December 2, 2022
General
6 minutes
Masooma Memon

Project Milestones: What Are They & Should You Track Against Them?

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 quickly becomes a headache. The lack of clarity can cause clashes in team and resource schedules 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 leaves space open for burnout.

It's 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? We’ve got this step-by-step playbook for you — complete with a breakdown of the risks of not using milestones to track project progress. 

What is a milestone in project management?

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. 

In doing so, milestones give everyone involved in the project — from the project manager to the different teams working on different tasks — a heads-up indicating roughly when their work would start and by when should their work 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 sliced way of managing projects helps you complete them without feeling overwhelmed and by a set schedule — never compromising on the work quality.

Examples of common project milestones

Although the exact terms for each project milestone may vary based on the industry you are, project milestones are mostly the same. These are:

Ideation

This milestone marks the initiation phase with brainstorming on the project is done. In certain instances, there may be a milestone prior to this one — often marking the project proposal stage.

Client or stakeholder approval

This milestone follows project proposals and the first rounds of ideation that require client approval. It’s an especially important milestone for agencies and teams working under supervision.

Project planning

This milestone comes into motion when a project manager breaks the project into phases, reviews the resource inventory to identify employees available to work on it, and creates a project schedule — complete with work assignment.

Rough drafting or prototyping phase

This milestone often involves creating a rough version that captures the final product’s vision. In development, this milestone denotes creating prototypes. In digital marketing, this could be creating project briefs.

Design or creation phase

When the prototype phase gets a green light, this milestone begins where the bulk work is done.

Feedback or testing phase

This is typically the second-last milestone in a project plan ­— often bracketing the work that goes into testing the product and revising it as per the collated feedback for final approval.

Launch phase

This is usually the final milestone in a project lifecycle. It’s when all work is complete, and the project ends.

Project milestone examples aren’t limited to these though given you can add in other milestones too — for example, an invoicing milestone. 

What are the benefits of tracking project milestones?

Briefly, 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 show you how:

  • Improves project organization

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.

  • Identifies potential bottlenecks

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.

  • Better resource management

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 uber-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.

  • Levels up client communication

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.

  • Better accountability and employee motivation

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.

What’s more, 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 can see planning is never complete by its end date. Meaning: it takes longer than what you originally anticipated. With this new information, you can set more realistic project timelines and take on new work accordingly.

What are the risks of not tracking project milestones?

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. Without creating 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.

No milestones also lead to poor employee engagement — even demotivating teams. Left unaddressed, this issue grows to breed last-minute work requests and overworking employees. In the long haul, when employees’ workload isn’t managed well, you’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 bundle up, word gets out, which can negatively impact your reputation. The result? Not using project milestones at all births 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.

How can you track project milestones?

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 of the ease of setting them: milestones in our project management software are marked by an easy-to-read icon. For example, there’s a $ sign for a milestone denoting financial deadlines. Similarly, there’s a flag milestone icon that stands for approvals.

 

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:

  • Always start by dividing your project work into phases. This way, you can add milestones at the start of each phase to denote the beginning of a new phase and the end of an old one.
  • Look back to the past projects you’ve completed to estimate how long each phase took. You’ll also want to review the exact tasks involved in a project phase. Both tactics will help you estimate how long each milestone should be.
  • Pay attention to important dates when setting milestones. Maybe the client requested to see the prototype by a certain date — remember details like these when planning your milestones.
  • Always include buffer time for each project milestone. This is important to prevent schedule and resource clashes and for meeting the final deadline.

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. 

Easy, isn’t it? Try Runn for free for yourself and improve your project management in no time using milestones.

 

 

 

 

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