Understanding the Importance of Establishing Key Project Milestones

If you like to walk, run, or ride a bicycle it’s always good to take notice of mile or kilometer markers along the journey because they tell you how far you’ve gone and specifically where you are on a particular road or path. Nowadays, with Global Positioning System (GPS) technology in watches, smart phones and other smart devices, a user can easily track where they are, how far they’ve gone, or how much distance is remaining before reaching a final destination.

Unless you're off the grid, these high-tech devices eliminate the need for physical markers along a road or trail and they can also provide information on your pace or speed of travel. I'm a big fan of technology and whenever you can use it to improve a task, I say go for it!

Project professional soften speak in terms of milestone accomplishments

Milestones, as it relates to project management, typically refer to the start or completion of a project phase or a group of required tasks in a project implementation process. Typically, at key milestones, decisions are made to fund or not fund, continue, or discontinue or make changes to the planned path forward of a project. Milestones are great targets to aim for. Moreover, stakeholders, sponsors and team members are often focused on milestone dates as well as the associated tasks required to be completed in order to achieve the milestone. Why? Because knowing if activities are on a good trajectory to achieve the desired goals is of utmost importance to most projects. Without a milestone date, these people will grow less coordinated, less focused, and less motivated to achieve the right milestones at the right time.

The importance of establishing project milestone dates

As soon as practicable, it’s imperative that you identify key milestones as well as the date these milestones should occur in order to achieve your desired project goals. Early in the life of a project, many agree, key milestone timing should be among the first elements that should be determined, discussed, vetted, agreed to and communicated as part of the project planning process. Unfortunately, some project professionals fail to identify key project milestones and establish reasonable milestone dates. They may not have the experience, information or tools needed to do this well. These projects are often the ones that "go off the rails before the train leaves the station."

As a project professional, you want your project to stay on track...! A runner who knows how to pace herself to achieve a personal best time in a long distance run, would knowhow fast to run at various points in the race to achieve a great finish time. If she is not on track after one mile, she can adjust her pace to assure her target speed has been re-established before reaching the next mile marker.

Keys for Establishing a Sound Milestone Plan:

  • Establish the starting milestone, ending milestone and the key milestones in between along with their respective dates (seems obvious, I know, but it amazes me how many people don’t do this)
  • Test your milestone dates against historical performance and comparable performance of similar endeavors
  • Understand and be prepared to communicate the potential variability and accuracy of the established milestones

A sound project plan will set the expectations for your project, and the milestones you include in the plan will serve as a macro-measuring stick for the project’s anticipated schedule. Knowing your company’s or a client’s project performance history provides good understanding of how long certain tasks take to complete based on the complexity of a project.

Many who are new to a project, might believe that a project starts when a project is funded, or when construction starts. Seasoned professionals know that a project actually starts well before this, and they also know all the key activities that need to be accomplished before you achieve beneficial operations of the project.

Getting your milestone plan right as early as possible in the project process is crucial. As your project progresses, your initial plan will serve as a good indicator of how expediently the project is progressing. As you make changes along the way, just like the earlier mentioned runner example, you can gain greater assurance that you will achieve your project goals because you'll know what adjustments need to be made throughout the life of a project.

The Brandon Group (TBG) believes that their Early Spend-out Profile and MilestoneEstimator (ESPME) can help you to set early expectations around key milestones. As a bonus, it will also provide an estimate of cash flow that can potentially occur as you move through the various project milestones.

Please check it out. We suggest you look at some past projects and input the historical data you have in the tool. You can then see if the tool would have been able to provide a reasonable estimate well before you had the details that would be more common in the later phases of a project.

For a limited time, you can get free access. This link will take you to a page where you can learn more and use the tool.

"Remember to celebrate milestones as you prepare for the road ahead" -Nelson Mandela

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