We are sure you know the exciting feeling of getting closer to your destination. On the road, this is the function of signs indicating the towns you are passing and how much distance you have left. Leaving behind successive plaques symbolising the stages of your journey is great satisfaction and it is no different at work. What are project milestones, how to set them and what mistakes to avoid?

Landmarks of your project

Milestones are specific points in time that are used to measure progress towards the ultimate goal of the project. Each such point marks a major and important phase in the project, allowing you to maintain a clear structure of work on your timeline. In this way, every stakeholder can have an overview of the status of the objectives.

Examples of milestones are:

What should project milestones contain?

The most important feature of project milestones is their names and dates of completion (it can be a period or a specific deadline). It is very helpful when you write individual points on a timeline so that you can immediately see the whole cross-section of the project. In many cases, for example in the waterfall model, it is also useful to link them with payments and budget. It is also worth marking on each phase additional requirements, e.g. more people to the team, meeting with the client, etc. However, while doing all this, remember that project milestones must not be too complicated and technical. Their purpose is to enable every person involved in the project to follow the progress of work regularly. For this reason, every stakeholder should have the same understanding of what’s been accomplished.

What is the role of milestones in planning the work

1. Scheduling 

Milestones are the scheduling tool that allows you to plan the most important phases of the project in time and assess at what stage the objectives are. On the overall project schedule, they show us the most important work stages, making it easier to visualise progress.

2. Ongoing update for all stakeholders

In a software company, it is all about efficiency and optimising activities. Can you imagine that every time you want to check on the status of a project, you have to go through all the completed tasks and then decide what is done and what is not? Or that you have to consult with your team on every point in the schedule to know if there are any delays? That would take an awful lot of time! With project milestones, everyone involved in the project can check for themselves whether team reach defined milestones or whether the project is behind schedule. Everyone benefits from project milestones: developers, project managers, clients and marketing.

3. Checkpoints

We all know that prevention is better than correction, but sometimes a project manager can’t give his full attention to all his projects at the same time. Usually, the team has quite a lot of autonomy, while the project manager steps in when decisions or reactions are required. Thanks to clear milestones, PM can immediately see where problems arise in a project and take appropriate steps to ensure that work runs smoothly.

4. Increased productivity

Some projects drag on forever. When your team has been working on the same thing for months and there is no end in sight – the motivation decreases. Project milestones don’t make the work move faster, but they do allow you to break it down into stages. This way, instead of a project from point A to point B, we have smaller goals on the way, and striving to achieve them increases motivation and speeds up progress.

5. Raised morale

From childhood we are used to being rewarded for our efforts – this is how classical conditioning works. Successive achievements are positive reinforcements, which increase our satisfaction. They make us want to work further to experience more pleasant emotions. The realisation of milestones is just a kind of such a reward, an opportunity to celebrate for the team that has completed an important phase of work. Thanks to this you can boast about your team achievements in front of other departments or customers and congratulate yourself on a task well done. The sense of pride associated with progress and development is very important for the well-being of employees.

6. Information for other teams

The larger a software house is, the more difficult it is for everyone to keep up to date with everything that is happening within the company. Thanks to project milestones, employees can always check what projects other departments carry. Employees can much easier build a sense of belonging to the organisation and team integration. Moreover, when employees know what other teams are working on and what they specialise in, they will always be able to ask the right person for help on a given topic.

Setting project milestones – how to do it right?

There is no universal rule on how to designate project milestones... Well, this information was not the most helpful, was it? But it all stems from the fact that milestones are as different as the products they concern. You need an individual approach, awareness of key objectives and a project timeline.

The most important thing is the number and frequency.

It is important that milestones appear relatively regularly and that the intervals between them are not too long. For example, if the project will take about one year, milestones can appear, more or less, monthly. Of course, this frequency is only indicative, but you know what we mean – if in a whole long project there are only 4 stages separated by whole quarters, they will not fulfil their systematic and updating role in the current process. On the other hand, treat milestones as something special. They are not ordinary tasks that we carry out on a daily basis. For them to increase motivation and be an achievement for employees, they cannot occur every two days because they will not be a reward.

Clear for everyone

Project milestones must be understandable for everyone who has to deal with them, i.e. people from different positions, departments and sometimes even companies (like clients and partners). They don’t require technical specifications. Milestones are signposts that show the status of work, so they are to be as clear and unambiguous as possible.

Order matters

Ideally, milestones should mark relatively separate phases, so that once the team complete a phase, it can be considered done. Completing a milestone and then returning repeatedly to that part of the project makes chaos. 

It is also important to lay milestones out chronologically on a timeline. In this way, they help to systematise and order the workflow. This is especially important in the waterfall method.

The most common mistakes

In every industry, a key skill is learning from mistakes... preferably someone else’s. So let’s look at what to avoid when using milestones.

Manage project milestones as optimally as possible

Ok, now that you know all about what milestones are, how to set them and what mistakes to avoid, let’s move on to managing them. The easiest way to do this is to use a work organisation tool such as Teamdeck, where we have just introduced a feature dedicated to project milestones! In our system, you can easily manage milestones, assign appropriate access and track the status of each work stage on a clear timeline.

As Teamdeck is a comprehensive work management tool, you can also easily check the full schedule, the people involved in the project, their capacities, the possibility of appointments and much more. So you can always embed milestones in the wider context of your organisation and use them as conveniently as possible. Teamdeck is a tool created by a software house for software houses, which is why we ensure that it is useful, functional and tailored to the IT industry.

A milestone for your company

Project milestones, used properly, are a very useful tool when working on an application or software. Firstly, they facilitate the ordering and scheduling of work, setting its proper rhythm. Secondly, they ensure the clarity of the project for all the people involved. Thirdly, they perform a very important function of motivating and improving the morale of the team, giving a reason to be proud, a sense of achievement and development at work. If you have not yet implemented milestones in your organisation – there is no need to wait! 

If you have any questions, please contact us – we will be happy to help you personalise our tool to best suit all your business needs.

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