What is a project milestone?
Simply stated, a milestone is an achievement that brings you closer to the completion of a larger project. Each milestone falls on the project timeline with its own deadline and is recognized when reached. Project milestones are distinct from tasks, which are the individual actions that people take in pursuit of each milestone and, ultimately, project completion.
In general, milestones will:
- Serve as important steps or achievements along the project life cycle,
- Be spaced evenly to generate momentum for the next milestone on the continuum,
- Enable teams to track progress on the project calendar or project management timeline,
- Carry repercussions if they’re missed; and
- Provide learning experiences for the project team.
What do project milestones mean for writing projects?
When writing projects come down to the last minute, with teams cramming months of work into a few weeks or days, the “finished” product will always be poorer. In the end, poor project management will undermine the effectiveness of the document and create more work for the team in the long run when they have to rewrite what’s there and correct the inevitable projects.
Indeed, according to the 9th Global Project Management Survey from the Project Management Institute, over a third (37%) of projects outright fail in the absence of defined project objectives and milestones. They’re that important!
Instead, when a team is working on a critical writing project with a firm deadline, implementing measurable milestones can help the team to meet the deadline and achieve the best result.
What are some project milestones examples?
Every organization and project manager can define their milestones for themselves, but common milestones appropriate to writing projects might include:
- Interview subject matter experts (SMEs),
- Produce a pre-draft outline,
- Gain approval to move to drafting,
- Produce a first draft,
- Complete a round of reviews,
- Develop associated graphics or visuals,
- Gain final approval from stakeholders,
- Conduct a review meeting for final sign off,
- Publish or otherwise release the material (perhaps first internally, then externally),
In short, applying these project milestone examples will create easily identifiable stops on the road to successful and satisfactory project completion. Establishing such a clear set of milestones with examples like these can hasten and streamline any writing projects.
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How can you create your own project milestones?
The Project Management Institute offers two models for creating milestones:
- S.M.A.R.T. — Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely
- C.L.E.A.R. — Collaborative, Limited, Emotional, Appreciable, and Refinable
For example, producing a first draft refers to a specific accomplishment that can be measured and is realistically attainable in a timely way. By contrast, if your team is preparing a technical manual, just saying “Get it done” would make a poor milestone because it’s too non-specific. How do you know when it’s done? What has to get done? And consequently, it’s impossible to know if you’ve even set a realistic milestone, or one that can be achieved in a reasonable timeframe.
Project milestones fuel motivation and success
Team leaders can use writing milestones to encourage accountability, allowing individuals to clearly see how their work affects other writers on the project. And having team members peer-review drafts and set interim deadlines for completing and submitting revisions can help make their writing tasks more manageable.
Writing isn’t a once and done activity. Rather, it’s an ongoing process that increases in value with each project. By setting clear expectations for early and frequent milestones, team leaders can ensure that writing projects don’t rest solely on their shoulders and won’t be a last-minute nightmare. Set attainable goals for your writing projects, and watch the quality of your work exceed expectations.
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