Throughout our projects, we create milestones to help us ensure we are remaining grounded to the project and to allow an update to all involved. The use of milestones is more or less a scheduling strategy. For example, if the project was a wedding, the milestones might be the engagement party, the bridal shower, the hen and stag parties and the ceremony. Milestones can be used as a reminder to complete necessary tasks, but how can we ensure these are actually effective and not just something that looks good on paper?
Here we discuss 10 features that you should consider to help set your milestones to make them actionable and effective.
The first 5 we will discuss come from the SMART acronym which you may have seen used before in goal setting. The other 5 we feel will help make your milestones more effective.
So, let’s look at each one in detail:
Specific: Each milestone you assign to a project should be specific. That means when you look at the milestone, you should know exactly what is going to be required to do it. Milestones that aren’t specific can be vague and confusing and therefore often remain undone. If you can’t figure it out, then can your team?
Measurable: Is this milestone measurable? Milestones can be measurable because they’re either complete or checked. For example, on a to-do list or in a system where a date is added to confirm a milestone is complete or incomplete (unchecked). By looking at the to-do checklist or system, you can quickly track the progress of your project.
Attainable: is this Milestone actually achievable? This is an important question to ask. If your milestone is too big or too complicated or will take too long then it will never be completed. Try breaking your milestones down into attainable chunks. If the finish line is too far away to see, many runners won’t finish the race.
Relevant: This one might seem obvious, but milestones need to remain relevant to the project. If they are not, this may distract from the scope of the project and in turn may result in milestones not being met.
Timely: Make sure your milestones have a timetable for when things are due. Without these, many deadline tasks will not be completed.
Clear: Your milestones need to be open and not use technical jargon. If they use clear language, then everyone in the team will be able to understand the task and be able to complete it without any confusion.
Small: Similar to as we discussed in attainable, but when setting these milestones think about making them small enough to finish in a couple of days. This helps the team remain focused and prevents procrastination.
Assignable: Each milestone should be able to be assigned to a specific individual. Have you ever heard the saying too many cooks spoil the broth? Apply this principle when setting your milestones. Having one focused person who remains ‘in charge’ of the milestones will ensure it runs smoothly and is completed on time.
Progressive: Milestones should follow a linear path, meaning once you have completed one you should then be able to start the next. A milestone should be completed fully and ticked off so that the team can fully focus on the next one.
Significant: This seems like we are contradicting the above points where we talk about small and attainable. But the point we are making here is not to make them too small and insignificant that they become annoying and pointless and potentially make the project appear bigger or take longer to complete. It is good to celebrate achieving milestones so the more significant they are, the easier to celebrate success!
So, we have discussed how to positively set effective milestones and hopefully this has made it all seem clearer. One point I would like to add here is: remember milestones aren’t set in stone. Sometimes they need to be changed to meet the changing needs of the projects. This isn’t a bad thing and sometimes it’s good to take a step back and re- evaluate our milestones to see if they are meeting the above traits and meeting the needs of our projects.
Finally, remember milestones are meant to alleviate stress, not cause it!