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September 29, 2008 2436 comments so far

Milestone Controlling: Why, What, When and How?

In an earlier post we concluded that milestones are a very important concept in project planning. The same is of course also true for monitoring and controlling. By keeping track of your milestones you control what has been achieved and how much more time it will take to finish a certain part of your project.

Why should we do milestone controlling? Milestones provide us with the ability to take "snapshots" of our project. For instance, we know that when the milestone "Requirements defined" is reached that all basic requirements are now defined and we can start with the implementation work. In other words, milestones help us to simplify the project plan, to divide it into discreet steps or achievements.

If we are specifically talking about milestone controlling we will see that it also makes often sense that you standardize at least some of your milestones in your project organization. The "Requirements defined" milestone is a good example for this approach: without having to know anything about the details if the project, a project controller knows that the requirements (whatever they are) for this specific project are defined and, therefore, the project can proceed to the next stage. Note that for this purpose it sometimes can also be of advantage if you number your standard milestones (e.g., M1, M2,...); but only in addition to a sensible name ;-).

Make it as simple as possible. But no simpler. (Albert Einstein)

So, what are we controlling? We are using milestones to control two dimensions:

  • What has been achieved?
  • When was it or will it be achieved?

Therefore, in whatever form we are controlling milestones, we always need to write down the current milestone date (as scheduled in the most current project plan version) and the status of the milestone (open or completed).

When do we do milestone controlling? You probably are already guessing the answer: as for project resources and costs controlling, milestones should be controlled on a regular basis. We typically control milestones once a week for small projects (or if we are close to an important deadline), or on a two-weekly or monthly basis for medium to large projects.

Finally, how do we do milestone controlling? The classical form is a milestone table where we write the current date (the date when we do the controlling) into the header of a table and the milestone dates below it (as planned in the current schedule; one milestone per table row). Every time we do milestone controlling we add a new column to the table. Typically, the columns are organized in a way that the most current controlling date is to the left and the "older" dates line up to the right.

How can this look like in practice and is there also a visual way to "see" trends in milestone dates? I will try to answer this question in the next post - together with a brief overview of a quite practical tool called milestone trend analysis (MTA). So stay tuned... ;-)