The 10 Traits of Highly Effective Project Milestones
By Chris LeCompte
I’ve written in the past about planning effective web design milestones, so now I want to delve into the actual elements that make up a good milestone. Milestones should be the meat of your project process for any web design or development engagement. They constitute your game plan and provide a clear roadmap for you and your client.
Since milestones are very much like goals, they should follow the SMART routine: Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely. I’ll discuss how you can apply SMART plus five other traits to your milestones to make them actionable and effective.
An Effective Milestone is…
Every milestone you commit to a project should be specific in scope. 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 are vague, confusing and undoable. If you can’t figure it out, you’re not going to do it. Therefore, your milestones must have clearly definable actions for the parties involved.
Effective milestones should be grounded in a foundation that allows you to measure them. One way to do this is by using to-do lists. A to-do list can take a milestone and break it up even further into actions. These actions are measureable because they’re either complete (checked) or incomplete (unchecked). By looking at the overall to-do checklist, you can quickly see how far along a milestone is.
Can you actually finish the milestone? This is an important question to ask. If the milestone is too big or too convoluted to actually get done, then it’s not attainable. If, when thinking about the milestone, you can’t see the finish line no matter how hard you work, you have a milestone that’s going to be difficult or even impossible to complete. The key is to keep the milestone digestible. Too many large and unchewable chunks will leave you with a sour stomach.
While this may be obvious, your milestone should be relevant to the project at hand. If the milestone deals with too many aspects outside the scope of the project, it may distract and derail your efforts. Make certain that the milestone in question can be solidly tied back to the project.
Just like a good goal, effective milestones can be tracked against a calendar. There should be a start time, due date and expected timeframe associated with each of your milestones. Without timely milestones, you have no reason to get things done because there are no deadlines. This is one key source of procrastination.
Your milestones should be open and presentable. If your milestones are formed around technical jargon or incomprehensible actions, how are you going to communicate them to non-technical parties such as a client? The best thing to do is establish milestones that make sense to everyone involved using clear language so that there’s no confusion or misinterpretation.
This comes mostly from my experience and opinion, but I’m a firm believer in making milestones small. By small, I mean it should take you alone a small handful of days to finish it. Anything larger is just too hard to swallow which could lead to unneeded stress and procrastination.
A good milestone should be individualized enough where you can assign it to a specific, responsible party. When milestones get to the point where multiple parties are involved, there’s no clear path to completion. If the actions of one party depend on the other and vice versa, you’ll end up with a whole mess of bloated communication, potential conflict and lowered accountability. By individualizing your milestones and assigning them to specific parties, you can avoid this mess and make the project run more smoothly.
Milestones should follow a linear path of progression. What this means is that by completing one milestone, you should be able to complete the next one. Making milestones that are toward the end of the project dependent on ones at the beginning will have you inefficiently going back and forth. Once one milestone is done, it should be 100% finished and the next one should then be 100% doable.
This may seem like it’s countering the “Small” trait, but milestones should be significant to the point where they complete a respectable portion of the project. If a milestone is too small or too specific in scope, you’ll end up with a barrage of many milestones that make the project look bigger than it really is. And once we get into things appearing too big, procrastination sets in.
All in all, milestones are simple project tools that should help you to set goals, priorities and work schedules. There’s no need to make them complicated and they should always help alleviate stress, not induce it. If you find that your milestones are causing you stress, tardiness, conflict, communication problems and other issues, you need to reevaluate how you’re breaking the project up.
Do you have any examples of milestones working or not working? I’m interested in hearing about. Leave a comment and let me know!
Chris LeCompte is a web designer and Project Manager based out of Northern Virginia working at his own company. Chris runs his own blog: http://www.clecompte.com/.