Setting the right project milestones can keep your projects on track. Setting projects milestones and developing a milestone schedule is a key factor in the success of a project. By following a little advice from experts in the project management field, you can increase your project success.
Project: A project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result. It has a defined start and end point. PMBOK 4th Edition
Milestone: A milestone is a significant event in a project that occurs at a point in time. A milestone schedule uses deliverables as a platform to identify major segments of work and an end date. Milestones should be natural, necessary control points in the project and should be easy for everyone to recognize. (Project Management, the Managerial Process, Gray & Larson)
Paul Brough, an expert in Building Project Management, is an avowed user of project milestones and figures that their proper usage can help you avoid common pitfalls experienced project schedulers encounter. He says:
“One of the biggest pitfalls met in using milestones occurs when trying to restrict a milestone to a particular date in the schedule, as opposed to being logic driven. .. Ideally, milestones should be logically tied to related schedule activities wherever possible. This means that, at a minimum, a start milestone should have successor, and a finish milestone should have a predecessor.”
Other experts, including Ginny Edwards of Bright Hub Project Management, tell us that when determining your project milestones use the following guidelines:
- Frequency – As a project manager, you may be tempted to overuse milestones as a motivation tool to keep the team moving along the ladder to reach the surface of success, but don’t fall into the trap of labeling every task completion as a milestone. In turn, don’t adopt the other extreme approach by ignoring or not recognizing significant and relevant events as milestones particularly at junctions of the critical path. A good compromise is to consistently designate important deliverables as milestones.
- Timing – Milestones that are spaced too far apart will not have the benefit of the momentum derived from motivating team members by recognizing their major achievements. However, when milestones, appropriately represented as diamonds in MS Project, are placed too close together they quickly lose their luster and distinctiveness. As a rule of thumb try to space milestones at intervals for no longer than every two weeks for projects of several months in duration.
- Visibility – Milestones need to be placed prominently in the project’s schedule and tracked periodically. Make sure that your milestones have been incorporated into your project scheduling, calendar, or other project tracking software program.
- Accountability – Milestones are commitments that must be met on time. If a milestone is missed, it needs to be addressed immediately by re-examining the resources to determine if they are properly matched to the objectives.
- Fallibility – It may sound counter-intuitive, but you should select challenging milestones that carry a degree of risk for failure. Not every venture of NASA undertaken to pave the way for the Apollo 11 mission was successful. Ranger 3, an unmanned probe sent to study the Moon missed its target by 22,000 miles. Don’t forget to treat milestones as learning experiences and opportunities to make adjustments early in the project’s execution.