The Milestone Chart is a project schedule tool that shows items of significant risk or importance to the project.
When to use
Milestone Charts are for communicating risk. The Milestone Chart is the primary schedule chart used in Management Reviews. If a project must integrate with other projects, the Milestone Chart of each project should be shared with the others, so that each project is aware of issues that could impact the integration points. I don’t recommend using a Milestone Chart for small one-person projects that are not technically complex. The Milestone Chart does not add any value to project management in those cases and just becomes a waste of time.
If the project has many stakeholders or team members, a Milestone Chart helps everyone to understand the significant risk events on the project.
- At the time of initial project planning, the milestones for project phases are identified and the phase timing is set. Project phases represent a major set of project deliverables and the start and completion of those items is a significant event on the project.
- Within each phase, when the phase is being planned in detail, significant events and risk reduction points are treated as milestones and added to the Milestone Chart.
- Project deliverable completions are milestones since they represent a significant event in the success of the project. Ex: completion of software development
- Strategic project decisions are milestones since they represent a significant event in the success of the project. Ex: selection of building architect
- Completion of major high risk activities are milestones since they represent a significant reduction in overall project risk. Ex: completion of qualification test
- Major project Management Reviews are milestones since management makes a determination on project progress or redirection. Ex: monthly project reviews
The Milestone Chart is maintained as an active project management tool and is used in Management Reviews and often included in stakeholder communications.
Hints & tips
- Milestones should be meaningful events to stakeholders. Include their strategic “wins.” If they don’t care about an event but should, use the Milestone Chart to help them understand.
- When creating a Milestone Chart with project management software, don’t assign any resource effort to the Milestone. Instead, create a task(s) of Milestone preparation effort. A Milestone is treated as a “zero-time” event in most software, assigning effort to an event with no time often screws up the cost calculations.
- Have at least one significant project milestone each month, not counting management reviews. This helps the stakeholders understand whether or not the project is making progress.
- Try to describe your milestones in a “pass/fail” manner so it is clear whether or not the milestone was successfully passed.
- Milestone: “A milestone is a significant point or event in a project, program or portfolio.” PMBOK®Guide
This definition is taken from the Glossary of the Project Management Institute, A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, (PMBOK®Guide) – Sixth Edition, Project Management Institute, Inc., 2017.
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