The most productive entrepreneurs and managers follow one simple yet effective rule:  If it does not feature in the diary, it won’t happen. The same rule applies to all effective teams. However, instead of a diary, your business tool is a project schedule. 

Notably, about $122 million is lost for every $1 billion put in projects due to lack of schedules and other poor management practices. Thus it is imperative that you understand scheduling and resources management basics to avert those levels of wastage in your projects. 

At a glance: What is in a project schedule?

As you may be thinking, a project schedule has more details than your ordinary weekly planner. It is a sequence of tasks, milestone dates, and resources that aids in timely project completions.  This document is created during the planning stage of a project and contains: 

  • A project timeline showing start dates, end dates, and important milestones
  • The resources necessary for project deliverables
  • The costs dependencies relating to each task
  • The human resources responsible for completion of each task

Scheduling with Milestones Dates

Milestones offers an accurate way to get the probable time that a project will take to complete though marking important dates and key events, making them important for proper project scheduling. 

Milestones are essential in developing scheduling methodologies, such as Gantt charts and critical path method. Moreover, when using milestone dates, you can easily calculate the slack period in your project, which can be achieved by having small segments/intervals of your project timeline, or just small time frame to monitor the progress of your project. 

You may need project management software and expert help to help you build your project schedule using milestone dates. 

In this piece, we discuss 5 steps on how to schedule your jobs accurately using milestone dates for successful completion of your next project.

Step 1: Define your project goals

You got to start by understanding the big picture. What do you want to accomplish?

Most probably, you’ve already outlined your project’s objectives and general business goals earlier. Make reference to those goals to have a clear feel of what the current project entails. 

Step 2: Decide what your project milestones are

The essence of milestone dates is to break down projects into key timeframes phases. As such, a milestone date is a marker that shows the most current date of each marked phase. Typically, a project has five phases: initiation, planning, execution, monitoring and control, and closure. So, at exactly what point do you add a milestone date?

You add a milestone once you’ve completed all tasks relating to a project phase. For instance, if the last step in the project initiation stage entails completing the project charter. This is where you should place your milestone to show that you’re exiting initiation and moving to the planning stage. 

Step 3: Determine dependencies

Now that you have decided your project milestones, it is time to map dependencies. Here are the different dependency relationships. 

  • Finish-to-start: This is the commonly used dependency. You need to complete a task to start the next one. 
  • Start-to-start: In this case, the start date of one task is dependent on the start date of a different task. 
  • Finish-to-finish: The completion date of a task is a function of the completion date of another task. 
  • Start-to-finish: Here, the start date of one task influences the completion date of another. 

For realistic and practical scheduling, you need to have a clear map of task dependencies in your project. Notably, you will need to collaborate with internal stakeholders to have the right dependency mapping for your project. 

Step 4: Estimate the time required to complete tasks

After getting a clear dependency map, it is time to get a near accurate estimation of how long different tasks in your project will take. This stage will help you set realistic milestone deadlines and help in developing a critical path. 

Even experts find it difficult to estimate the time complex tasks will take to be completed. You will need to carefully track and record the time it takes to complete different tasks on all your projects. This information will be used as precedence while estimating milestone deadlines for future projects. 

You may also consider experimenting the time required to complete a task using estimation techniques such as the PERT (Program Evaluation and Review Technique). Engaging experts will also eliminate optimistic biases and keep your time estimates honest and practical. 

Step 5: Put your Milestone dates schedule in a Gantt chart or Calendar for easy visualization

Having a milestone schedule in words is good for showing the expected deadlines for your project. However, the information becomes easy to interpret if visually mapped. 

You can use calendar or Gantt charts to help you get a clear understanding of your project timeline. Gantt chart will visually stack each milestone in one view such that you can see your project from initiation to completion at a glance. 

Keep it fun!

Lest you forget, milestones are not part of the tasks that your team needs to complete. They are just markers. They do not take time to complete, instead they indicate when a phase/task in a project begins or ends. 

While most project managers use milestone dates as nuts and bolts in scheduling, you can use them to signal time to celebrate project achievements. Obviously, the achievement of a milestone signifies that the team has done something commendable such as producing important results or completing a phase in a project. 

So, why not take the opportunity to celebrate your team?