A project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product or service. Some of its key components include project goals, timeline, project milestones, budget, and scope.
With so many “moving parts” in a project, how do managers oversee the project effectively?
As it is rightly quoted by Vincent Van Gogh that- “Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things bought together.”
It is essential to review the project’s progress at various stages, and milestones are created as per the project requirement. They are the critical checkpoints that assure the concerned stakeholders that the project progresses as per the plan. From the project manager’s perspective, project milestones can be considered as mini projects with their own deliverables.
In this article, we will explain what project milestones and their benefits are and how you can use them to ace your next project.
Let’s dive in!
1. What is a Milestone in Project Management?
Project milestones are defined as the checkpoints in a project schedule that represents significant events. Milestones are the key performance index (KPI) that depicts the project’s high-priority tasks, key deliverables, client or stakeholder approval, start or end date of project phases, important meetings, etc.
Let’s take a very common example to understand this term;
While traveling by road, we typically see guide signboards after every few miles indicating the remaining road distance to reach the destination. The existence of signboards assures us that we are on the right track. Project milestones serve the same purpose in project management. Referring to the example, the signboards are the milestones of the project, and the destination is the completion of projects within time and budget.
2. What are the Myths About Project Milestones
Often, the project milestones are misconstrued with goals, tasks, deliverables, and phases within the project management realm. The following section will help clarify these misconceptions.
Difference Between a Milestone and a Goal
Though project milestones and goals seem similar, in reality, they are entirely two very different things. Goals are what you and your resource team aim to achieve in the future, such as the next few days or months. Whereas, project milestones evaluate the progress and act more like stepping stones towards your objective.
Difference Between a Milestone and a Task
Tasks are a set of actionable items from the overall project activity list that usually have an estimate of time. Meanwhile, milestones are simply significant events on the project timeline or schedule.
Difference Between a Milestone and a Deliverable
Deliverables are the quantifiable outcome or the result of work completed, whereas project milestones are simply a specific point in time that shows progress towards your end objective.
While both milestones and deliverables can measure project progress, they are two very different things.
Difference Between a Milestone and a Phase
The project milestones indicate the transition to different project phases, but they’re not the same. The phases are the point where significant activities within a project take place, while project milestones are the mini-goals in project phases. However, the number of phases and milestones in a project plan vary depending on the project’s complexity.
Let’s now understand the importance of milestones in project management:
3. Benefits of Milestones in a Project Management
Project milestones help team members and managers stay accountable and keep things on track for smooth project delivery. Let’s learn some benefits of it:
Monitor Project Progress and Deadlines
Once milestones have been identified and defined, the project execution work begins. Project milestones help managers keep track of the schedule, deadlines and reach critical KPIs. With the achievement of successive milestones, management can also maintain a more accurate understanding of how the project is advancing according to the initial plan.
Improve Team Collaboration
When a project involves multiple teams, resources, and perhaps even team members from diverse locations/time zones, effective collaboration of teams becomes vital. Setting up milestones helps the resource teamwork with better productivity and deliver the projects on time and within budget.
Identify Potential Bottlenecks
A bottleneck within a project severely impacts the subsequent tasks and dependencies. The bottlenecks can be the obstacles that interrupt the workflow or the unavailability of critical resources to complete tasks and meet milestone deliverables. All in all, it hinders project progress resulting in delivery delays and cost escalation.
Track Budget and Timeline
A project’s success is defined by two elements; timely delivery and adhering to the stipulated budget. The financials and timeline are mostly planned at the start of the project. Milestones between project phases help managers check planned vs. actuals in terms of budget and timeline and take necessary corrective actions ahead of time.
Facilitate Communication with Stakeholders
Project milestones facilitate managers to convey project progress updates to stakeholders and get their approvals. Stakeholders are always interested to know if the project is moving forward as scheduled or not. Milestones are ideal for this kind of reporting because milestones show the significant phases that the team has accomplished to date.
Streamline the Invoicing Process
Professional service organizations often practice a term called milestone billing. It is a time-based billing structure used to invoice payments from clients. It is also used to determine when payments are sent to vendors and external collaborators. This helps to keep track of timely payments to key suppliers based on agreed-upon events or deliverables.
4. How to Add the Milestones in a Project?
Project milestones can be included in any type of project plan to help it run smoothly. However, the precise point at which you want to add the milestones can vary depending on the type or nature of the project, organization structure, and other factors.
Let’s take an example of setting milestones in a construction project with a timeline of 18 months. Here different phases can be broken up by critical events or project milestones, ensuring that all tasks are on track.
During the project initiation phase, managers will create a full-proof plan, take approvals from stakeholders, and delegate tasks to all the resource teams. This can come under Milestone-0. After all the approvals, architects will start designing; and at the end of 1 month, the design team will deliver the drawings and mark the completion of MILESTONE-I.
The II- MILESTONE is to lay the foundation followed by procurement of all required materials. Once the foundation has been successfully built and materials have been procured, the team can start with the development activities. After four months, teams are expected to show their initial development to the client as their III-MILESTONE. Thus, from building the external structure of the house to completing interior designing of floors, every phase can have a milestone delivery.
The final deliverable is to complete the construction work of a house within the specified timeframe. Thus, setting up milestones with the project phases helps to monitor delivery dates and alter the project plan when required.
5. How to Create Project Milestones?
Setting milestones in the early phases of the project life cycle offers a broad view of what to expect with the progress of the project. The strategies or steps listed here will help you define the right milestones for your projects.
Step 1: Develop a Project Plan
The project first needs to have a definite plan with an objective. A project scope shows how to accomplish the goal. However, goal setting is not as easy as it sounds. With the use of the project resource management tool, managers can efficiently formulate and implement a plan.
Step 2: Create Tasks and Subtasks
After a full-proof project planning is done, it’s time to split your entire project into tasks and subtasks. These are arranged to different project phases. This not only organizes things, it also facilitates the tracking of initiatives.
Step 3: Define milestones
Then comes the most important part: milestone planning. It is one of the most crucial components of project planning because they are the visible indicator of project progress.
Here are the actions of managers to define milestones:
- Identify the critical tasks of significant project phases
- Assign milestones to them
- Delegate the tasks to team members
Step 4: Visualize Milestones using Gantt Charts
In a project-centric organization, managers need to manage multi-faceted projects simultaneously. This is where a Gantt Chart is helpful. It provides a visualization of both project and resource schedules on a single platform in real-time.
This helps them to track functional characteristics of the project like the milestone schedules, allotted time for each milestone delivery, assigned resources, etc. It helps managers to supervise all project milestones with a bird’ eye view and take proactive measures ahead of the curve.
6. Common Challenges Faced During Milestone Delivery
Here are a few top challenges faced by managers during project milestone delivery:
Shortage of Critical Resources
In a dynamic project environment, the lack of visibility into resource demand results in resource shortages. The absence of a resource forecasting system leads to inappropriate resource planning. Managers are unable to identify the gap between the existing resource capacity and demand. It can cause last-minute firefighting, leading to wrongful hiring that compromises both resource quality and project output.
According to PwC project management insights, “30% of project failure results from lack of resources.”
An efficient resource forecasting tool enables managers to perform capacity vs. demand analysis ahead of the curve. The tool determines the resource demand gap and allows managers to do planned hiring and acquire cost-effective qualified resources.
Poor Milestone Planning
Milestone planning is one of the most important components of project planning, as project milestones serve as visible indicators of project progress. Poor project milestone planning can make resources always work under strain that causes overutilization.
A survey on the project management community revealed that 29% of project failure is due to an inadequate vision or goal for their project.
Thus, projects with clear incremental goals and planning help managers efficiently manage resources, keep the stakeholders informed, and increase the organization’s productivity.
Sudden Scope Changes
Scope creep is one of the most prominent project management challenges. It refers to the uncontrolled expansion of the project scope, which causes budget overruns, schedule delays, and client dissatisfaction.
According to PMI, projects face 52% changes in the project scope during the project progression.
For example, A client makes sudden changes to the initial drawing of a building. The changes will have a bearing on both deliverables and the purpose of the project. Managing this scope change is only possible when an increase in funds and project duration can be agreed upon.
Scope creep can only be prevented if managers proactively map out all project priorities and plan well in advance. They should continuously review it with the supervision of the Change Control Board.
Inappropriate Risk Management
Have you ever come across a project that is entirely risk-proof? Well, certainly not. Every project comes with a plethora of both internal and external risks. These risks can be technical risks, resource-related risks, stakeholder resistance, budget or schedule risks, market risks, etc.
According to the study by Gallup, Inappropriate risk management practices would lead to major losses in business and market value.
Therefore, not being able to mitigate them intelligently can affect the health of projects. It will also negatively impact the firm’s finances and eventually cause loss of business.
7. Role of Resource Management in Milestone Delivery
Do you face delays during milestone delivery caused by a shortage of resources in the middle of the critical project milestone stage?
For effective project management, a robust resource management framework plays a crucial role. It ensures that you have the right resource pool before initiating the project and addresses the changing resource requirements at each milestone, thereby ensuring that your project completes on time and within budget.
Let’s understand in detail how resource management plays a pivotal role in successful project milestone fulfillment,
Timely Milestone Delivery with Optimal Resource Allocation
A project encompasses multiple milestones, and each milestone may have specific resource requirements. With a robust resource management tool, managers can get unmatched visibility of all resources and their skill sets. Based on this information, proper resource planning can be done to deploy competent resources to the right job at the right time. A systematic resource requisition process also provides resource managers with enough leeway time to identify and allocate resources. It prevents last-minute hiring and firefighting for critical resources between milestones.
Manage Sudden Ramp-down of resources
When the major development activities in a milestone are completed, only some critical resources are held back in the project. When other resources are rolled off, it leads to an increase in the bench size. If the resource managers get foresight about the completion of project milestones well in advance, they can actively propose resources to other projects before they hit the bench. Thus, a well-planned and well-managed ramp down helps to reduce the idle time between projects.
Increased Productivity with Insights into Various Resource-metrics
Resource Scheduler lets project managers keep a tab on resource utilization levels. They can get insights into their utilization rates and assess productivity through forecast vs. actual resource utilization reports. Real-time visibility of utilization also enables the managers to monitor their resource’s performance at any given time. If a resource is under or over-utilized, managers can balance out the workload effectively with the right optimization method.
The success and failure of a project depend on how well the resources are managed between the milestones. Thus, resource management helps in intelligent resource planning and plays a significant role in successful milestone delivery.
It is now evident that project management has evolved into a complex domain, and therefore fractionating it with milestone delivery is essential. Thus, with a project resource management tool, managers can efficiently track critical events and utilize resources to the maximum. This tool provides a collaborative platform with real-time data that ensures your team works productively and delivers project milestones successfully.
How do you accomplish successful milestone delivery in your projects?
9. The SAVIOM Solution
SAVIOM is the market leader in offering the most powerful and configurable solutions for managing enterprise resources efficiently and effectively. Having more than 20 years of experience, this Australian-based MNC has a global presence in over 50 countries. It is also popular with more than 100 customers and helping them to achieve their business goals. SAVIOM also has products for project portfolio management, professional service automation, and workforce planning software which can be easily customized as per business requirements.