Projects, whether they’re large or small, are journeys. They begin with planning and initiation and ideally end with the achievement of deliverables. But, this doesn’t necessarily mean the starting point and finish line are the only points that matter.
In fact, if we only focus on getting from point A to point B, we can lose momentum along the way. Setting project milestones on a milestone chart prevents this loss of momentum.
What Is a Milestone?
All projects have start dates and end dates. But along the way, how do teams check to be sure they’re on track to meet deadlines, finish on time and stay within budget? The answer: project milestones.
As the name implies, milestones are markers in the project’s schedule signifying important events or goals. On a Gantt chart, they are called Gantt chart milestones. Gantt chart milestones are an excellent way to estimate how long certain phases of a project should take.
To that end, milestones are an effective management tool. By setting project milestones, a project manager can track the status of different project phases and decide if adjustments should be made to stay on schedule. Further, milestone charts track and highlight major successes. This can improve team efficacy and overall team morale. The result is happier team members who feel appreciated and can see the direct results of their efforts.
Milestones will differ from project to project, depending on project size, scope and team size. Still, most milestones take similar forms, and are used to represent events like:
- Beginnings of different tests
- Construction phase completions
As you can see, these are significant events in a project lifecycle. If these do not happen, the project won’t move forward. By highlighting them as milestones, you illustrate their importance.
Milestones often come at the end of project phases, but this is not a hard and fast rule. They can exist mid-phase and even act as the final push team members need to complete the phases. Milestones are among the most useful management tools a project manager can deploy to excite team members and maintain momentum to drive a project forward.
Why are Milestones Important?
Beyond representing the most important events in a project schedule, milestones are also an excellent means to celebrate success. Each milestone a team achieves means they are staying on track and are one step closer to completing the project. Seeing these accomplishments in the form of milestones boosts team morale.
Milestones can also indicate when payments are due to contractors and other outside services in construction projects. For example, when a milestone is completed, it may be time to pay the builder a percentage of their fee. In this way, milestones serve a practical purpose, as well. If a milestone is not completed or achieved, a project cannot move forward, and it may be time to modify the project schedule or overall strategy.
What Is a Milestone Chart?
A milestone chart visualizes project milestones on a chart. A milestone chart will typically show each milestone and when it needs to be completed, the status of the milestone (complete or incomplete) and sometimes the priority of the milestone. Many milestone charts use specific colors of symbols in order to show the most critical milestones.
There are different types of milestone charts, each of them illustrating points in a project schedule and the space between them. Different teams may choose different milestone charts, depending on their preferences and the project itself. Some teams, for example, create milestone charts that only illustrate the milestones themselves and can be color-coded to show milestone type and importance.
These types of milestone charts are used in some situations, even though they do not depict other details of the project schedule. It can be helpful to see these milestones in a simplified format, but you should view them in the context of a greater schedule. For this reason, a milestone and a Gantt chart should be combined.
The Power of Gantt Chart Milestones
By using a milestone chart with a Gantt chart, you are effectively combining two of the most effective visual project management tools available to create the ultimate schedule. Gantt charts allow you to see a visual of your entire project schedule, as well as tasks, assignees, task dependencies and much more. Adding a milestone chart to this equation means you’re able to see the checkpoints you must be sure to reach.
Gantt charts show a wide range of data in a simplified format. This makes them perfect for quick reference, but it also means they are jam-packed with information. When this is the case, you need something to break up the information and “highlight” the focal points. Milestones do just this.
By setting milestones as you create a schedule, you set up a system for checking in on the status of your project in the future. Let’s say you’re working on a large-scale project with many dependent tasks being worked on simultaneously. This can be a lot of information to look at, and it can be difficult to find the crux of what you need to know. Milestones stand out from the details and make it simpler to find the information you’re looking for.
How to Create a Milestone Chart with a Gantt Chart
1. Create a Task List
No matter the scheduling tool you choose, you must create a complete task list. New tasks will naturally occur throughout the project lifecycle, but the original task list should be as exhaustive as possible. Detailed tasks list simplify the process of identifying primary and secondary tasks and charting the best location for a milestone.
2. Schedule Tasks on a Gantt Chart
Once you have created a task list and documents all the necessary details – task name, assignee, start date, end date, etc.—you now have all the information you need to schedule these tasks on a Gantt chart. Input the information you have already gathered and view your schedule in seconds. From here, make changes and adjustments by dragging and dropping task bars.
3. Determine Project Phases
Using a Gantt chart to schedule projects means you’re almost automatically able to visualize your project in phases by analyzing and categorizing tasks. Each bar represents a different task and different colors can represent different project phases. When you can see these phases, placing milestones is nearly effortless. Once you decide where to put them, it’s only a matter of a few clicks.
4. Place Milestones
Modern project management tools make setting milestones effortless. When you have created your schedule and decided which task completions qualify as milestones, enter milestone details and share the information with your team so everyone can see. When you’ve placed your milestones, these achievements can be represented by something as clean as a small diamond symbol that won’t clutter the schedule.
ProjectManager.com Makes Milestone Charts Easy
When you manage your schedules with an award-winning online project management tool like ProjectManager.com (you can sign up for a free trial here), milestones are represented on Gantt charts with a small diamond sitting on the schedule in relation to tasks. To create milestones, pick the important task on the schedule and change the property to a milestone. By hovering over the milestone icon, you can view its name.
This eliminates the need to refer to different charts simultaneously and risk confusion along the way. The best part? It’s easy to make changes from anywhere you work by dragging and dropping the diamond icons.
Collaborate in Real-Time
Our Gantt chart gives your team an interactive platform for them to collaborate on. They can view their team member’s progress on task and share comments and files on the task level. You can even set up automatic alerts to make sure milestones are met!
When you need to report your progress on reaching milestones to your stakeholders, ProjectManager.com has both a dashboard to track progress in real time and one-click reporting to generate shareable reports to anybody who needs it. Milestones have never been easier to use!
Milestones are only one of the vast suite of project management tools you get when you sign up for ProjectManager.com. Our cloud-based project management software gives you a robust online Gantt charts with milestones, real-time data, and a collaborative platform to make your team more efficient and productive. See for yourself by taking a free 30-day trial today!