The essence of project management is about bringing some degree of predictability to uncertainty, and yet subjectivity plays a major role in how we manage our projects. Risk assessment, effort estimation, and stakeholder analysis are all affected by our personal perceptions.
When it comes to identifying milestones on projects, this same lack of objectivity applies.
Ask a team member to identify milestones and there’s a high likelihood that many of the activities they are personally involved with will be volunteered. This is not a surprise – unless we are thoroughly demotivated the work we do will always be seen as being somewhat more important than other work streams which we are not involved with.
So how do we decide which milestones to highlight when reporting project status?
One approach is to interview your key stakeholders to identify specific accomplishments that they are concerned about. Unfortunately, unless there is tight alignment between your sponsor and all key stakeholders, you are still likely to end up with too many milestones once you consolidate the individual lists.
A better option might be to develop standard criteria for identifying milestones. Criteria to consider include:
- Does the completion of the work stream deliver substantial and measurable value to your customer?
- Is project funding or payment tied to the work stream’s completion?
- Is the completion of the work stream a mandatory prerequisite for critical path activities on one or more (separate) projects?
In the BCG & PMI’s recent article Strategic Initiative Management – The PMO Imperative, the authors wrote “PMOs need an enhanced process for helping the organization align, define, track, and communicate meaningful milestones and objectives, specifically in the context of developing roadmaps for strategic initiatives. … How do these roadmaps do this? They focus solely on a small number of critical milestones (in BCG’s experience, there are typically 10 to 25 per roadmap)…”
Having a short, objective list of project milestones reduces risks of stakeholders tuning out, effort spent in unnecessary reporting and will help improve the consistency of portfolio oversight.