discussing it with stakeholders and the project team. Sticking to the best practices below as you decide on start dates, deadlines, and everything in between can help.
Take time to define the project and scope
Before you add tasks and assign them, make sure the project manager, team, and stakeholders all agree on the project definition and scope. Strong project definitions include:
- The goal, or what the project aims to accomplish
- Specific measurements that will indicate success
- The benefits, or why you’re undertaking the project
- Delivery specifics, including how and when final results are expected
- Assumption and limitations, including budget and resource requirements
A description of high-level milestones is also important during the project definition stage, but before teams discuss milestones, they should define project scope. Scope describes what the project will deliver, what’s included in the project parameters, and what is not included. Understanding scope helps teams avoid including tasks and milestones that aren’t relevant to the project.
Sequence project activities logically
Once you have a project definition and scope, you can move on to detailing tasks required to reach your goal. Organizing key events in a logical sequence is important for project success. If a task is dependent on something else, it obviously has to come after that other work.
You may also need to schedule project tasks to align with resource availability. For example, if the project requires a software developer to build a user interface and the software developer is only available the third week in August, you’ll need to sequence tasks around that date in a logical fashion.A Gantt chart helps you visualize the flow of project activity, making it easier to identify illogical sequencing and address it before you get started.
Remain aware of the critical path
The critical path is the path through all the tasks required for project completion. It helps project leaders understand how long a project might take. Consider the example below of five tasks required to complete a project:
- Task A, which takes 1 week and you must complete it before any other tasks start
- Task B, which takes 2 weeks and starts after Task A is done
- Task C, which takes 4 weeks and starts after Task A is done
- Task D, which takes 1 week and starts after Task B and C is done
- Task E, which takes 2 weeks and starts after Task D is done
The critical path for this project is through:
- Task A – 1 week
- Task C – 4 weeks (because Task B and C run simultaneously and C is longer)
- Task D – 1 week
- Task E – 2 weeks
Knowing the critical path, you can see that the project should take 8 weeks. If Task A took 3 weeks, though, the project manager could see that the timeline becomes 10 weeks unless some intervention occurs.
Define and proactively manage float
Project managers should always know how much float is available for each task. Float refers to how much extra time the team can spend reaching a given milestone before it impacts the ultimately timely delivery of a project. In the example of tasks A through E above, if the project is due in 10 weeks as opposed to 8 weeks, there’s 2 weeks of float.
Of course, keeping an eye on schedules, float, scale, and other project details is easier with the right system. An online collaboration tool like monday.com can help.
Keeping your project on schedule with monday.com
monday.com’s fully customizable Work OS makes it easy to plan a project and keep it on schedule. Our board views let project teams choose the visuals that work for them, and you can flip between views to match your reporting, oversight, or workflow needs in the moment.
Some of our options include:
- Gantt charts: Set up your project schedule and see it in an easy-to-understand visual. Real-time access ensures team members can keep up with changes and see where they’re needed at a glance, and you can add a milestone or crash an area of your project and see those results in the Gantt view to understand the schedule implications
- Timeline: This view offers another visual representation of how the project looks over a period of time. You can use this view to ensure resources are available at the right time during the project schedule.
- Kanban: View project tasks in a traditional Kanban view, with organized cards that help people understand what’s assigned to them and how it’s relevant to the overall project workflow.
In all our views, you can assign tasks, color-code items, and implement automations to ensure no project task gets left behind. Email, Slack, and other integrations also ensure those task assignments are quickly communicated to the right people, so work flows well across all areas of a project.
The right tools and the right knowledge help you manage project milestones, so dig into a few FAQs with us to learn a bit more before you move on to working on your project.
Frequently asked questions about project milestone examples
What are project milestone examples?
Common examples of project milestones include defining the project or process, getting feedback from various stakeholders, getting approval at various points during the project, completing critical tasks, and conducting testing.
How do you create a milestone chart in Excel?
You can create a milestone chart in Excel by using the horizontal or vertical axis as a measurement of time. Use the other axis to list out the tasks required for your project. Fill in cells to indicate when each task must be completed. Track dependent tasks on the same row or column so you can see that one task must be completed before another can start. The end of each task is a milestone.
Hit all your project milestones with monday.com
Strong project planning and scheduling helps increase your chances of meeting goals. By defining the right milestones, you can help motivate your team to work toward each step and move closer to a positive end result.
monday.com helps you do just that. Start with a Gantt chart and then move on to collaborating with others to get work done on our customizable Work OS.