Creating project milestones helps you establish a clear pathway to project fulfillment and success. Let's take a look at how to create milestones for your projects.
Project milestones are like check posts on highways that help drivers track the miles they’ve covered — telling them how far they are from reaching their target destination.
Without them, tracking progress can quickly become a headache. The lack of clarity can cause clashes in team and resource schedules to crop up, jeopardizing project success. Not to mention the project team runs the risk of losing their focus. Employees may even need to work at the eleventh hour to get work done, which increases the risk of burnout.
This is why milestones are pivotal for every project team. They encourage accountability, make it easy to track project progress, and improve employee motivation.
Not sure how to create project milestones? Don’t worry. We’ve created a step-by-step playbook for you — so keep reading to learn more about the risks of not using milestones to track project progress.
A project milestone is a checkpoint in a project timeline that specifies the completion of a project phase and the starting of another.
Since milestones signal the start of the next stage in a project, they come with pre-defined start and end dates.
Milestones give everyone involved in the project — from the project manager to the different teams working on different tasks — an indication of when their work would start and by when their work should be completed.
Naturally, this promotes accountability and team collaboration. As employees follow a set process and schedule, taking on work to their optimal capacity, their work engagement grows.
What’s more, project management milestones assist in making work actionable.
By putting milestones in place, you create a project workstream that divides the entire project into large phases that are further divided by tasks. This compartmentalized way of managing projects helps you complete them without feeling overwhelmed and by a set schedule — never compromising on the work quality.
While there may be some variance in the type of milestones you’ll set based on your industry, many projects follow a similar path. The most common project milestones making up a project life cycle are:
This milestone marks the initiation phase, with extensive brainstorming on the project. In certain instances, there may be a milestone prior to this one — often marking the project proposal stage.
This milestone marks the project obtaining approval from the client or stakeholders. It’s an especially important milestone for agencies and teams working under supervision.
During this milestone, a project manager organizes the project into phases, reviews the resource inventory to identify which employees are available to work on it, and creates a project schedule — complete with work assignments.
This milestone often involves creating a rough version that captures the final product’s vision. In development, this milestone denotes creating a prototype. In digital marketing, this could be creating a project brief.
After the prototype has been given the green light, the next milestone comes when the product or campaign has been created.
This is typically the second-to-last milestone in a project plan — marking the end of the work that goes into testing the product and revising it as per the collated feedback for final approval.
The final milestone in a project lifecycle, this milestone marks the product’s launch or campaign’s go-live date.
This isn't an exhaustive list of the potential project milestones that you may encounter, but these examples can serve to give you a good idea of what's in question when project milestones are being discussed.
Project managers use milestones to plan, schedule, and track key project deliverables. Milestones help them track forward progress, create status update reports, and ensure all project goals are met.
But if you were to summarize the benefits of project milestones, you’d see that milestone planning helps each aspect of project management. Let's take a look at the five top benefits of tracking project milestones:
By breaking a project down into phases and marking them in a milestone chart, project managers can see all major events in a project’s timeline.
This makes it easy for them to identify the scope of the work involved and understand which employee skills are needed to get the work done.
Ultimately, milestones simplify tracking project progress and making sure work is completed within the set schedule.
Milestones also help managers review work on multiple tasks bundled under a key deliverable. In doing so, they can quickly identify project bottlenecks — even major changes in the project scope before it’s too late.
With key milestones dividing the project into different phases, a project manager can easily spot when a specific team’s help is needed. For example, it’s only when the content team’s work in the drafting phase is complete that the design team’s work starts.
Having this visualized information at hand makes it super easy for project managers to create work schedules for different teams involved in a project.
This reduces resource clashes. What’s more, it contributes to optimal resource utilization as project managers can use project milestones to guide work assignments for each employee — never over- or under-loading them with work.
Whether it's internal project status updates or external, milestone charts give you an at-a-glance overview of which project phase the project is in and approximately how long till its successful completion.
You can use this information to accurately update clients on work completed and work remaining.
Milestones in project management also keep teams in check. Because they know they’ve to complete the assigned key project deliverables by a set schedule, they’re more likely to get their work done on time.
Not to mention, each team can use a milestone chart to see when their job on the project starts, which boosts cross-team collaboration.
By regularly reviewing deadlines, you can create more accurate estimates of how long each project phase takes.
For example, by studying your planning phase milestones’ performance, you may notice that planning is never complete by its anticipated end date. This means it typically takes longer than what you originally anticipated. With this new information, you can set more realistic project timelines and take on new work accordingly.
Because project milestones play a crucial role in every essential aspect of project management, not creating them risks your project’s success.
In fact, without milestones, projects can run for longer than needed and kill work momentum. You won’t be able to keep up with your project schedule as well.
Similarly, you’ll see issues with resource management. If you don't create milestones, you won’t be able to give employees and teams sufficient heads-up about the work required from them, which culminates in resource and project timeline clashes.
To add to the worries, you won’t be able to identify project bottlenecks in time. In turn, this commonly leads to scope creep and project cost overruns.
Not setting milestones also leads to poor employee engagement — even demotivating teams. Left unaddressed, this issue grows to breed last-minute work requests and overworking employees. In the long term, when employees’ workload isn’t managed well, they’ll start struggling with issues like burnout.
Ultimately, internal issues can lead to poor client satisfaction as promised deadlines aren’t met and (quite possibly) work quality goes down — a result of rushed work due to poor project management.
When all these things snowball, word gets out, which can negatively impact your reputation. Failing to set and track project milestones causes problems that affect your business’s long-term sustainability.
So remember: well-defined processes make a strong foundation for a sustainable business. These processes include milestone planning, which determines your project management’s efficiency. In turn, this directly impacts work quality, client satisfaction, and by extension, your reputation.
Convinced you need to start setting milestones to improve your project planning and processes? We’ve got good news for you: adding milestones to your project is a piece of cake if you’re using Runn to manage your projects.
The cherry on top is the ease with which you can set them: milestones in Runn are marked by an easy-to-read icon.
This visual nature makes it easy to track updates and meet important deadlines at a glance. Plus, you can also see all the project milestones in one column for a full overview of important project dates. Here’s what it looks like:
Now before we dive into how to create project milestones with Runn, let’s look at a few ground rules to keep in mind for setting milestones:
Now for setting milestones in Runn, you’ve two choices to add them — from the project dashboard or from within the project planner. Let’s review both one by one:
Setting milestones from the project dashboard:
Step 1: Head to the project dashboard and scroll to the Milestones section.
Step 2: Click the Add new milestone button and select the type of milestone you want to add.
Step 3: Now give your milestone a name in the Name field. You can also use the Note field to add notes about the milestone if needed.
Step 4: Pick a date for your milestone using the Calendar control
Step 5: Hit Create and you’re done.
As for setting milestones from the project planner, take these steps:
Step 1: In your project planner, hover over the project timeline on a specific date.
Step 2: Click on the + button that shows up and select the type of milestone you want to add.
Step 4: Give your milestone a name in the Name field and, if needed, add a note about it in the Note field too.
Step 5: Hit Create when you’re done.
Planning, setting, and tracking milestones may be simple enough (with the right tools), but there are still some common pitfalls you’d do your best to avoid. After all, you don’t want to put all this work in just to have it ruined by a simple mistake! Here are three common mistakes to avoid.
Setting unrealistic milestones can impact your project in more ways than one. Whether you don’t allow enough time for your team to complete the work required to achieve the milestone or fail to account for their capacity, external dependencies, or other constraints, you’re setting yourself up for failure. This will demotivate your team by creating unnecessary pressure and lead to disappointment in the long run.
Instead, set realistic milestones that are achievable. Make sure to talk to your team about their expectations and check their availability before making anything concrete.
By failing to consider the interdependencies between tasks — when tasks are linked to each other — you’ll inevitably run into delays. This will impact the timeline, incurring increased costs and causing problems with resourcing. Not to mention, any third-party clients or stakeholders will be less than happy.
Achieving milestones on time requires the whole team to work together. That’s why it’s critical you communicate what each milestone involves, who is responsible for what tasks, and what the key deadlines are. Failing to do so can mean your team isn’t aware the milestone is a priority, or stakeholders feel in the dark about timelines and goals.
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