Hi there! If you're a project manager, one of the things you'll be required to do regularly is to develop a project charter. I've provided a simple project charter template over here.
However, one section of the project charter is the milestone section. A project milestone is essentially a stake in the ground, specifying a juncture in the project where a major deliverable or goal has been achieved (e.g. user requirements signed off, user acceptance testing successfully done).
Some of my readers struggle with the project milestone section. How should project milestones be represented in a project charter? Well, there are many ways to do it - from simple lists, to more complex, graphical formats. The key thing is that your milestone plan should show, very clearly, how each part of the project is moving against plan.
In this article, I'd like to share with you a sample project charter milestone template that I've used with great success in my projects.
Before we go deeper into the project charter milestone, let's understand what a project milestone plan is for.
The key purpose of a project milestone plan is to allow tracking of project progress against plan - ideally in a visual manner.
There are two characteristics of a good milestone plan you should keep in mind.
Easy to understand. A milestone plan should be easy to understand. You should not include all sorts of details as milestones. Simply reflect the major milestones.
In a system implementation project, the standard key milestones tend to be:
You'll want to make sure these milestones are reflected in your project charter. Notice that I don't go into extreme detail, e.g. under Design I don't say "Technical Design, Interface Design, Network Design", etc. I simply say "Design".
Remember, milestones are viewed by senior management and they don't like too much details. Just the essence will do.
Able to track progress. It's important that progress against milestones can be tracked. You should be able to, at a ballpark level, say that progress against the "Business Requirements" milestone is about 60% right now. If you can't make this judgment call, then either the milestone is too granular or ill-defined.
Ok, let's go directly into my sample template, as promised. The diagram below shows a standard project milestone template I use very often. It's visually very appealing, and any senior manager can understand it at a glance. Click here to download a copy of my template.
A sample project charter milestone template
A few observations about this template that I'd like to highlight.
High-level. The first thing you'll realize about the template here is that my milestones are quite high-level. Because this template is for the eyes of senior management, I don't go into deep details on each and very milestone. That kind of detail belongs in a Microsoft Project plan, not a project charter level milestone plan.
Reflects in-flight initiatives or projects. You'll notice that this template has a number of "in-flight" initiatives and projects (sevn of them) that are reflected in the plan. I think these are important in any milestone plan you create.
I see that these initiatives tend to be missed out by junior PMs - but they MUST be reflected in some way, especially if there are dependencies between these existing initiatives and the ones you're implementing.
Major and minor milestones. You'll also note that I reflect both major and minor milestones. There are three major milestones in this example - and they tend to be "broad" project goals.
For example, a major milestone might be "Customer Centricity Achieved", with several minor milestones like:
The minor milestones tend to be the ones which "lead up" to the major milestone, in a logical manner.
Comments on milestones. You'll also note that I comment against each milestone, just to briefly describe what each milestone is about. By their nature, project milestones tend to be one-liners and are difficult to understand if you don't at least elaborate on them to some extent.
Spread out over time. I also like to spread out my milestones over time. When you're firsting drawing up a milestone plan, remember it has to align to your overall project timeline and delivery dates. You should place some "realistic" goal posts for each milestone. Don't do something like two major system roll-outs for the same department both within six months of each other. That's an invitation to disaster! Learn to spread out your milestones to more realistic levels.
Tracking progress. One final point abou the template above is the ability to visually track progress against milestones. What I do is to add a little "blue bar" as shown in the diagram below. You can also indicate a percentage on each blue bar to show just how much it has progressed. Items which miss or exceed a milestone date can be represented by a red bar.
Tracking progress against milestones
In the example above, you can see that the minor milestones for Project 1 (i.e AAA, BBB and CCC) have been missed. A red bar indicates they are past their due dates.
Another sample project charter milestone template is shown below. This representation is better if you need a no-frills, textual representation. I like to use this format if I'm knocking out a simple project charter for a small budget project. For larger sized projects, I'll use the template shown in the previous section above - to add visual clout and impact.
Another sample project charter milestone template
Notice that in this template, the representation is simple. You just have the "essence", a list of milestones, each with their Start Dates and End Dates. That's all you really need to track milestones, really.
Case Study: I develop a lot of Project Charters in my line of work. One thing I find is that you've to be smart about things. If the project is small-scale, there's no sense spending huge amounts of time crafting a very elaborate milestone plan. Just list down the milestones and attach the Start and End Dates.
It's only for large scale, e.g. core banking projects that I slowly delibrate on what each milestone should be. Because in a core banking project, a milestone like "User Acceptance Testing signed off" is a HUGE undertaking. I'd best consider carefully whether I can easily complete that milestone before committing them to paper.
Hopefully, you now have a much better understanding of how a sample project charter milestone template looks. The template I've shown above is excellent for various types of projects. I suggest you try using it the next time you have a chance.
Also, remember that specifying project milestones are just "paper exercises". You need to re-validate them with stakeholders and ensure they buy in to the dates. The last thing you'd want is to have all these milestones locked into a senior management presentation, but none of your stakeholders agree to the dates indicated.
That's all I have for now. Until next time, here's wishing you all the best in your next project!
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