How to Create and Manage Project Milestones

Nathan Vander Heyden
Last Updated:
March 25, 2022

As a project manager, you’re always on the hunt for different tools and tactics that can help you — and your team — succeed.

Enter, project milestones. They are a project management tool that keeps you organized and on track. You’ll be able to save time and money if you use them right. 

When you create a timeline for your creative agency’s projects, you can create a goal (or several) that your team can get excited about. These goals are called milestones. Let’s discuss.

What are project milestones?

Project milestones are a management tool that marks specific points on any given project’s timeline.

They’re comparable to checkpoints and will keep you and your team on track. They can mark the start and end of an assignment, or can represent the completion of an important part of a larger project. 

Have you ever taken a road trip? It can be helpful to think of project milestones like road signs. 

Nowadays most people follow a GPS instead of a map to get them where they need to go. That said, when you’re driving, you likely keep your eye on road signs as you pass them. 

Those small reminders that you’re on the right track can help you feel more at ease.

You don’t need them to get you to where you want to go, but they’re reassuring. Think of project milestones in the same way.

You don’t need them to create and finish a project, but they are helpful and encouraging

You can keep better tabs on the progression of whatever you and your team have on your plates. Crossing milestones will give you a sense of achievement, which is a great motivator.

Why milestones are important for project management

Milestones are important for project management as they demonstrate proof of progress. Ongoing progress is one of the most powerful motivators. A small win like passing a project milestone can make a major difference in performance and success. 

This phenomenon is sometimes called the progress principle. Your team will feel more motivated to continue on any given project if they are aware that they’re making meaningful progress.

The more your team feels this sense of progress, the more likely they are to continue to do good work. It’s a simple but extremely powerful project management tool.

Milestone vs Goal vs Deliverable vs Task

The term “milestones” is sometimes used interchangeably with goals, deliverables, and tasks. While these three concepts are similar, they aren’t the same.

A milestone is a project management scheduling tool that tells your team what they need to complete within a certain amount of time.

For example, you may be working on a marketing project that requires graphics. When you decide the color palette you want to work with, you’ve crossed an important milestone.

A goal is what you hope to achieve by the time you’ve finished a project. Think of milestones as checkpoints that mark your progress along the way.

For example, your goal of the marketing project from above could be brand awareness.

A deliverable is something that your team is required to produce at any stage of a project. It’s something that needs to be “delivered” to the client, such as a blog article or another piece of content.

You may be required to produce a deliverable at a milestone, but deliverables aren’t necessarily required at each milestone. If we take the same example as above, a deliverable would be the first draft of your graphics. 

A task is an assignment or job that needs to be completed within a larger project. A milestone will show how much time you have to complete a task.

Again, working from the same example, a task could be emailing the client to share a deliverable with them. To-do lists are made up of tasks.

How to use project milestones

To start using project milestones, you need to create a project milestone schedule. Again, don’t think of them as deliverables, goals, or tasks.

Rather, create milestones within the schedule that represent checkpoints.

You likely already have a schedule in mind. Take a closer look at it and determine any moments that are essential to achieving the goal of the project.

Let’s keep working from the brand awareness project example. A milestone could be determining the brand voice, finalizing the messaging, completing the necessary content, and actually launching the marketing campaign.

If you’re creating a project milestone schedule, below are some actionable tips to follow.

Less is more

It can be tempting to load up your project schedule with tons of milestones.

We can’t blame you for that! A good project manager is always on the lookout for different ways to keep their team motivated.

That said, less is more when it comes to project milestones.

You run the risk of diluting the importance of milestones if you include too many. They’ll lose their oomph factor and your team may even start ignoring them.

You want to use this management tool as a way to keep their eyes on the prize. Too many are distracting and ineffective.

Share with your team

If your team isn’t aware of the project milestone schedule then you can’t expect them to feel encouraged by it.

Your milestones indicate important moments and can include deliverables. As the project manager, it’s your responsibility to make the milestones known.

You should always begin any new project with a team-wide meeting. At the meeting, you should share the project goal and schedule.

If you’re more of a pen-to-paper type of person you could even print out the schedule with the milestones indicated and display it in your office. If you’re working with a remote team or are more tech-savvy, make your schedule digital.

You can also upload it into your project management tool so that your team always has access to it.

Keep everyone accountable

Accountability is a powerful thing. Have you ever noticed how hard it is to drag yourself out of bed in the morning to go for a run?

It’s a lot easier if you know your running buddy is going to be waiting for you at 7 AM sharp for a morning jog. When you have other people depending on you, it’s easier to get things done. 

The same thing applies to project management. Many deliverables will be dependent on other team members getting their work done on time.

That means that in order to cross certain milestones, everyone involved needs to stay on track. 

As a manager, you need to keep your team accountable and on top of the milestones. 

Congratulate them when they cross them, and come up with repercussions if they don’t. You don’t need to be a drill sergeant, but you get the gist.

Be realistic

Coming up with an extremely tight project schedule with important milestones is great in theory. That said, you need to be realistic. You know your team and what they can handle.

It’s always great to challenge your employees – in fact, this is another great motivator. But this type of management typically only works with very competitive people.

Not everyone is ambitious in that way. 

Coming up with an unachievable project schedule with impossible milestones and deadlines will only set you up for failure. Set your team up for success instead. 

Summing it all up

Creating a project management schedule with project milestones is a great way to motivate your team and stay organized.

You can implement yours with quality project management software like ManyRequests. 

Upload your schedule directly into the client portal so that everyone can track the progress.

Try ManyRequests today for free for 14-days, no credit card required