During the project planning phase, when drawing up a project’s timeline and setting out key moments along the project’s path, two seemingly interchangeable terms continuously crop up: “milestone” and “deliverable.”
Both set out waypoints that allow a project’s progress to be judged and provide a focus for a team to work towards, but are they the same? And if not, what exactly are the differences in the milestone vs. deliverable battle? Let’s take a closer look at what each term stands for.
What is a project milestone?
- Can be conceptual or tangible
- Signals the reaching of a key stage in the project
- An important sign for the team
- A point for project management to check project goal alignment
What is a project deliverable?
- Must be tangible (i.e. a product or service)
- Signals the completion of a project phase
- An important sign for the client
- A point for the client to sign-off on project status
Milestone vs. deliverable: What’s the same and what’s different?
As you can see from the above characteristics, there IS considerable overlap between project deliverables and project milestones. For example, a particular deliverable may coincide with a certain milestone or vice-versa. But ultimately, deliverables and milestones represent two distinct – if often parallel – tracks along which projects are measured and carried out.
Let’s dive a little deeper into the distinctions.
Tangible vs. intangible
One of the major differences between milestones vs. deliverables is that a deliverable must represent something tangible – a concrete product or service, such as a piece of software or a marketing video – whereas a milestone can simply be a conceptual change or moment.
You may still be wondering, So exactly what is a project milestone, then? An example would be, when building a house, the stage where you get sign-off from the safety inspector or town planner. This is a milestone that signals the movement into a new phase of the project, but it isn’t a deliverable because you’re not necessarily providing anything tangible to the client.
Reaching a point in the road vs. Completing a part of the road
So, what’s a project deliverable? Well, to continue with the construction analogies, rather than being a landmark that shows where you are on the road, a deliverable is like reaching a river and building a bridge to cross it. You will have identified that the project path would need to cross several key points and had agreed with the client that when each of these was complete, you would provide it to them.
In this case, you would call up the client and say something like, “Hey, we’ve crossed the first river, come down and check out the bridge and let us know if it’s ok. In the meantime, we’re continuing to build the road to the next one.”
Team vs. Client
While a client may be well aware of a project’s milestones and ask to be kept up to speed with them, they are mostly for internal use, i.e. being used as a focus point for the team and management. They represent a moment when a project condition has been satisfied and give management the opportunity to assess performance so far.
A deliverable, on the other hand, is something which concerns both the team and the client, which is also why all deliverables can be considered as milestones. A deliverable is when a client has input on how it believes the project is going and gives them the opportunity to assess performance.
Tracking milestones and deliverables can become a hectic process, especially when it needs to be done across multiple projects. Fortunately, project management software like Clarizen can provide automated calendar reminders as well as giving extensive visibility into team progress towards both. To find out how we can help your project hit its milestones and deliverables on time and within budget, talk to our team today to organize a live demo.