Schedules are a valuable tool that support project time and cost optimization and tracking efforts. Additionally, schedules also guide stakeholders through the complexities of the project. Milestones, in particular, are a scheduling feature that helps navigate stakeholders through the schedule by highlighting important events in the life of the project.
While hiking on an unfamiliar trail it is always reassuring to come to a trail marker. The trail marker provides definitive proof that you are going the right way or, perhaps, not. A Trail marker also informs you how far away you are from your destination. Wouldn’t it be great to have scheduling features similar to hiking trail markers? Well, the good news is Microsoft Project has these features; they are called milestones.
This article discusses Microsoft Project scheduling milestones.
Milestones are a unique type of Microsoft Project task in that they have no duration and no resource assignments. They do, however, have relationship assignments like Microsoft Project detail tasks. These relationships connect the milestones to the inner workings of the schedule like gears in a mechanical system. Because milestones are well connected to the schedule they can publicize major events in the life of the project and direct the stakeholders accordingly.
Milestones in a way are binary; their status is either not started or complete. But milestones are more than just switches in circuit; they are guideposts that tell you where you’ve been and/or where you are going.
Well-defined milestones are like coordinate readings from a GPS device. With milestones you get a fix on where you are in the schedule. Having this “coordinate fix” stakeholders can then dive down deeper into the schedule complexities and review the deliverables and associated tasks.
Let’s take a look at the sample Microsoft Project schedule in Figure 1, which has several milestones.
Milestones are indicated in the Microsoft Project schedule as tiny black diamonds. But don’t let their size fool you; milestones can represent major scheduling events.
Note how in Figure 1 that all the milestones, regardless of when they occur, are all grouped at the top of the schedule almost like header information. That is by design. Milestones work best when visible at the top of the schedule, instead of being hidden in the weeds down below.
Now let’s review the milestones in our sample schedule. The major event milestones in the demonstration schedule, Figure1, are as follows:
- Notice to Proceed
- Project Start
- End Construction
- Project Complete
- Contract Completion Deadline
The Notice to Proceed milestone highlights the specific date the buyer representative says work may begin. Project Start marks the date the subcontractor plans to actually commence the construction work.
You may notice from this demonstration that projects are similar to trains that slowly gain speed until achieving operational speed, and slowly come to a halt at the end of the journey. So milestones typically mark progression during both the beginning and closing stages of the project.
In our demonstration schedule three milestones are associated with project completion phase: End Construction, Project Complete, and Contract Completion Date (CCD). The End Construction milestone marks the end of the major project construction phase, provided substantial completion goes according to plan.
Project Complete is the day network logic says the final project deliverables are done and/or provided. Every project has a deadline, so a CCD milestone marks project progress (or the Project Complete task) in relation to the CCD.
Milestone tasks that are devoid of both duration and resources have their place in the echelon of scheduling tools. Yes, milestones are like guideposts on a hiking trail. A well-defined milestone tells either where you’ve been or where you are going. Milestones direct stakeholders to the tasks that produce project deliverables.
Grouping milestones together on large projects help stakeholders navigate through the complexities of the project. So milestones (grouped together) provide the project manager and other stakeholders a high level view of the schedule situation, and directs them accordingly.