Milestones – The Practical Project Manager

The Practical Project Manager

The place to look for practical solutions to help in the journey of project management


Recently LinkedIn reminded me that I have been at my current job for two (2) years this week. It has been quite the roller coaster but I wouldn’t change a thing. It got me thinking about the concept of milestones. In project world, milestones is a very frequently used word.

Let’s get right to it.

According to Wikipedia, a milestone is a series of numbered markers placed along a road or boundary at intervals, or occasionally, parts of a mile. Milestones are constructed to provide reference points along the road. This can be used to reassure travelers that the proper path is being followed, and to indicate either distance traveled or the remaining distance to a destination.

According to PMBOK, a milestone is a significant point or event in a project. It is critical to decide what the milestones will be for the project at the planning stage. From a practical sense, typically a milestone will be at the end of each of the phases of a project. Also milestone definitions vary from one organization to another. For example, initiation phase is completed by a signed project charter.

So how do we go about handling milestones?

Define Milestones

As described earlier, a milestone is a significant point or event in a project. Remember also that a milestone is an activity that has a duration of zero (0) days. As the Project Manager, you know what tasks are significant to the project. For example, you can use the tasks that are at the end of phases.

Here are some examples:

  • Initiation – Signed off project charter
  • Planning – Completed Project Plan
  • Execution – Signed of User Acceptance Testing, Signed off Certificate of Completion from vendor
  • Closure – Signed off Project Closure document

There are also some specific tasks that mark significant points in a project. Think of items that once completed allow for other items to continue. Tasks on the critical path may also fall in this category.

Here are some examples.

  • Contract sign off
  • Signed off Business Requirements Document
  • Delivery of key component of project example software delivered

You may notice that sign offs seem to be a key element of milestones. Sign offs symbolize that the items have been accepted. Acceptance of the deliverable by the stakeholders is critical to the success of a project.

Achieving milestones

Milestones are a culmination of certain tasks. Make sure you understand what tasks lead to the milestone being achieved and ensure those tasks are delivered. Also remember a milestone can either be delivered or not. A milestone is either 0% completed or 100% completed.

Don’t feel pressure to deliver the milestone for the sake of delivering the milestone. Ensure you pay attention to the tasks that lead up to the milestone. Embed quality in the project.

Milestones help the project team see how the project is going. It gives the teams some points of reference and helps guide on how far they have come and how far they have left. It also gives the project team and you as the Project Manager an opportunity to react in order to maintain the momentum or correct the course. Are there any changes that can be made before the next milestone to ensure that the project meets its objectives?

Celebrating milestones

As the Project Manager, take some time out to celebrate milestones. It doesn’t have to be a big party. If you do decide to have a party, usually at the end of the project, plan for it and include it in the budget of the project. It can just be a session with the team to highlight that a milestone has been achieved. It also motivates the teams.

At the end of the project, encourage the Project Sponsor or even the Executive Sponsor to meet with the teams and acknowledge their efforts. A simple “Thank You” or “Good Job” goes a long way.

Congratulations to you on all the milestones you have achieved.

Leave me a comment below or drop me an email at

Photo credit: Alan Bowring



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  1. This is intriguing first and then so educative ..

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