What is a milestone in project management and how do you define one?

What is a milestone in project management and how do you define one?


The milestone in project management, “milestone” in English, is one of the steps before reaching the result, like a step that punctuates the staircase to reach its summit. More pragmatically, the milestone is a strategic date in the context of project management: it is an intermediate and necessary assessment.

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Represented in the form of a diamond in the Gantt chart, this essential element in the life cycle of a project helps to structure its progress. The milestone acts as a marker, as short as it is in the long term. The project manager makes 3 considerations during a milestone: an update on the previous task, the validation of a deliverable, an update on the next step before continuing.

What is a milestone?

The planning calendar of a project is littered with milestones: these are key dates in the execution of the project, strategically positioned. The project manager, possibly in consultation with the client, fixes the most opportune moments to take stock of the progress.

  • By defining intermediate objectives in this way, the stakeholders ensure regular monitoring of the project.
  • Communication is also encouraged, each milestone in fact provides an opportunity for a meeting between the team and the sponsor.
  • At each milestone, the project manager checks the performance of the planning calendar: the opportunity to correct any errors in time. This involves, for example, modifying the deadlines, enriching the action plan with a new task, reviewing the priorities with regard to contingencies or even adapting the composition of the team dedicated to the project.
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Using milestones offers 3 major advantages:

  • Avoid the tunnel effect: the milestone forces the team to communicate intermediate results, by a specific date. This constraint requires strict compliance with deadlines that are shorter than the deadline granted for the final rendering. By thus supervising the project within short intermediate deadlines, the milestone limits the risk of overall delay. In addition, by communicating regularly, the team shows its work to the client. The client then ensures that the project progresses in a coherent manner, in compliance with its requirements. The risk of failure is limited: the team that sets off on the wrong path is quickly redirected.
  • Give rhythm to maintain motivation: when the deadline is far away, motivation tends to decrease and the project risks being put aside. By setting milestones, the project manager creates projects in the project. For each deadline, the team mobilizes; and insofar as deadlines are brought closer in time, the team in fine remains fully involved throughout the project. Beyond ensuring a favorable outcome to the project, within the allotted time, the milestone satisfies the team, which is better stimulated in its daily tasks.
  • Prove team productivity to the client: the client, whatever their level of requirement, can legitimately expect results. By communicating on the progress of the project on the occasion of the milestones, the project manager proves the diligence of the team at work. The customer is satisfied and reassured, the conditions for collaboration are improved.
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How to define the milestones of a project?

To define the milestones of a project, it is necessary to determine the number of them and to pose them at the right time. Establishing milestones in practice is relatively instinctive: they are the highlights of the project. If the project manager does not have the experience or sufficient perspective to distinguish these highlights, it may be wise to seek the advice of the client, who often imposes the milestones on his own initiative. Either way, it’s important to follow these basic recommendations:

  1. How many milestones? It’s about finding the right balance. An inordinate number of milestones slows down the project unnecessarily and efficiency suffers. The rhythm is indeed broken, and the team is demobilized by dint of being interrupted too regularly by points that it considers to be a waste of time. Conversely, an insufficient number of milestones is also risky: lack of communication with the client and between members of the project team can disrupt management. Without milestones, moreover, the manager may tend to neglect the project, over which he loses control. The number of milestones in any case is related to the scope of the project in terms of duration and income. The longer the project, the greater the budget: the higher the number of milestones.
  2. When ? Milestones are planned by mutual agreement between the stakeholders. Planning is strategic: at each important stage of the project, one point is essential. Example: the milestone is essential at the time of a deliverable.
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What is the difference between milestone and deliverable?

The deliverable is a tangible result of a production, provided to the customer during the realization of a project. The deliverable is a stage of the final product or service, it is necessary to achieve the result. Unlike the milestone, the deliverable is materialized in a concrete way, while the milestone can be the end of an abstract intellectual task. Unlike the milestone, the deliverable is intended for the customer: the milestone can be reserved internally, without communicating the result to the customer.

If the deliverable is necessarily the occasion of a milestone, as the object of the milestone, the milestone does not always give rise to a deliverable. Illustration: the mock-up of a website is a deliverable and a milestone, the opportunity for the customer to verify compliance with his instructions and to assess the intermediate result; the constitution of a project team is a milestone, the accomplishment of the task does not constitute a deliverable.

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