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What is a Milestone?

Smartpedia: A milestone is a particular event in a project where something is started, completed or a decision is made on how to proceed.

Milestones – important events in the project

A milestone is an event of particular importance in a project. It is usually the beginning or end of a stage on a route. However, the focus is not on the passing of a deadline, but on the achievement of a goal. For example, on a hike across the Alps, a milestone would not be the next Friday – generally speaking, the date – but the crossing of the border between Austria and Italy. This means that milestones are not fixed in time – in many project management tools they can be fixed if necessary – and they do not have a duration, as they are “merely” a marking of important events.

In project management, milestones facilitate project planning as well as project implementation and control. They often divide the course of the project into verifiable stages. They can be used as a phase release at the beginning of a project phase or as a phase completion at the end of a phase. They can also be used within individual project phases, whereby there is no “typical” number per project, so they can be used as often as desired.

Milestones - important events in the project

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).

They can be found in Precedence DiagramsGantt charts (bar charts) or 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:

  • They provide a structure and orientation for project participants in terms of time and content and enable projects to be synchronised with each other.
  • They are easy to monitor and make it possible to compare plan and actual. Threats to projects are identified, for example, with a milestone trend analysis.
  • They support a planned transition between project phases and promote communication between project participants.
  • Ideally, they have a quality-assuring and motivating effect.
  • And last but not least: in project plans they can be recognised by the diamond symbol.

In practice, opinions differ on the extent to which important events should be used as a steering instrument. 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 moving it back? Should more interim targets be set in order to recognise deviations earlier? Here, each company should define a sensible and goal-oriented use for itself.


Impulse to discuss:

In some organisations, the achievement of important landmarks is celebrated with a glass of champagne. Productive work is suspended for the short celebration. Of course, such a celebration is not obligatory. What do you think of such a celebration and is it possibly dependent on the number of “important” events?

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Here you can find a German-language video on the differences between milestones and activities.

And here you can find additional information from our blog:

t2informatik Blog: Project termination - a question of the future

Project termination – a question of the future

t2informatik Blog: Change of project manager in an ongoing project

Change of project manager in an ongoing project