Milestone (project management)

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Within the framework of project management, a milestone is an event that receives special attention. It is often put at the end of a stage to mark the completion of a work package or phase. Milestones can be put before the end of a phase so that corrective actions can be taken, if problems arise, and the deliverable can be completed on time.

In addition to signaling the completion of a key deliverable, a milestone may also signify an important decision or the derivation of a critical piece of information, which outlines or affects the future of a project. In this sense, a milestone not only signifies distance traveled (key stages in a project) but also indicates direction of travel since key decisions made at milestones may alter the route through the project plan.

In military acquisition or procurement, the United States created specific terms for the point at which approval is made regarding starting or continuing an acquisition to the next phase. Milestones established by DOD Instruction 5000.2 are 'Milestone A' for Technology Development, 'Milestone B' for System Development and Demonstration, and 'Milestone C' for Production and Deployment. Program schedules would also have milestones (lower case) reflecting major events in the system development life cycle (such as System Requirements Review), key items (such as documents needed for a Request for Proposal), items of external approval, and project-specific points of accomplishment.

Using milestones in scheduling[edit]

Milestones can add significant value to project scheduling. When combined with a scheduling methodology such as Program Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT) or the Critical Path Method (CPM), milestones allow project management to much more accurately determine whether or not the project is on schedule. By constraining the dates associated with milestones, the critical path can be determined for major schedule intervals in addition to the entire project. Slack/float can also be calculated on each schedule interval. This segmentation of the project schedule into intervals allows earlier indication of schedule problems and a better view into the activities whose completion is critical.

Milestones are frequently used to monitor the progress, but there are limitations to their effectiveness. They usually show progress only on the critical path, and ignore non-critical activities. It is common for resources to be moved from non-critical activities to critical activities to ensure that milestones are met. This gives the impression that the project is on schedule when actually some activities are being ignored.

Milestones are like dashboard reviews of a project. Number of activities which were planned at the beginning of the project with their individual timelines are reviewed for their status. It also gives an opportunity to check the health of the project.

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