Just as highway travelers can see how far they’ve traveled by watching for mile markers along the side of the road, project teams can use milestones to measure their progress toward their objectives. Milestones are an essential tool for communicating project status to internal and external stakeholders. In fact, defining and identifying project milestones is one of the most important abilities that a project manager must possess.
A milestone, by definition, is a reference point that has no duration itself, but marks an important event in a project task or group of tasks. In addition to helping project team members and other stakeholders stay informed about the project status, milestones are often used to determine when payments are due to vendors and service providers.
If you consider the project life cycle, you can start to see how milestones fit in. In the same way a person grows from infant to child to adolescent to adult, a project moves through the initiation, planning, execution, and completion phases. Each of these phases is associated with certain milestones. One milestone for an infant might be saying his or her first words; likewise, the project initiation phase comes with its own goal-posts marking the completion of certain stages of development.
If you are new to the world of project management or are planning your first project, this overview will help you understand the typical project milestones that project managers and teams use at the enterprise level.
Typical Milestones in Project Management
While not as commonly noted as other project milestone examples, the first milestone in the course of any project is the initial approval that allows the project to move forward.
For internal projects, this milestone often comes in the form of an approval from a department director or other high-level stakeholder. For other projects, this milestone is usually marked by the completion of a sales contract and scope of work.
Once the project is approved, project managers begin inputting elements of the project into their chosen project management tool.
Most enterprise projects involve a lengthy process in which the project requirements are defined and gathered through a series of meetings, review sessions, and document exchanges. The project team then typically interprets and consolidates their notes and presents the client with a detailed description of the requirements as they understand them.
When the client or customer agrees that the requirements are accurately documented, another major project milestone has been reached.
After gathering the customer’s requirements, a project team needs to design a solution that will meet the requirements and fulfill the terms of the scope of work. When the initial design is complete (which often takes months or even years for large projects), the customer needs to review the proposed solution and confirm that it will satisfy the project objectives.
This design approval is a significant milestone for projects in fields as diverse as software, construction and marketing, just to name a few.
Project Phase Milestones
Once the project team begins to actually build or implement the proposed solution, the project manager will typically define project-specific milestones related to the components of the work being done.
In a construction project, for example, the project manager might need to mark milestones (and facilitate milestone payments) for the completion of phases such as framing, concrete pouring, plumbing installation and interior finishing.
The most significant of all project management milestones, of course, is the one that marks the completion of a project. This milestone typically comes at the end of an extensive testing and inspection process, and a final review session in which all stakeholders agree that the work is complete and meets the project requirements.
Upon reaching this milestone, successful project managers typically hold a follow-up meeting with the team to discuss what worked, what could have been better and how to work even more efficiently and effectively on the next project.
If you are looking for a project management solution to track your project milestones, sign up for a free, on-demand Clarizen product tour.