How to Create a Milestone Chart / Schedule — A 9-Minute Guide

Creating a milestone chart can be quick and simple if you have the right tools on the table. Here's how to do it in 7 simple steps.
Shannon Toe
August 9, 2022

Creating a milestone chart is like planning a vacation — you need to pull all the factors together — who you’re going with, what you want to do or achieve, and, most importantly, how much it is going to cost you.

Above anything else, milestone gantt  charts give you a way to put all the data on paper (read:  screen), see what’s missing, and where you can actually get with your existing resources. It is a way to get a realistic estimate of just how feasible the project is and what you can expect out of it.

But although milestone charts can sound easy, creating one can get tricky, especially when you get to see all the dependencies and limitations that come into play along the way.

For you to get an easy start with project milestone charts, we have created this easy 9-minute guide.

What is a milestone in project management?

There was probably a point in everyone’s life when they were looking into a history book, studying some chronological events. Those events are usually visualized on a horizontal axis. And they are, in fact, milestones assembling a bigger picture together — the rise and fall of some dynasty, for example.

In project management, milestones bear a very similar meaning. There’s always an axis of some sort in the picture, whether it is horizontal or vertical, because it stands for the timeline of the project. Milestones, in turn, break that project into substantial pieces of work or progress. 

Incontestably, milestones are an integral part of project management. They're the checkpoints along a project's timeline where the team takes a moment to assess the progress so far, re-evaluate the work left to be done, and determine whether to adjust the strategy or just keep going.

A milestone is an important point of reference in your project, such as reaching the halfway point, or completing a deliverable. Milestones can also help you and other stakeholders track progress, plan for potential changes in project scheduling and budget, and prepare for upcoming events.

What is a milestone chart?

A milestone chart (or "milestone schedule" or "milestone diagram") is a visual way of showing the milestones in your project. It's an easy-to-understand tool that people who aren't familiar with your project can use to see how long each phase will last and where they fit into the bigger picture. Plus, it helps you plan ahead by alerting you about upcoming milestones so you can be ready for them.

milestone chart

Milestone charts are used in project management to make sure that the project is moving along according to plan. They take the form of a timeline divided into phases, and they help to identify when a specific task will be completed or when a certain deliverable will be met. Milestone charts can be useful for identifying where a project is falling behind schedule, and for planning ahead in case there is an emergency or an unexpected setback. 

These charts are a time-honored tool in project management, as they're a great way to keep your team aware of the big picture and on-track for project completion.

Milestone chart example

There’s a multitude of situations where a milestone chart is useful but in project management, it is crucial for success — for one thing, it helps keep things neat and organized. And if you’re working in the professional services industry, here’s a typical situation where a milestone chart could make a world of difference not only for the project manager, but for all the stakeholders involved.

Suppose you have built a tool or software for some client. It has been a while since it launched and now it is high time that you roll out a new version of it. Now, this is not the kind of project that takes a day — in fact, it can even take months, depending on how many adjustments you need to make.

But where do you start?

A milestone chart will give you a timeline to work with. Your first milestone, for example, could be at the point where all the stakeholders agree on what updates need to be made and what features added. Your second milestone could mark the point where some of those features get developed — and so on and so forth. 

Where is the finish line then? Or rather the last milestone in the chart? Correct, it’s at the point of the roll-out. 

Here’s what such a milestone chart template could look like in Runn. 

milestone chart example

Types of milestones

There are 5 symbols you can choose from in Runn to identify your different types of milestones.

You can identify your milestones however you wish. Here are some examples:

The $ symbol

Identify financial deadlines, for example:

  • Payment due
  • Invoice sent to client

The Warning symbol

Identify warnings or events that may impact your project, for example:

  • Scheduled website maintenance
  • 50% of budgeted hours used up

The Start arrow symbol

Identify the beginning of a phase or stage in the project, for example:

  • Project commences
  • Phase begins

The End arrow symbol

Identify the end of a phase or stage in the project, for example:

  • Project completed
  • Phase ends

The Flag symbol

Identify key events or deliverables, for example:

  • Project budget approved
  • Report prepared for project sponsor

How to create a milestone chart (7 easy steps)

Milestone charts come in many shapes and sizes — you can make a milestone Gantt chart, a milestone Kanban chart, timeline milestone charts, etc. (more on that later). But if there is one thing that’s clear it would have to be this: all charts have to be flexible. After all, not many things are static in project management — success is usually about being dynamic. 

In simple terms, this means that the good old milestone chart Excel might be of little help here. In fact, it might even bring more losses than gains — from hours wasted on updates to project delays because of human error and data inaccuracies. 

However, you can remove all that project milestone chart hassle by automating the process. Then all the project planning and tracking will be a matter of a few clicks. 

Once you find the best fitted tool to accompany you in the process, here’s what you need to do.

1. Identify goals

Start with a brainstorming session about what you need to accomplish as a team or as a company. If it's an existing product or service, list out any complaints you've heard from customers or clients that you want to fix. If it's an entirely new product or service, double-check if the problem you're solving is actually a problem people have. Make sure that the goals are quantifiable and don't rely on subjective opinions — "make it better" isn't something you can measure. 

Begin with the end in mind: it's important to know what you want to accomplish before you start planning how to get there. What do you want your milestone chart to look like at the end? What do you think are some key milestones that need to be hit along the way? Discuss these questions with the team members involved and make sure everyone's on board with setting up the chart in a way that will achieve those goals.

2. Line up tasks

Now that you know where you're headed, it's time to decide what needs to happen to get there. Break down each goal into smaller steps and set specific dates for each one — this part is key, and will be your guide as you move forward with the project.

​​Think about the most efficient way for each task to be completed, and write down each step necessary for that part of the project, including when it needs to be completed in relation to other steps. 

3. Make a timeline and set milestones

This is the part where it really gets interesting. 

Here you get to lay all of your milestones on an axis and create a timeline. Visualizing all the project plans and using the right project scheduling techniques is the way you need to take for your planning to be realistic. Above all, a milestone chart in project management has to be accurate and specific — so try to leave as little wiggle room as possible (or none at all) when it comes to milestone delivery dates. 

With Runn’s Project Planner, you can simply drag a bar to make the project phase or milestone as long as you need it to be to cover all tasks. 

how to create a milestone chart

4. Assign people

Once you have the backbone of the project laid out, start assigning resources to it. You usually start by looking into your internal resource pool, their availability and capacity to understand whether your current resources can cover all the project needs or whether you need to do some hiring to meet project demand. 

But just so you don’t have to stop that milestone chart planning dead in its tracks, create Placeholders to see what resources you need and where, even if you don’t have them yet. 

With a Placeholder, you can assign a role to a milestone or a task (instead of a specific person), which will help you see what expertise you will need and for how many hours on that specific project. That is actually the best way to make your hiring accurate and relevant. 

Assigning people is the most crucial part of the process so make sure everyone knows who they're accountable to, what their deadlines are, and how they can get in touch if they have any questions or issues.

5. Gather feedback

Before the project is on, every stakeholder needs to agree with the trajectory you chose for it to take. You need to be sure that your resources have the right skillset, expertise, and even motivation to participate in the project you launch. Once that is confirmed, you can gather feedback on how feasible your milestone chart is and whether all the goals can actually be achieved. 

6. Provide relevant documentation

Behind every successful project stands a good amount of documentation work. 

From project proposal and project plan to risk management plan and project scope statement — throughout your project lifecycle, there will be a lot of relevant documents you need to keep in one place for the project to be well-organized. 

7. Check off achieved milestones

Celebrate successes.

Each milestone achieved is a reason to celebrate all the efforts your team has put into the project and provide all stakeholders with a relevant report on how the project is going. 

Achieved milestones give a sense of completion so celebrating them is a way of rewarding the team for getting the project closer to the finish line. 

Now, let’s go back to another exciting question: how many chart types are there and which one is the best for your specific project?

Milestone chart alternatives

Whatever milestone chart type you’re going to choose, its concept will remain the same — showing project phases and progress. However, the way you visualize your milestone chart comes with a few options. 

milestone chart alternatives

Gantt chart

Even when someone is new to project management, Gantt chart is something they probably already know. It is usually this color-coded timeline chart with bars for project phases. 

In fact, most project scheduling tools use Gantt charts as a way to visualize milestone charts. They are usually drag-and-drop and can show you dependencies between different milestones and tasks. 

Horizontal timeline 

This timeline usually comes natural — it is the easiest to read. It’s a horizontal axis with milestones placed chronologically on it. This milestone chart is often used in product roadmaps to clearly see the delivery date of each feature. 

Vertical timeline

Vertical timeline is like a sibling to the horizontal timeline — it’s just doing things the other way around, going top to bottom instead of left to right. The chronology approach, however, remains in place. 

Kanban board

These boards are so universal that they are not only used for task management, but for project scheduling too. With each column, you get a meaningful piece like a milestone or a certain time frame. Using that logical construct, you can easily see all the relevant information and status of each milestone. 

Milestone visualization

Milestone visualization is very similar to a horizontal timeline but it can provide more background on each milestone. 

Creating a milestone chart can be quick and simple if you have the right tools on the table. With Runn’s Project Planner, you can build your project and milestone chart in such a way that you will always remain flexible and able to address scope creep before it becomes a threat to project delivery.

For more project management benefits and a quick tutorial on creating milestone charts in Runn, book a call with us now!

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