So, you are highly motivated and you have got this great idea and an innovative project in mind.
You put together a team that is committed to the vision and the tasks ahead. You are ready to take the plunge into awesomeness, and the first big step is planning your project.
The problem is that some people don’t take project planning serious enough.
Poor planning might ruin your project altogether, so you only get one chance to do it right.
You have to define your scope, tasks, and deliverables, estimate the costs and duration of your project, plan your schedule, and integrate everything into a coherent and feasible project. You are barely starting out, yet the mountain of work seems insurmountable.
Why you need project milestones
This is where project milestones boost productivity, helping you make sense of the heavy workload, thus lifting the psychological burden – to some extent, at least.
In 2015, researchers under the aegis of the American Psychological Association found out that there is a significant correlation between monitoring progress and the success of a project – be it personal or professional.
They carried out over a hundred studies which concluded that not only were the participants more likely to succeed if they monitored their progress, but also had greater positive effects if they recorded the results and shared their achievements with others.
Simply put, a project is a temporary endeavor to create something peculiar – a product, a result, a service, or a trend.
Define the start point, specific deadlines, and the end goal
Tasks are usually bound by specific deadlines, yet they differ from milestones. Although they are similar, a milestone has no duration, as it signifies an (expected) achievement in the project according to a timeline.
A milestone shows progress, growth, or profit
It assures the team that their set expectations have been met with success. It marks the beginning or end of significant phases of work, or an important upcoming decision or deadline.
It’s essential to break your ultimate goal into smaller, realistic, and achievable goals. Setting milestones is like setting such smaller goals. Your milestone goals should be realistic and measurable in a quantitative way. They should be challenging, yet approachable – if your team feels stressed out or incapable of doing such work, it might just be too much to handle.
Short-term milestones can be set as early as a week, although some specialists recommend once a month. Long-term milestones can be set quarterly, biannually, yearly, and so on. Whenever you think of setting a milestone, ask yourself what should be done, rather than what needs to be avoided. Never use a ‘do or die’ mantra when formulating your milestone. A milestone can also keep track of your management strategy.
Keep milestones flexible
What we are about to say should be carefully considered, since there are differing opinions on the matter. Every now and then, there are circumstances or factors that might inevitably reschedule your set goals. After a given milestone, maybe you realize that the goal was unattainable, not because it was too challenging, but because it was humanly impossible within that time frame.
So you might want to break it down into smaller increments for the next milestone. It’s better to reach a milestone at a later date than expected feeling competent, confident, and energized by the outcome, rather than meeting the expected date feeling exhausted, disappointed, and waiting for the house of cards to collapse due to rushed work.
There are also projects that rely on the work done by collaborators and there are external factors that cannot be controlled. It’s tricky to know exactly under which circumstances a milestone can be slightly delayed.
Milestones should be challenging and difficult. They should carry a degree of risk for failure since every milestone is a learning experience and an adjustment to a more productive next step ahead. That is why it’s good to analyze and use milestones as a guide. Having said all that, postponing milestones should not become a habit, but an exception.
In a nutshell, milestones and feedback go hand in hand. This is why Toggl Plan is great when it comes to setting milestones – once you set your goals and strategies, you can record them and refer to them whenever you want.
The entire team knows what ought to be done, so nobody lags behind or simply forgets about it. Afterwards, it’s easy to refer to the team’s performance and evaluate their work. Feedback is crucial when you are tracking your goals and productivity.
There is a psychological phenomenon in which people refuse to analyze their own work. It is called “the ostrich problem”. Like an ostrich burying its head in the sand, people refuse to evaluate the data and implications of their goal progress because the anxiety and fear of failure are excruciating.
Simply put, ‘ignorance is bliss’ applies to these ostrich-like people. This is one of the reasons why not many people establish a budget for their household, few of them monitor their health, or track their habits, let alone work progress.
Knowing that they are lagging behind or that they are completely off-course is excruciatingly painful, so they would rather not keep track of anything, let alone set goals or milestones for self-improvement and growth.
We cannot stress how important milestones are. Do not be afraid of disappointing feedback. Even if the outcome is not exactly positive, the team can gain valuable insight into their shortcomings, synergy, commitment, strengths, and so on. The short-term disappointment is not as painful and unpleasant as that devastating feeling of having ruined your entire project.
Sometimes, greater commitment is needed to achieve certain goals and we have to be more diligent and focused.
Toggl Plan makes it easy to set milestones that are visible to the entire team and evenly spaced out. Not setting one at least once a fortnight is tragic, since your team needs the momentum engendered by successful milestones.
Yet not every task is a milestone – having too many milestones too frequently undermines their purpose and downplays the benefits. Try to the best of your ability to meet the deadlines.
If one milestone happens to be delayed, examine and see whether it was unrealistic or if procrastination ruined the workflow. Another tip would be setting dates that your team can easily remember, be it a specific date of a month, or before/after a recurring meeting,
In conclusion, milestones are a great reminder of not only you team’s achievements but also expectations for your exciting project. Make use of them, and remember that they are stepping stones to success.
Andrei is a Growth Hacker on Teamweek's marketing team. He is the person behind most of Teamweek's SEO-driven projects, including the budget calculator and the worst productivity tips generator. He enjoys writing about project management, graphic design, and anything tech.