Milestones are essential events in a project, the delay of which often has a negative impact on the further scheduling of the project. The milestone plan makes delays transparent and the effects visible at a glance for all parties involved.
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It is often difficult to keep track of large projects that have a lead time of one year or longer. In order to structure such complex projects, project plans are created that provide an overview of content, results, employees, deadlines and costs.
But the more complex a project, the more difficult it is to find your way, even through structured project plans. For this reason, planning at a higher level, which provides an overview of the current schedule situation in the project at a glance, makes sense in any case.
Goal of milestone planning
- Rough scheduling for the entire project.
- Making essential events in the project transparent.
- Overview of delays and their possible impact on other dates.
- Performance progress orientation.
- Creation of intermediate goals for employee motivation.
The milestone plan provides information about time-critical events in the project, the adherence to which is of great importance for the project, because otherwise, for example, the deadline is delayed or other deadlines cannot be met.
In addition, the milestone plan provides clear information on which of these essential deadlines have been met, which have been postponed and how far, and how this delay will affect future milestones. In this way, the schedule situation of a project can be captured at a glance.
The milestones are also used to define intermediate goals, the achievement of which can be recorded as an interim result of the project and should also be acknowledged accordingly. For projects that extend over a longer period of time, such “in-between” experiences of success are a welcome motivational injection for the project team.
Prerequisites for Creating a Milestone Plan
- Goals, contents, start and end dates of the project are defined.
- General conditions and important management requirements for the project have been agreed and communicated with you.
- It is known when which partial results have to be available.
- You have clarity about the current as well as the predicted resource situation in the project and therefore know when which resources are needed and to what extent.
- You know about the importance of the project in the organization.
- An activity and/or work breakdown structure plan has been drawn up and coordinated by the project team.
Originally – and in some places still today – a milestone marks a certain, fixed or round mark on a route. This milestone is used for orientation and to estimate how far away one is from prominent points, such as the nearest city.
According to DIN 69 900, an “event of special significance” in the process of a project is referred to as a milestone in project management. This “special significance” already indicates that not every 0815 deadline is recorded in the milestone plan.
Typical milestones are, for example, the start and end of a project, the launch of a pilot project, the go-live of software, or the decision for a product. Typically, milestones are often set at the end of a project phase and/or a work package.
Creation of the milestone plan
Development in the project team
The development of the milestone plan ideally takes place in a specially planned work schedule / workshop together with the project team. In any case, all employees who are responsible for the most important work packages in the project should be involved. The duration of the deadline depends on the complexity and size of the project and the number of participants. As a rule, 1-2 hours should be sufficient.
The following documents are required for the development of the milestone plan in any case:
- Current project work breakdown structure
- Project Order
- Project Organisation
- Project Communication Plan
- Environmental Analysis / Stakeholder Analysis
All participants of the planning appointment should receive these documents in advance for preparation. This saves time in the meeting.
Sometimes there are milestones that are fixed from the outset, either due to the circumstances (e.g. certain changes can only be made at a certain point in the year) or due to management requirements (e.g. completion of the concept after 3 months at the latest). A list of already fixed milestones is a basis for further planning.
The milestone plan is created on the basis of time-critical events in the project that can be derived from the work breakdown structure. Further helpful documents to define the milestones are the project order, the project organization, the project communication plan and an Environment/Stake Holder analysis.
It makes sense to create the milestone plan directly after completion of the project work breakdown structure and the project schedule.
Typical milestones are, for example, the start and end of the project, the finalization of the conception phase, the launch of a pilot project, the go-live of software or the decision for a product. Typically, milestones are set at the end of a project phase and/or a work package.
The lead time of a milestone is 0 days, it receives neither a responsibility nor content-related tasks and is formulated passively. Thus it is perceived as an event or status and not as an activity. For example, the work package “Create rough concept” is logically followed by the milestone “Rough concept has been created”.
The mapping of the milestone plan can be done in tabular or graphical form. For reasons of clarity, the graphical representation of milestone planning is more advantageous in most cases.
Check: Are the milestone dates realistic?
Once the milestones have been set and are well distributed over the project duration, it is essential to take a look at the feasibility of the deadlines.
- Can the activities / work packages preceding the milestones be processed realistically within this period?
- Are the deadlines possibly too generously planned?
A time schedule that is planned too sportive is just as much a motivation killer as the feeling of having eternal time.
Milestones are not only a project controlling instrument but also help to create a sense of achievement for the project team. Especially for long projects this is important for the motivation of the project team.
Coordination with the project sponsor
The milestone plan should definitely be agreed between the project manager and the project sponsor. It may also be necessary to coordinate with the project Steering Committee and it will also require its approval. In the worst case, the milestone plan must be rescheduled. However, this should not happen if existing deadlines have been taken into account in advance.
Milestones highlight the way to your goal…
Examples: Milestone Plan
Milestone plan created with MS PowerPoint
Milestone plan created with MS Excel
Milestone plan created with MS Project
Practical tips and tricks for milestone planning
- Approx. 7 to 9 milestones per project,
- As a rule of thumb: 1 milestone per month
- Milestones at the start or end of work packages
- Examples of typical milestones are:
– Project start and end
– … approved, … in operation
– Go/No-Go decisions
– Pilot operation started / ended
– End of project phases
- Milestones in the course of the project are the minimum that must be controlled.
- Use the work breakdown structure plan as the basis for creating the milestone plan.
- Popular management tool, since no details but the essential information are transported on a meta-level.
- Optimal tool for project evaluation, as delays become visible at a glance and conclusions can be drawn for next projects (constant delays are indicators for unrealistic planning, inefficient execution, etc.).
- A permanent non-achievement of milestones indicates problems (too tight scheduling, too few resources, too much content, …).
- The milestone plan should not disappear into the widths of the project server or get dusty in the archive. Like any other project plan, it lives. If the end date of a work package in the work breakdown structure cannot be met, the subsequent milestone may have to be postponed in full transparency.
- The usual approach is to create a work breakdown structure with its work packages and then link the milestones. Of course, this also works the other way round: first define the milestones and then plan the activities in between. If certain milestones have been set from the outset, you can’t avoid setting your work package deadlines accordingly anyway.
We recommend the following articles for further reading:
- Work breakdown structure – 6 steps
- Work package
- Milestone Plan
- Time scheduling – Gantt chart
- Project order
- Project Client – role and tasks
- Project controlling – effective project monitoring
- Project reporting – meaningful project reports
- Social competence – a must-have for project managers?
- 9 Stages of Conflict Escalation according to Friedrich Glasl
- 4 Sides Model of Communication