Ultimate Guide To Project Milestones (2020)

Ultimate Guide To Project Milestones (2020)

You’ve heard terms like ‘milestone’, ‘deliverables’, and ‘goals’ thrown around if you’ve worked in project management.

And while deliverables and goals are fairly straightforward, what is a project milestone?!

In this guide, we’ll explain what a project milestone is, and how it differs from goals and project deliverables. We’ll also show you why milestones are an essential element of project management. Finally, we’ll reveal how you can use milestones effectively for your projects.

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Let’s get started.

What Is A Project Milestone?

Project milestones are key achievements along your project’s timeline. They are checkpoints that signify major events, tasks, or groups of tasks that have been completed.

Here’s an example to clear it up:

Let’s say you are building a cabin. Some typical milestones would include:

  1. Designing the blueprint and securing the client’s approval
  2. Laying down the basic foundation
  3. Starting work on the walls and roof
  4. Completing the wooden floor and the carpets
  5. Finishing the doors, windows, and fireplace
  6. Finishing everything, getting a beer keg, and ‘cheers!’

That sounds neat! 

But why should we use milestones?

Milestones are handy because they:

  • Help your team to track the project’s progress and determine priorities
  • Let you monitor deadlines and get a clear view of the anticipated timeline
  • Give a framework to your project

But do you know what qualifies as a project milestone?

A milestone is generally a significant event

Some general examples of milestones that would work for any type of project are (we’re leaving out the celebratory beer for this one):

  • The start and end date for any major project phase like ‘planning phase’ or ‘testing phase’
  • Key deliverables like ‘plan review’, ‘design drawing’, or ‘design review’
  • Any important event like stakeholder approvals

Common Misconceptions About Project Milestones

Milestones sound a lot like goals, right?

So how is a milestone different from a deliverable or a project phase?

Let’s clear up these common misconceptions:

Misconception 1: Goals and Milestones are the same thing”

A goal is something you aim to achieve in the future. 

For example: ‘Gathering all the material needed for the project within two working days’.

A milestone is looking back at what you’ve already completed. 

For example: ‘Materials have been gathered and construction has begun’.

Misconception 2: A milestone is a project phase”

Milestones are generally tied to the start date and completion date of important project phases.   

The project phase is a specific stage (phase) of the project that lasts a few months. Whereas, milestones are markers that indicate the beginning and end of this stage. 

So if planning and designing is a phase of the project, then the start date of the planning and the completion date of the design will be the milestones.

Misconception 3: “A milestone is a deliverable”

A deliverable is a result or a product. 

For example, the first release of the working software. 

A milestone is a point in the project timeline that refers to an important date

And by an important date, we don’t mean days when a six-pack of beer is on sale!

In this case, it is the date when the first working software was released. 

However, both milestones and project deliverables are techniques to measure project progress or project success

Why Should You Use Milestones?

Now that you have a clear picture of milestones, let’s find out why they are so popular. 

Here are a few advantages of including milestones in your projects:

1. Monitor deadlines

Deadlines are super-important.

If you overlook them, your clients might feel like this:

Ron Swanson looking upset

The best way to highlight those important deadlines for your entire team is scheduling these key deliverables with project milestones.

And the best way to do this is to set the target date (deadline) as a milestone date

For example: ‘finish the user testing phase (a major milestone) by June 27th (key deadline)’

This way, the entire team is much more aware of important deadlines and always keeps a top-level view of every major event and important date.

2. Mark critical tasks

Project milestones are generally assigned at the end of critical tasks. 

What’s a critical task?

These are crucial tasks that you must complete in order to finish a project. If a critical task isn’t done on time, it’ll delay the entire project, and would get on your client’s nerves too.

Why do you need it?

When you are falling behind the project schedule, use the critical path method to map out and complete the critical tasks first. 

Bonus: Learn more about the critical path method here.

By mapping out the key milestone tasks, you can effectively allocate your resources to these crucial tasks when you are lagging behind the completion date/target date.

3. Highlight end of a project phase and identify dependencies

Milestones are commonly assigned to the ends of any major phase of a project.

This helps you to reveal and map out task dependencies, which are tasks you need to complete before moving to the next one.

For example: ‘installing windows’ is dependent on ‘building walls’. 

After all, there’s no way you could install windows before building a wall! (Keep your wands down, magic’s not allowed here.)

Now, when you track the completed milestones, you have a clear idea which project phases are complete and which are not. This way, milestones give you a crystal clear overview of your project, and also they help you identify which tasks your team can approach next.

4. Keep you and the stakeholders aware of your project’s progress

Time for a pop quiz.

You’re in the middle of building a cabin and your client calls you for a status update.

What would be a correct response to their request?

  1. ‘It’s being built.’
  2. ‘We are currently chopping down the logs.’
  3. ‘We are having a beer break right now, call you back.’

The answer is neither A nor B! (Obviously not C)

Why?

Both are vague statements that will leave your client dazed and confused. 

Uncertain man looking around

You’d need something more specific like ‘the roof is finished’ or ‘the floor is done’.

Sound familiar? 

Yup, those are statements from the milestone list that we’ve mentioned earlier!

Milestones are an easy and effective way to keep your project sponsor and other stakeholders updated about your project progress whenever they ask for it.

But it’s not just for the stakeholders.

By tracking the project’s milestones, a manager can also have a clearer overview of a project’s status.

5. Builds motivation

Chances are you’ve played video games at some point in time. 

(Probably a little excessively ever since quarantine began, but we’re not judging)

Remember the feeling you get after the completion of a mission?

Pretty exciting and thrilling, right?

Similarly, hitting key goals and completed milestones also gives your team a feeling of completion and accomplishment. Now, when you set milestones for major tasks and events, your team members are engaged and motivated throughout the project.

How To Implement Milestones In Your Project

Let me guess…you now want to start milestone planning for your project immediately.

Wait, not so fast.

In order to use them effectively, your project needs to have a clear structure. Try to avoid something like this:

Homer Simpson looking at map

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to structure your project properly to implement the project milestones:

Step 1: Create a project goal

First things first; you can’t work on a project without a goal.

It will be like building a house without having any idea what it’s supposed to look like.

(Maybe you might end up creating some architectural marvel, but it’s not very likely.)

So, sit down with your team and stakeholders and identify the main goal of the project. 

This will keep your project team focused on the project scope.

However, creating a goal is pretty simple.

The main challenge is implementing it.

Luckily, all you need to do is a powerful project management tool like ClickUp.

What’s ClickUp?

ClickUp devices on Alexa, laptop, and iPad

ClickUp is the world’s highest-rated project management software. Used by 100,000+ super productive teams in companies from startups to giants like Google, Airbnb, Ubisoft, and Nike, it’s the only tool you need for all your project management needs.

With ClickUp’s Goals, you can break down huge project goals into smaller achievable Targets. This not only keeps everything organized, but it also keeps your project team motivated by giving them frequent feelings of accomplishment.

Now that you got your team all fired up, let’s see what else ClickUp’s Goals can do:

  • Quantify your Agile Goals with OKRs (Objectives and Key Results)
  • Create weekly scorecards for better performance appraisal
  • Track Scrum sprints or any project in real-time 

Goals in ClickUp

Step 2: Break down your entire project into tasks and subtasks

Your project needs to have a detailed project plan and structure to keep things organized and efficient. To do this, divide your project into tasks and split the longer tasks into subtasks.

For example, if you are working on a software project your task list might look like this:

  • Project goal: Build a mobile app
    • Task: Planning
    • Task: Coding
    • Task: Testing
      • Subtask: Beta testing
      • Subtask: Bug testing

This ensures that the project stays organized and easy to track.

But when you’re splitting a large project into tons of these smaller tasks, how do you prevent yourself from tearing your hair out?

By using ClickUp!

ClickUp’s tasks and subtasks let you break down any long complex project lifecycle into smaller tasks and subtasks. This way your team can work on the whole project step-by-step.

Each task and subtask comes with a status bar to let you monitor any project task status 24×7.

You can even add Checklists to each of these tasks to take your task management to the next level. These are simple to-do-lists to list out small things like quality-check items. This way, your team has a clear sequence of events to follow to progress.

ClickUp checklist inside task description

Step 3: Assigning the milestones

Now that you’ve created your tasks and subtasks, it’s time to organize and prioritize them.

Arrange your tasks and subtasks and group them together according to their project phases.

Now for the most important part:

  • Determine the critical tasks
  • Identify the tasks which begin or end a project phase
  • Identify every project task which requires project sponsor /stakeholder approval

Then, simply add milestones to these tasks or points in the project timeline.

And, what’s the most systematic and convenient way to do this?

Hint: It’s not on Excel or a calendar. (Unless you love headaches)

man banging head against wall

It’s using ClickUp’s Milestones.

ClickUp’s project management Milestone feature lets you add a key milestone to any task with just two clicks! 

how to add a ClickUp Milestone

To quickly identify the milestone tasks, the task name appears in bold and is marked by a diamond icon when viewed in the Calendar view or List view

After you set milestones, your task list might look something like this:

  • Project goal: Build a mobile app
    • Task: Planning (Diamond Icon)
    • Task: Coding (Diamond Icon)
    • Task: Testing (Diamond Icon)
      • Subtask: Beta testing
      • Subtask: Bug testing

Super convenient, right?

Step 4: Use a Gantt chart to have a clear overview

Now it’s time to visualize the entire project.

However, calendars aren’t going to cut it (especially when you have multiple projects to manage).

So, how do you do it?

By using a Gantt chart.

A Gantt chart is a visual chart depicting the tasks scheduled over the entire project’s timeline. Gantt charts visualize a range of project parameters like:

  • Task time and its progress
  • Assigned team members 
  • Sequence and dependencies of tasks

Want to know more about Gantt charts? Read our detailed guide here.

Sure, Gantt charts are already super powerful, but to take it to the next level, you’ll need to add your project milestones to your Gantt charts.

This will help your team to get a clear visual overview of all the key dates, tasks, events, and deadlines. This will magnify the power and benefits of the project’s milestones just like a magnifying glass amplifies the power of the sun. 

Fortunately, a Gantt Chart wouldn’t start any fires!

magnifying glass with sunlight on a piece of paper

But, wait.

Gantt charts are an eyesore, right?

Nope.

Try ClickUp’s Gantt chart view.

ClickUp’s Gantt charts are not just powerful, they’re also easy, interactive, and super-fun to use.

Gantt chart with dependencies

They can also:

  • Automatically readjust task dependencies after changing the schedule of related tasks or  after adding a new task
  • Calculate project completion percentage
  • Calculate the critical path you need to follow when you have a tight schedule

But the best part is that the ClickUp Milestone feature integrates smoothly with the Gantt chart.

The result?

You get easily-identifiable yellow diamond icons representing all the important items in the project timeline.

ClickUp Milestone on Gantt chart

Here’s what it looks like when all the steps come together:

However, that’s not all of ClickUp’s features. 

Here’s a sneak peek at a few more:

Conclusion

Milestones are some of the most useful things for projects across all fields and industries.

They highlight important achievements and give the project team a sense of accomplishment.

However, before using them, ensure that your project already has a well-defined structure. And to make that job easier, ensure that you’re using a powerful project management software to spell things out.

Speaking of project management software, ClickUp has all the features you need to map your milestones with ease. From creating goals, assigning priorities, and charting progress, you’ll have everything you need at your fingertips.

And the best part?

It’s FREE!

So sign up for ClickUp and speed through your milestones today!

motorcycle dodging traffic

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