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December 31, 2008 4 comments so far

Milestone Controlling: Milestone Trend Analysis

The old proverb that a picture says a thousands words is also true for milestone controlling. The milestone trend analysis (MTA), a both simple and at the same time powerful tool visualizes milestones in a date grid making it possible to spot delays, trends and even to make "visual" forecasts of future milestone dates.

My last blog post was already some time ago, so I decided that I had to write at least one more article in the "old" year ;-). In one of my previous posts I hinted at a tool called a "milestone trend analysis" which is actually very useful, but in fact not so well known - sometimes even among long-time project managers.

So, what is an MTA? An MTA displays the same data as a milestone table or list (as I described it a couple of months ago in my previous "Milestone Controlling" post), but visually in a rectangular date grid where the horizontal axis displays periodic controlling dates and the vertical axis displays the milestone dates at these controlling dates.

The horizontal controlling date axis goes from left to right, so the start of the project is to the very left. The vertical milestone date axis goes from bottom to top in order that a delay is resulting in "pushing" the milestone upwards. What is important for a proper milestone trend analysis chart is also that the scale of both axis is identical (then actually resulting in a quadratic grid) and that both axis start at the same date (typically, the project start date).

If you draw this grid on a piece of paper you will see that the lower right triangular area of the grid can (theoretically :-) only contain milestones that are already completed. If there is an open milestone in this area it means that you have an outdated project plan. As you can see in the example screenshot of Onepoint Project 8.1 below, this area is often visualized using a different background color.

You can read a lot of useful information from an MTA or MTA-like chart such as:

  • What milestones have moved and by how many weeks?
  • Have other milestones been affected by these delays?
  • Does the "Project completed" milestone still hold?
  • Is there a visual trend of the milestone's past movement?
  • If the milestone showed this trend in the past what will likely happen next?

So, if this is such a powerful and easy to use tool why does not everyone use it? I don't know for sure, but I have an idea: if you need to periodically gather the milestone dates manually and write them into, e.g., an Excel spreadsheet this can be quite tedious and you will probably forget about it half of the time. (Well, at least I did... ;-).

What we did for Onepoint Project was we "borrowed" a concept from document management called "versioning" or "version control" and version controlled our project plans including the milestone dates. We also added a creation date for each version in order that we can now easily calculate "virtual" controlling dates by iterating the past versions of a project plan and, thus, automatically create a nice milestone trend analysis at any time :-).