Milestones in a Project: What are They?

milestones in a project

Organizations deal with several tasks and big projects daily, and still, some find it challenging to complete a project within its time frame. This can be said to be the team’s inability to focus on one thing and gradually achieve small wins – milestones in a project. 

By disrupting the team’s overall approach, milestones are excellent motivators to achieve tasks in business because they help you guide and monitor your project and business growth according to plans.

Effective milestones allow you to track work schedules deadlines and keep track of your team’s key performance indicators. In addition, each milestone’s consecutive completion brings a celebration of small wins and knowledge about the project’s progress.  

Research by Project Management Institute revealed that 37% of projects fail due to the lack of defined project objectives and milestones. Another report by the same institute stated that 44% of projects fail due to a lack of alignment between business and project objectives.

So without project milestones, you put your business at a high risk of failing. 

In this article, we’ll discuss what a project milestone is, provide examples, tell you the benefits, and make some comparisons.

What are Milestones in a Project?

A project milestone is a management tool that helps identify achievable points in your project’s timeline. These points indicate the beginning key accomplishments until the end of your project. 

By breaking big projects into small tasks, milestones assist project managers in planning, scheduling, and executing project phases in manageable bites. It also contributes to budget checks, project evaluations, and delivery. 

According to the Harvard Business Review, whether you’re in charge of developing a website, designing a car, moving a department to a new facility, updating an information system, or just about any other project (large or small), you’ll go through the same four phases of project management: planning, build-up, implementation, and closeout. Even though the phases have distinct qualities, they overlap.

milestones in a project

Types of Milestones in a Project

Milestones track the project progress. They are crucial in various elements of the project life cycle, such as project planning, scheduling, and reporting. 

Here are the types of project milestones.

  • Project approval

The project approval stage is a milestone that authorizes the start of a project. It is the initial stage of many projects. As this begins, there would be highlights added by project managers to keep track of the progress of the projects. 

  • Project planning

This milestone describes the end of the planning phase. When you complete a project plan and check back with the client for approval, this milestone is said to be complete. For instance, completing the flowchart of a software application can be seen as a milestone.

  • Project resources

This project milestone symbolizes putting together resources to carry out the project. This could involve the raw materials, tools, machines, and the team. For example, when the experts or the delivery of a 3000-ton crane is available, this can be a significant milestone in the project.

  • Project key decisions

Between working on the projects, some low-level internal decisions are made for the project’s progress. These critical decisions in projects are also seen as milestones. Without this, the project won’t proceed. In addition, these decisions made during a project can also be considered milestones, such as selecting a 5G equipment provider or getting the government approval to conduct a major state-wide rollout of next-generation communication technologies.

  • Design approval

Like project key decisions, some design approvals happen in the house that doesn’t involve contacting the clients. This milestone can also refer to a meeting where project managers, line managers, and other stakeholders discuss and approve a project design. Stakeholders will provide feedback that may impact the project’s schedule.

  • Project deliverables

Project milestones could also be the delivery of a product, completion of work, or the receipt or transfer of cash to a vendor. As long as it is significant to the project’s progress, it will denote a contract agreed-upon deadline for parties to provide specific deliverables.

  • Project deadlines

Project phases are broken down into a succession of tasks by these milestones. The dates assist you in keeping track of progress and encourage your team to focus on completing their assignments by the deadline.

  • Project completion

Another significant milestone is project completion, frequently indicated by a fixed deadline. You can complete the project on time with your efforts and other documented milestones.

  • Project review

The project review milestone is the gateway to project integration. It identifies the launching of a product and customers’ agreement to the requirements. For instance, a project review can be when an environmental impact assessment is completed in a construction project. 

  • Project integration

Another project milestone can be when teams successfully integrate disparate systems or connect with other third-party systems and make them work together. Bringing two or more different components to work in synchrony could be significant deliverables.

Examples of Project Milestones

Setting up a meeting to discuss project ideation could be a project milestone. This is because it’s a crucial step to achieving the project objectives. The final project delivery is also an important milestone. 

In between, some steps assist you in getting closer to your project objective. These are milestones too.

Here are some examples of project milestones.

  • Agreeing on the project’s start and end dates

When the stakeholders approve that the company solves the problem, the project manager will visualize the project end goal then break it into simple, achievable tasks. After that, the stakeholders would have another roundtable meeting to agree to the project start date, end date, and milestones.

  • Conducting internal or external research to understand a problem 

From setting up a production line to creating a market segmentation, every business problem should start with research. This allows you to understand the situation better. By conducting internal and external research to understand the issues and get insightful findings and impactful ideas, you’ve completed a project milestone. This falls into the project planning phase when you engage clients to check your agreement during the project approval stage. 

  • Breaking the project into Smaller Projects

As soon as the project manager has scheduled the project’s start and the end date, the following key milestone is to break the project into smaller projects, including their start and end date. Next, the project manager highlights important duties and tasks by role and dates. When this is done, everyone would have a rough idea of what they should do from start to finish. This is another project milestone and falls into the planning and resources stage.

  • Outlining the key deliverables phase

When you outline the key deliverables phase of your project, you’ve done a big job. Now you know that by hitting each target, you’re close to achieving your project objectives. So it’s crucial to concentrate on achieving your goals and significant results. 

For instance, you have a project divided into 11 milestones, outlining critical milestones like if milestones 3 and 7 are among milestones that show a significant completion. So, outlining 1, 3, 7, and 11 as key milestones will bring the team a sense of fulfilment.

  • Getting approval from stakeholders to kickstart a project or proceed to the next phase

Getting approvals from stakeholders are blockers to project growth. For instance, a company working on a public-private partnership project gets unnecessary delays because a letter wasn’t sent to the government outlets regarding the visiting of the private consultants. 

Getting approvals to kickstart a phase in projects involving stakeholders is a big deal. So, making this a milestone and assigning someone to it, this person can be the project manager himself, will remove any blockers to the project’s growth. 

  • Joint approval by client and stakeholder 

Whenever you highlight a significant deliverable, it’s always accompanied by a joint approval by clients and service providers. Bringing two highly busy stakeholders to agree on project matters is a huge project milestone.  

  • Scheduling important meetings and presentations

It’s important to schedule meetings and discuss progress on project deliverables. Any successful presentation is always a huge project milestone as it indicates that the project is still improving. This falls into the project review stage. Let’s say you’re implementing an SEO strategy for a SaaS startup, having a monthly SEO report and growth recommendation call will be considered a milestone for the project.

Why are Milestones in a Project Important?

Managing a project without a milestone always results in poor planning and project delivery. It will be difficult to properly allocate resources, plan a budget, or ascertain when you’ll complete a phase. 

Project milestones allow you to show the progress of your project. It is a motivating tool to align your team with the project objectives and prioritize tasks. Your team would have a detailed description of the project’s essential steps with it. 

It also helps you manage deadlines, identify important dates, and pinpoint potential bottlenecks within the project. And you’ll be able to keep to date and observe the impact of project timelines.

But then, many business owners confuse project milestones with other project and business management processes.

Here’s how project milestones differ from others;

Project Milestones Vs –

  • Project Milestones Vs. Goals

Goals are what you want to do in the future or achieve with your project, whereas project milestones are a look back at the steps you need to take to accomplish that goal. 

For instance, a market research company wants to create a new market for millennials. Their project milestone could be as follows, 

  • Conduct desk research
  • Develop research plans
  • Create research guides
  • Design questionnaire
  • Administer questionnaire
  • Find patterns
  • Brainstorm impactful ideas

These are not the project’s goal; instead, they are just stepping stones in achieving the goal of creating a new market for millennials.

  • Project Milestones Vs. Project phases

Project milestones refer to the beginning, end of project phases, and steps in between, such as initiation, planning, execution, and closure. But a project phase can take weeks or months to complete, including several tasks and team members. Simply put, a milestone is a zero-time “checkmark” that signifies significant progress that should be acknowledged and reported.

  • Project Milestones vs Project deliverables

A project deliverable is a finished product or outcome. It indicates when you achieve the project objective, while a project milestone is a specific point in time when you complete a considerable part of the overall deliverable. Deliverables are sometimes used to show that a milestone has been reached.

  • Project Milestones vs Tasks

Tasks are the foundation of your project, and completing them takes time. They are the tiny accomplishments that lead to project completion, while project milestones mark the completion of a series of tasks. 

Using Key Milestones in your Project Plan

In your project plans, you can use milestones to provide an easy method for stakeholders to see significant dates or deliverables at a glance. By looking at the milestone, they know what has been done in the project and what hasn’t. It also helps you and the stakeholders see the time left to achieve specific steps.

You can use the project milestones to communicate what’s going on with your project and show progress.

For the milestone to do its job, it has to help you effortlessly deliver a successful project, which will be tedious without properly monitoring deadlines. 

Here’s how to monitor project deadlines and deliverables. 

How to Easily Monitor Project Deadlines and Deliverables

  • Focus on important dates

Make a note of important dates like the start and conclusion dates while deciding on project milestones. These dates will serve as a guide and will assist you and your teams focus your efforts on completing projects. 

Events that may affect your ability to work on the project, such as public holidays, training, approval, and other activities that may affect the project delivery schedule, are also important dates to include. 

It’s always best to schedule your work to accommodate delays by mentioning those dates as milestones.

  • Include a deadline in each project milestone.

If you don’t include a deadline in your project milestone, you won’t be able to keep track of tasks and your team’s progress. So aside from the high-level view of your project’s important data and events, include a time tracker for individual milestones so that your teammates and other stakeholders are on the same page of each project phase. 

By including these individual deadlines on your project milestones, you’ll keep everyone on their toes to pay attention to the likely cause of delay and provide mitigation plans before the problem arises. This will ensure that the project turns out to be a success.

  • Identify sources of delay

When designing milestones, it’s also crucial to identify potential reasons for the delay. These could be weather, equipment failures, labor shortages, missing or incorrect data, project mistakes, and conflicts. 

Categorize these delays based on how well you can control them and how you can’t. Then find ways to solve the ones you can solve. For instance, the weather could be beyond your control, but you can start a project considering data or weather forecasts. 

  • Create multiple project milestones dates

It’s easier to estimate completion dates if you create multiple project milestones dates in addition to the actual project milestone dates at the start of your project. 

For instance, you can create three different dates for the start of your project. And share it as a date range with other stakeholders. This way, you can estimate each project’s milestone by comparing project milestones dates with the actual milestone dates. This will help you provide comments, adjust dates, and track the project’s progress in the delivery date.

  • Include critical project milestones

When you create multiple project milestone dates, you should circle a date as a critical project milestone deadline that you must not go beyond. For instance, if the weather forecast indicates unfavorable weather for the project, you will want to set the timings to avoid the uncontrollable situation. 

The inclusion of critical project milestones in the timetable will help you manage stakeholder expectations. Also, it will act as a hub for stakeholders to track the project’s progress, identify milestones that are behind schedule, and alter their expectations for the team’s output.

  • Determine logical connections between milestone

You must determine how milestones are interconnected. This allows you to follow the events in a logical order. For efficient synchronization of project tasks and phases, milestones must follow this logical sequence of occurrences.

  • Include the specific tasks and efforts that make up your project milestone. 

By including specific tasks and effort on your project milestone, every task delivery comes with ease because your teammates have the basic understanding of what they need to achieve, and they can provide resources to get it done fast. 

So instead of stating the objectives or the expected deliverables, include a dose of guidance to your team so that they understand that each milestone reflects the critical step they take at that moment.

Summary – Milestones in a Project

Project milestones are one of the practical tools you need for accurate project planning, scheduling, and delivery. They guide you with the power to predict project completion time and delivery success. 

You may employ project-management software tools, management processes, data management systems, team-training programs, and other “best practices.” Still, if you ignore project milestones and the strategies behind their efficiency, you’d likely deliver your next project late.

With the information provided in this article, you will set yourself apart from the many project managers who have a justification for why a project fails. As a result, you’ll be able to deliver quality work, manage costs, and gain customer satisfaction.