Project Scheduling with Milestones

July 24, 2015
In this video we will discuss milestones and how you can use them to be a more effective project manager. FREE Project Management EBOOK for new project managers. DOWNLOAD HERE: http://www.easyprojects.net/ebook/ Don't forget to check out our Blog on project management to learn more: http://www.easyprojects.net/blog/ ___ At their most basic, milestones are “landmark” moments in your project that the project team and stakeholders use to measure progress. These are usually something significant like ending a project phase or completing a deliverable. By comparing the planned milestone date and the date you actually achieve the milestone, you can gauge if your project is on track or not. Your milestone names should be as short and descriptive as possible. When defining your milestone, it’s important to use criteria that are answerable by either “yes” or “no”. This avoids vague, hazy milestones that make it difficult to tell when one phase of the project ends and the other begins. Here’s an example of a good milestone: This milestone is named “Alpha Test Start”, and has a scheduled start date of May 5, 2013. When May 5 rolls around, the project manager asks the following question: Is the Alpha Version of the product ready for testing? If the answer is yes, then the milestone is achieved and the project can move on to the next phase. If not, then the project team has a lot of catching up to do. Every day the milestone is late further delays other milestones down the road. Milestones can be divided into two groups: Major milestones and Minor milestones. Major milestones typically involve external-facing deliverables or major events. These include product prototypes, the end of a development phase, or a feature that the stakeholders need to extensively review. Minor milestones are smaller, day to day events that are more useful for internal purposes than external. These include internal deadlines or minor deliverables. Clients and stakeholders don’t usually see minor milestones. The smart project manager will use a milestone as a chance to stop and assess the project’s overall health. At these fixed points, the project manager can assess the distance traveled, the distance to be traveled, and the direction of travel. By examining the distance traveled and how long it took, the project manager can gauge project progress and see if they can still keep to the projected timeline. If he has the time, he can do a quick post-mortem on any issues the team encountered, and hopefully apply those lessons moving forward. At this point, the project manager will have a better idea of how the project is progressing, so he or she will be able to accurately predict how long it will take to reach the next milestone and what the team will have to do to get there. Sometimes, working on the project will uncover data that may change the project’s entire direction. For example, a development team might finish the alpha testing phase of a program, only to find that most users didn’t like the program’s main features at all—they preferred one of the minor features instead. By taking stock at this milestone, the project manager realizes that they should change the goal of the project to make the more popular side feature into the program’s main feature. Working on a project will sometimes uncover some project-altering revelations. For example, a team alpha-testing a product might discover that users preferred to use their software for another purpose, instead of the intended one. In this case, the project manager has to take stock and assess which direction the project should be heading. Do they alter the features and functions to cater to this new, unforeseen market? Or do they keep on as before? Milestones are very useful, true, but they’re hardly perfect. For instance, milestones tend to focus on only critical path progress, and gloss over non-critical items. So a project could meet all of its milestones and yet still be late, because all these other “non-priority” tasks are piling up. But that’s a minor concern, and is easily managed. In reality, milestones are an integral part of the project management tool kit, and every project manager has to learn how to use them in order to succeed.
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