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Measuring success, one milestone at a time


Pam Coleman is a Senior Consultant in our Government Consulting Group who has spent more than 15 years helping local governments to assess and implement new technologies, with a focus on human resource and payroll functions. She is an experienced project manager and Certified Payroll Professional.

Pam Coleman

Large-scale projects require extensive planning, quick decision-making, thoughtful problem-solving, and above all else, resourcefulness. One way to be resourceful? Reutilize elements that naturally occur in the course of a project. My favorite element? Project milestones. They are an easy and effective way to:

• Measure progress to meet deadlines and budgets
• Keep project team members focused on the priorities of the project
• Improve the project by continually measuring and refocusing efforts

Here are three key steps to optimize milestones for project success.

1. Determine project milestones.

While a project manager typically determines project milestones, best practice is for all project sponsors to review the plan and reach consensus on the most effective milestones. I suggest tying project milestones to payment and deliverable acceptance schedules. Why? Payment and deliverable acceptance schedules are typically set to coincide with the completion of a group of activities or tasks in a specific project phase. Therefore, your project milestones will naturally align with major project goals. Next, determine additional milestones within the project’s life cycle based on needed control points, e.g., at a point where you need primary sponsor approval to move to the next step.

2. Streamline the project.

  • Provide checkpoints to confirm completion of a subphase and readiness to move forward to the next. Two commonly used checkpoint processes during the implementation of a new ERP system are User Acceptance Testing (UAT) and Readiness Assessments. 
  • Meet deadlines or see if you need to re-schedule future activities.
  • Keep your team informed and aware of the overall project status.
  • Improve morale by updating team members on completed project milestones and providing a much-needed light at the end of the tunnel. 
  • Provide budget insight.  

3. Communicate milestones in the right way.

Choose a communication method that aligns with the magnitude of the achievement in order to keep stakeholders informed and team members engaged, as well as to sustain momentum so the project moves toward a successful completion.

Primary project sponsors should communicate major project milestone achievements, e.g., the go-live of a new software system, in person, during a meeting or at a dedicated celebration. Team members often work countless hours to achieve goals but receive little credit. Recognition from the primary project sponsor can provide team members with a sense of accomplishment and help encourage continued efforts.

Project team managers or leads should communicate minor project milestone achievements, e.g., the completion of a system setup in an ERP system replacement project, in person or via email. Managers or supervisors generally have firsthand knowledge of efforts and completion of minor project milestones, and are better suited to communicate the achievement of these milestones to both sponsors and stakeholders.

Communicate upcoming project milestones.
Have the project manager ask core project stakeholders their perspective on achieving each milestone in order to minimize future issues resulting from incomplete activities.

Project milestones can help any project, large or small, succeed, on time, and on budget. For more information on how to bring project milestones into your next project, contact me.