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What is a Project Milestone and why are they important?

Project Milestones 2 to 1

Have you ever finished a project and wondered how the end result differed so much from the initial plan? Creating and utilising Project Milestones allows you to catch issues earlier and take the appropriate course of action to deliver the intended result.

What is a Project Milestone?

A milestone is a significant, marked progress point that appears along a project timeline. Generally milestones signify an important change or step in the development of a project. Milestones divide timelines into stages and are commonly found in project management software such as Xero’s WorkflowMax. 

Milestones are usually set in the planning phase of a project  and get updated as the project progresses. Think of milestones as stop and go sign posts. They are visual reference points that break a project down into manageable chunks, create order and help to anchor the project and make it less overwhelming.

All project managers need to keep track of major events and pending decisions. Setting milestones can help to do this. Milestones signal to everyone involved what the overall ‘lifespan’ of a project looks like and what needs to be achieved along the way.

Some examples of typical milestones include:

  • Start and end dates
  • Budget checks
  • External or internal reviews
  • Tests or inspections

Without milestones, project managers end up only monitoring a multitude of individual tasks. The completion of tasks is clearly important, but a bigger picture is required to keep projects on track to ensure successful, timely completion and to make certain all deliverables are met. 

Why are Milestones important?

Milestones are critical to successful project management for the following reasons:

  1. They help to monitor deadlines - setting core milestones in the planning phase of a project will help project managers to stay on top of all associated deadlines.
  2. Identify potential bottlenecks - many projects rely on work produced by external teams or partners. If these external factors aren't being tracked delays and compression are likely.
  3. Easily spot critical dates - using milestones makes it easier to see the bigger picture and readily spot important dates and events. Perhaps you or your entire team will need to be out of the office for a mandatory training session related to the project.
  4. Raises the visibility of the project - visibility can make things easier when it comes to project handling. Everyone can see where a project is and what remains to be done.
  5. Time and resource allocation - time and resource is critical to the completion of all successful projects. Using milestones helps managers to distribute resources effectively so that projects are delivered on time and on budget.
  6. Payments to vendors are often based on milestone completion - keep track and time payments to key suppliers with the completion of milestones.
  7. Stakeholder involvement varies between milestones - stakeholders typically become more involved as a milestone is approached. Use milestones to plan for when stakeholders should step closer to the project.
  8. Accountability - project teams need to see what they are responsible for. Milestones help everyone to be accountable for the part they play.
  9. Demonstrates ‘measures of success’ - it's great to be able to measure your success! Completing and passing through all your major milestones is a satisfying, visible way to demonstrate the overall success of a project.

Want to learn more about Milestones and Project Management? We have created a free guide here.

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Dion Eade
Dion Eade is one of the New Zealand Account Managers at WorkflowMax. He first learnt about WorkflowMax while working for a digital marketing agency as part of their entrepreneurship program before joining their sales and account management team. In these roles he used WorkflowMax every day to log his time and loved it so much he decided to join the team! When Dion's not checking his Job Financial Summary he’s playing the latest Battlefield or attempting to learn about Biology and Python programming.

Dion Eade