What are milestones, when are they used and what advantages do they offer?
Important occurrences in a project
A milestone is an event of particular importance in a project. In the simplest sense, it marks the end of a stage on a route. However, the focus is not on passing a deadline, but on achieving a goal. For example, a hike over the Alps next Friday would not be a milestone – generally speaking this is just the date – but the crossing of the border between Austria and Italy would be. As a result, milestones are not fixed in time – in many project management tools, they can be set if necessary – and have no duration, as they “only” indicate important events or occurrences.
When managing projects, milestones facilitate project planning as well as project implementation and control. They often divide project progress into verifiable stages. They can be used as an approval at the beginning of a project phase or as a phase completion at the end of a phase. Milestones can also be used within individual project phases. There is no typical number of milestones per project; in other words, milestones can be used as often as you like.
The use of milestones
In numerous companies, milestones are set, among others, for
- the completion of delivery items and/or intermediate results,
- forthcoming tests, intermediate approvals and final approvals,
- forthcoming dates that have been agreed, for example, with clients or suppliers (so-called date milestones),
- decisions on the further progress of the project (as decision points or quality gates).
Milestones are used, for example, in Precedence Diagrams and Gantt charts (bar charts). They are also displayed in the project baseline. In multi-project management, the use of “publicly published” milestones in dependent, parallel projects is widespread. Some organizations also maintain a milestone list, which lists all milestones of a project with detailed information such as contractual obligations.
The advantages of milestones
Milestones offer the following advantages:
- In project plans, you can be identified by the diamond symbol.
- They are easy to monitor and allow you to compare planned and actual data. For example, dangers for projects are determined with a milestone trend analysis.
- They support a planned transition between the project phases and promote communication between the project participants.
- They provide time and content orientation for project participants and enable synchronization of projects among each other.
In practice, opinions differ as to the extent to which milestones should be used as control instruments. For example, does it make sense to set a milestone earlier than originally planned in order to try to accelerate the project? Is it okay to create a buffer by shifting it backwards? Should more milestones be set in order to detect deviations earlier? Each company should define its own meaningful and target-oriented use of milestones.
In some organisations the achievement of milestones is celebrated with a glass of champagne. For the short celebration the productive work is suspended. Of course, such a celebration is not obligatory.