Managing fast tracked Project Milestones
What are Project Milestones?
First and foremost, project milestones are scheduling and status devices, used to measure progress as a project proceeds through its planned lifecycle. Milestones can either br specific tasks, events and decisions, or a cumulative point in time reached as a result of specific tasks, events and/or decisions.
Most commonly, project milestones are characterized by one or more of the following:
*Completion of one or more "highly significant"
tasks, events or decisions.
*Reaching a specified point or phase in the project lifecycle.
*Reaching a given percent complete for the project as a whole or a given phase.
*Production of one or more "must-have" process or project deliverables. (what is the difference?)
*Utilization of a certain portion of the project budget, materials or other non-replenishing resource.
*Any significant circumstance unique to a given project.
When it comes to identifying project milestones, the best advice is to keep it simple - you'll know a milestone when you see one. But there are rules of thumb. In most cases, the dividing line distinguishing "milestone" from "non-milestone" is significance, impact and value as a predictive indicator.
Milestone Q and A:
Question: How important is this task,
decision or event to the execution of the overall project?
Answer: Highly Important = Milestone
Question: What is the likely impact if this
task, decision or event is not met on time or as needed?
Answer: Serious Impact = Milestone
Question: Can this task, decision or event
be used as an indicator of project success?
Answer: Yes = Milestone
How are Milestones Managed in a Fast Tracked Project?
Because fast tracked projects depend on prioritized needs and optimized practices, milestones are particularly important to successful project execution. Milestones play a key role in multiple phases of the fast track process starting with definition activities (to identify milestones and secure stakeholder approval), and continuing on to governance requirements (to establish project specific procedures for milestone oversight). The most important element of milestone definition and governance is to make sure that the respective obligations are fulfilled BEFORE major project work begins. It's all about being prepared to manage and monitor. (and document - download our free Statement of Work and Status Report Templates).
Once definition and governance needs have been met, and actual project work begins, oversight obligations kick in. As project work is executed, identified milestones will either be met (in whole or part), missed in entirety or will be modified as needed to suit changing project needs and circumstances. The key to fast tracking milestone management is to be informed and prepared, so you can act swiftly if and when problems occur. If you know that one or more milestones will not be met, the goal is to minimize negative impact while adhering to all perviously approved fast track priorities. Responding to missed (or about to be missed) milestones will best be determined based on circumstances, capabilities and fast track priorities. No matter the response, communication is the key. Stakeholders must be kept fully informed to minimize negative perceptions, establish realistic expectations, and obtain important feedback to solve problems and/or re-negotiate previously established priorities.
FAST TRACK TIP: Although they often get the most attention, missed (or about to be missed) milestones are not the only significant oversight indicator. "Met" milestones not only demonstrate that planned accomplishments have been achieved. They are also evidence to build credibility. Fast tracking is about tradeoffs and adjustments, and "met milestones" will form a tangible foundation of "good will" in the event of future milestone mishaps.
Milestones Tell the Status Story
Within the fast tracked project, milestones are more than scheduling devices (which would be important enough), they are also communication and credibility devices, to set expectations and share status information. (You can read more about status reporting here). Milestones turn a non-descript timeline into a meaningful story, reflecting where you are, how you got there, and where you have to go,
When it comes to telling the "milestone story", make sure you can answer these key questions:
1. What do your designated milestones say
about your project - i.e. what is important and why?
2. Which milestones have been met?
3. What do these "met" milestones say about project health and management quality?
4. Which milestones have been missed?
5. What do these missed milestones say about project health and management quality?
6. Which milestones are about to be missed?
7. What do these "about to be missed" milestones say about project health and management quality?
8. What actions will be taken to manage "missed" and "about to be missed" milestones?
9. What impact will these actions have on the project and probability for fast tracked success?
10. Which milestones are still pending?
11. Considering the milestones missed, too be missed and pending, can the project still be completed "on the fast track" as planned?
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