What Are Milestones in Project Management?

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A project milestone is a management tool that is used to delineate a point in a project schedule. These points can note the start and finish of a project, and mark the completion of a major phase of work. Milestones can be used to symbolize anything that has started or finished, though it’s primarily used as a scheduling tool.

If a milestone focuses on major progress points in a project, you can see how it is useful in scheduling. Just as tasks break a larger project into manageable parts, milestones break off chunks of a project to make it less daunting.

So, when starting a project, milestones can help immensely with scheduling. Milestones are most commonly found in project management software, and are represented as diamonds in the Gantt chart feature. Gantt charts are a visual representation of your schedule, laid out on a timeline, with tasks as points along the path to the successful completion of the project. Milestones divide this timeline into project phases.

definition of project management milestones

Scheduling with Milestones

Milestones provide a way to more accurately estimate the time it will take to complete your project, making them essential for precise project scheduling. They are often used in scheduling methodologies, such as the Critical Path Method, which can determine major scheduling periods. With milestones, you can better calculate the slack in your project by segmenting the project into intervals, or smaller timeframes to control.

Milestones, like tasks, can be linked. That is when the phase of one milestone cannot begin until the completion of the phase before it. That way you’re not blocking team members by having them wait or by not allowing them what they need to move forward with their tasks.

linked milestones on a gantt chart
Milestones in ProjectManager.com’s Gantt Chart—Click to learn more

How to Decide What’s a Project Milestone

Milestones measure progress by breaking the project into phases. A milestone is a marker that separates the end of one phase from the start of another. There are typically four phases in project management: initiation, planning, implementation and closure. But when exactly do you add the milestone?

The simple answer is when you’ve completed everything related to that project phase. 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.

However, the exact point at which you want to set your milestones might vary depending on your project, your organization and other factors. It’s always best to seek help from experts in the industry and in your company. A little guidance upfront can save a lot of headaches later on.

Milestones are more a period in time than the specific competition of a task, so the question arises, can you have milestones that don’t relate to project phases? The short answer is yes. You can set any sort of milestones you want in a project. Traditionally, they break projects into phases, but you can choose to create a milestone to indicate a big task, deliverable or more.

Track Your Progress with Milestones

Part of scheduling a project is being able to monitor and track the progress of that schedule in real-time. Milestones are a way to see how far you’ve come in the project. By noting the completed milestones, you can measure the distance you are from the finish line of a project.

This comes in handy when you are dealing with stakeholders. Stakeholders are not interested in a granular, detailed report on the project’s progress. They want broad strokes that indicate whether or not the project is moving along as scheduled. Milestones are ideal for this kind of reporting because milestones show the major phases you’ve finished at this point in the project, according to your plan.

When you’re presenting to stakeholders, you can show them the milestones you completed this month and the ones you’re on track to complete for the coming month. Let them know if those milestones were reached as planned or if there were any delays. Don’t hide the fact that you were late meeting a milestone. By being transparent, you give stakeholders a sense of where the project is. They will understand and appreciate your honesty, and trust your professionalism in managing the project.

How to Report When a Milestone Has Been Reached

Reaching a milestone is a place in time, but that doesn’t mean you’re done. How do you know if you’ve in fact achieved the goals set out for that phase in your project? Without knowing if the objectives you planned where reached at the close of your milestone, then it’s an empty victory.

Project reporting can respond to this situation. Generate a status report and get a look at the overall health of your project. Did you complete your tasks on time, within the budget you set? For example, you might have noticed a change in your project scope. Perhaps there has been some slippage and you’re behind schedule. That’s not a milestone to celebrate.

However, it’s also not a cause for undue alarm. Changes are part of any project. The problems arise when those changes aren’t responded to. By running a status report you know what’s changed and its impact on the project. Now you can work towards getting back on schedule. When you reach your next milestone, run more reports to track your progress and make sure you’re staying on track.

Related: Free Project Status Report Template

Milestones Can be Fun!

While you’ll mostly use milestones for the nuts and bolts of scheduling, they are also useful for celebrating project achievements. Obviously, once a milestone has been reached it’s because the team has done something right, like completing a phase of the project or delivering something important. Why not use this opportunity to congratulate them?

Celebrate success in whatever manner is right for you and the project. It can be as simple as a handshake or a note to the team. Maybe you want to treat them to lunch or offer a bonus. Whatever the case, acknowledging your team’s achievement pays off in dividends in the forms of employee retention, team loyalty and project buy-in. You’re also fostering a positive relationship with your team and building trust, which is instrumental to a productive project.

Who knew milestones could make you happy? So, why not add a milestone at the end of the project to mark when you’re going to have a lunch party or just a celebration of the completion of another successful project. The team will see this final milestone as an incentive to forge forward, and it will create more goodwill that you can bank for the next project when you work with the same team.

How to Use Milestones in Gantt Charts

When you’re using project management software like ProjectManager.com, your milestones are added to the Gantt chart by adding the diamond icon to a point on the timeline. To create a milestone, pick the task on your schedule and change the property to a milestone. By hovering over the milestone icon, you can view its name.

With our award-winning online Gantt charts, ProjectManager.com lets you take full advantage of milestones. This interactive planning tool takes the complexity out of creating and editing a Gantt chart. When you’re planning the project, just add the tasks and their duration, including the due date, and the Gantt chart will populate the timeline automatically.

milestones on a gantt chart

With ProjectManager.com, you can easily assign tasks to your team and watch their progress as they move towards achieving project milestones. Our Gantt chart software also provides your team with a platform for collaboration. They can share updates and files, enabling dialogues at the task level. You can even set up automatic alerts to make sure milestones are met.

Reporting on milestones for stakeholders is also streamlined because you can view progress in real-time and, with your dashboard, turn that data into clear and colorful charts that can be shared however you see fit. Milestones have never been easier to use.

Milestones are just one of the many project management tools you get when using ProjectManager.com. Our cloud-based project management software provides online Gantt charts with milestones, real-time data, and a collaborative platform to make you and your team more efficient and productive. See how it can help you manage projects by taking a free 30-day trial today!

(This post was updated September 23, 2020)

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