What Are Milestones in Project Management (+ Examples)

Updated Aug 3, 2022.
milestones-project-management

Project milestones are essential management tools that help you track, manage, and complete your projects successfully. As a scheduling tool, you can use project milestones to delineate different points in a project schedule such as the start and finish of a project or a major phase in the project. 

Milestones break off project phases into manageable parts that are easier to plan, schedule, and execute. You can use milestones in project management as a reference point to indicate a significant event or decision point within a project. 

Understanding the functions of milestones helps keep your team on track, improve project delivery, and boost the effectiveness of project managers.

In this guide, you will learn how to create and set milestones in project management.

Let’s get started.

Project Scheduling with Milestones

Milestones are points within the project timeline or schedule used to gauge its overall progress towards completion. Representing major events within the project management lifecycle, milestones are tools used to split up the project progress. 

They serve as marks signifying the achievement of smaller goals contributing towards the overall objective of the project. You can use project milestones to represent any element of the project that may be defined with a “start” and “finish” or “completed” status.

Within project scheduling, milestones prove to be very important. Estimating the time it takes to complete a project is made easier. Schedule management involves creating plans to achieve the most efficient use of the time available. 

Where milestones exist, you easily determine certain attainable points within the project schedule or timeline, create dedicated scheduling plans for each of these points, and work towards attaining these points. You satisfy your scheduling needs by taking each phase and mini objective one step at a time. 

Milestones are also linked. Just like tasks serving as dependencies to each other, milestones do not start until a previous milestone is attained. By identifying them within your schedule management plan, you know where your priorities lie for your project to keep on moving.

Project Milestone Template
Source: Smartsheet

Project Milestone Examples

Project milestones fit a lot of definitions and categories within your project. They refer to the start and the end point of project phases, events, meetings, and approvals. Nonetheless, some of the most common milestones generally present within project timelines include:

1. The Project Approval

The project approval is typically the first milestone within the project timeline. This signals the first step or point towards project completion, acting as the start point of the entire project and giving team members the go-ahead to start work on it.

2. Project Requirement Review

Project requirement review signals the completion of processes towards resource usage estimation. Resources are key to project completion and estimating all that the project requires is a major phase within the project timeline.

3. Project Execution Plan Approval

The project execution plan dictates the processes through which the project goals and objectives are achieved. Coming up with the project execution plan is important for guiding the project to success and its approval by relevant stakeholders signals a major step forward.

Project Execution Plan Template
Source: Smartsheet

4. Completion of Project Phases

Completion of project phases refers to milestones signaling the start and the end point of major project phases, such as the project initiation, project planning, project execution, project control, and project closing phases. Some other examples of project milestones include your project team development and the production of project deliverables among others.

Difference Between Tasks and Milestones

Tasks are work processes into which the project is broken down. They are work items, units of work, or activities that contribute towards the completion of the entire project. 

Although tasks share certain similarities with milestones, such as their existence as dependencies to each other and the means through which the project is broken down, there are also differences.

1. Representation in the Project Phases

While tasks are continuous processes, milestones are points within the project timeline. Take tasks as lines and milestones as full stops, with tasks representing very minor phases and milestones representing key completion of important minor phases of a number of these phases.

2. Necessary Requirements

For the completion of tasks, the allocation of resources and team members is important. The completion of tasks, on the other hand, is important for attaining milestones. 

Milestones just serve as indicators or signals that major accomplishments have been reached in the execution and delivery of the project, with the completion of tasks contributing to these accomplishments.

3. Project Progress is Better Measured with Milestones Rather than Tasks

With both representing different pieces of the project, progress is more easily and accurately measured with the use of milestones rather than tasks. Milestones signal that certain activities or phases within the project have been completed.

How to Create and Set Milestones in Project Management

To understand how milestones are created and set, there is crucial information to take note of. Projects are broken down into phases, five in particular. They include the project initiation phase, the project planning phase, the project execution phase, the project monitoring and control phase, and the project closing phase. 

Milestones typically signal the point where all activities in these major phases have been completed. However, there is more.

Even though certain common activities signal the end of a particular project phase, where milestones are placed on the timeline depends on the particular project. You do not limit your milestones to just five. Milestones are typically more than these and help to break down these individual phases to even smaller bits.

However, this is not enough information for you to create your milestones. There are other factors to consider while placing them within your project timeline.

1. Identifying Crucial Dates

Identifying crucial dates is important for creating your schedule and for your overall schedule management using milestones. Recognizing all important dates within your company’s calendar helps you determine where milestones are placed on the project timeline. 

By identifying the estimated and proposed start and end dates of the entire project and the estimated and proposed start and end dates of phases, you pinpoint where milestones may be placed within the project schedule. 

Determine these start and end dates by how fast stakeholders want to achieve the company objectives and how feasible achieving these objectives within the proposed time in relation to tasks is. 

While considering the company calendar, you take note of holidays and individual time offs, so you know the level of delay to expect.

What all these help you achieve is identifying the exact dates to place milestones, with your team members working towards completing tasks and reaching them within these dates. Use important dates to create milestones and create your schedules based on identified milestone dates.  

In addition to delays through inevitable team member unavailability, you identify other sources of delays affecting your schedule and the performance of tasks and project activities.

2. Begin with Multiple Milestones

If you are unsure of what you define as major events, setting multiple milestones within your project timeline helps. You do not delay the start of the project and then filter out these points when there is clarity. 

Crucial points that stay within the project timeline are determined by stakeholder expectations. You also adjust these milestones and update stakeholders based on unexpected delays while managing the project.

3. Identify Dependencies

Dependencies are elements of your project that are reliant on other elements. In the case of milestones, dependencies exist when accomplishing one milestone is not possible unless a prior milestone is attained.

While creating your milestones, you want to identify these dependencies as they help with efficient schedule management. You know where your priorities lie, create and organize milestones based on these priorities, and ensure your project execution phase remains seamless.  

For milestones to be effective, other factors you want to consider include:

  • Avoiding placing too much or too few milestones within your project timeline
  • Ensuring everyone has information on milestones, creating soft deadlines for milestones to be achieved
  • Ensuring everyone follows established milestone schedules. 

How to Use Milestones in Gantt Charts

Not too many tools allow you to effectively visualize milestones. Gantt charts prove to be very easy-to-use and efficient visualization options offered by the best project management software programs in the market.

Gantt charts present you with a complete overview of your project scope and timeline, giving you the ability to easily monitor your project’s progress, tasks, and dependencies. 

Where they exist, Gantt charts also provide you with a view of your milestones and allow you to easily manage them. However, how you create milestones within Gantt charts depends on the tool you make use of.

Generally, milestones are created by adding markers to the project’s visualized timeline. These markers may be tasks converted to milestones and named appropriately. When creating these milestones, some visual project management software programs allow you to set durations for them.

When talking about charts and milestones, it is important to note that milestone charts are different from Gantt charts. While milestone charts only display information about the end dates of milestones or objectives within the project timeline, Gantt charts do you better. 

Gantt charts provide you with additional information about tasks and assignees as well as dependencies, among a lot of other pieces of information. You easily identify existing bottlenecks within your project timeline. 

For this reason, Gantt charts prove to be more effective in properly managing milestones within a project and properly managing a project with the use of milestones. How Gantt charts are created also depends on the project management tool you make use of.

There are several Gantt chart software for project management such as Monday.com, ClickUp, and Wrike you can use to create Gantt charts to show your project milestones.

Anastasia Belyh

Editor at FounderJar

Anastasia has been a professional blogger and researcher since 2014. She loves to perform in-depth software reviews to help software buyers make informed decisions when choosing project management software, CRM tools, website builders, and everything around growing a startup business.

Anastasia worked in management consulting and tech startups, so she has lots of experience in helping professionals choosing the right business software.