Ever tried to start a project without clear direction? Yeah…it usually doesn’t go very well.
According to the Project Management Institute, nearly 40% of projects fail because of poor planning.
When teams don’t have clearly defined objectives, they struggle to stay on task. This leads to missed deadlines and bigger expenses, which ultimately leads to projects failing. That’s why all traditional Waterfall teams (teams that work on projects using a task-after-task approach) need to use project milestones (more on this in a second).
Bonus: setting key milestones makes it easier for project managers to identify and correct bottlenecks. Using them, they can improve their decision-making processes during the initial planning stage—and they help teams prepare for upcoming work.
In other words: project milestones make your projects run more smoothly.
What are project milestones?
Project milestones are defined as checkpoints in a project that are used to identify significant events. A common feature of Waterfall projects, project milestones usually represent one of the following:
With milestone-driven work, projects are planned along a linear timeline, and tasks are completed sequentially. This is known as the Waterfall model.
The other popular approach is the Agile methodology, which focuses on iterative and incremental planning instead of milestones. Under Agile, teams work in small batches called “sprints” rather than from one milestone to the other.
There are pros and cons to both approaches, but milestone-driven work is best suited for long-term projects and fixed projects where extensive change isn’t expected.
What project milestones are not
Now that we’ve covered what milestones are, let’s clear up some misconceptions about project milestones.
Milestones are not:
- Deliverables: While milestones can coincide with the production of deliverables, they’re not the same thing. Deliverables are the product of work completed, whereas project milestones are simply a specific point in time that indicate progress towards your end objective.
- Goals: While similar, goals are what you hope to achieve in the future. Milestones measure the progress you’ve completed and act more like stepping stones towards your goal.
- Phases: It’s common to see milestones used to indicate the transition to different project phases, but they’re not exactly the same thing. Phases are significant divisions between the different types of work in a project, while project milestones indicate progress and success points. There can be several milestones within a project phase.
Understanding the differences can be confusing since milestones are usually closely related to deliverables, goals, and phases. Just remember that milestones are versatile and can coincide with many different elements of a project, but the main purposes of project milestones are to convey progress and help teams stay on track.
Why should you create project milestones?
If you’re not doing iterative work, your project plan should include milestones for several reasons.
- Make it easier for project managers to convey status updates to stakeholders
- Can be used to determine when vendors and external collaborators are paid
- Help project managers keep track of the schedule and whether teams are on time or falling behind
Project milestones are also useful for preventing scope creep and keeping teams on the right path. Project managers use them as a reference to see whether teams are working towards the project goals and objectives.
Because they represent significant events in the projects, project managers use milestones for a variety of reasons. Some examples of milestones include:
- Gaining stakeholder approval
- Obtaining funding for the project
- Allocating resources
- Onboarding vendors and contractors
- Reaching important KPIs, and more
Tips and tricks for mastering milestones
One of the best things about project milestones is their flexibility. Project managers can set milestones for virtually anything they find significant.
With that said, there’s a right and a wrong way to use them. Project milestones are supposed to identify progress and keep teams on the right track. When not used properly, milestones can become confusing, causing them to have the opposite effect. Here are some tips for setting effective project milestones.
- Don’t overdo it: Cluttering your project with unnecessary milestones diminishes their importance, and makes it harder to track your team’s progress. Spread them out evenly and make sure every milestone has significance. If they don’t, they probably shouldn’t be a milestone.
- Make them visible: Everyone involved in your project (team members, clients, customers, stakeholders, etc.) should be able to see the project milestones set. This is important for managing stakeholder expectations and ensuring everyone is on the same page throughout the project.
- Define the timeframe: Project milestones should have a clear beginning and end date to keep the project on time and within budget.
The sooner you identify and assign project milestones, the better. Setting them in the early stages of your project’s life cycle gives your team and stakeholders a better idea of what to expect as the project progresses. This is important for reducing the friction that could bring your project to a grinding halt.
How can I help teams better achieve their project milestones?
Project teams do their best work when they’re working in unison.
Enabling project managers, teams, and stakeholders to coordinate on the same platform ensures that everyone is always working towards the same goals. Working from a shared Work OS lets you quickly plan projects and set milestones using ready-made templates and an easy-to-use drag-and-drop interface. You can also plan visual timelines using Gantt charts, assign work, and keep track of your team’s progress––all in the same place.
Accomplish your project milestones
Project teams can use monday.com to communicate, share project documents, and manage workflows, as it seamlessly integrates with the most popular workplace and project management applications. It eliminates the need for standalone project management solutions that often clash with each other.
All of this leads to better collaboration, which is necessary for helping teams achieve their project milestones.
Want to plan milestone work from the ground up, with just a few clicks of your mouse?