Guide to project milestone levelling

Guide to project milestone levelling

The last post provided a useful overview of how identifying the correct milestones and making sure that they are written using outcomes, allows for the story to be told to sponsors and senior management.  You can read the post, Using Outcomes to Tell the Story, by clicking the link.

The first step in the process explained why project milestone levelling is important.  In this post I want to expand on the levelling process and how the PMO can help ensure quality and consistency.

What is a Project Milestone?

I thought it worthwhile quickly covering this to ensure common understanding.

Wikipedia states “Milestones are tools used in project management to mark specific points along a project timeline”.  This is a good general definition.  A project will consist of a number of tasks and activities.  The milestone is a way to show when groups of these tasks and activities have been achieved.

This is helpful as a well-constructed plan will have a number of milestones across the entire project cycle.  This allows for a simplified view of the project to be reported (the milestone story) and progress to be monitored and reported.

What is Project Milestone Levelling?

Having clearly defined milestones is important to being able to track and report progress.  However, not all milestones are equal.  This is where the levelling plays an important role.

Milestone levelling is the process of categorising the milestones into a hierarchy primarily to support reporting.  The level of the milestone will be based on importance i.e. what the milestone represents.

For example you could employ a simple process that uses 2 levels.

  • Level 1: Outcomes
  • Level 2: Key Deliverables

For each of the levels you would then provide clear guidance on how each level should be interpreted (see diagram Milestone Levelling below).

It is helpful to provide practical examples of real world milestones as this will help the project teams to relate to their own milestones.

It is possible to define as many levels of milestones as you want.  For example, there should be milestones below Level 2 that are used by the project teams.  However, it is advisable for the PMO to only define as many levels as is absolutely necessary.  If not there is a serious risk of over engineering.  Therefore, by only defining the top 2 levels, you allow the project to have the required level of flexibility to construct their plans while ensuring that the PMO has visibility of the important Outcome and Deliverable based milestones.

Always remember to aim for a practical pragmatic approach.

The diagram below is an example of the guidance that could be published.  This ensures that the milestones identified and captured by all projects can be compared on a similar basis.  This is important when it comes to reporting.

Example of milestone levelling guidance

Project Milestone Consistency

Publishing clear guidelines will help ensure consistency.  However, it is possible that projects may not understand, may not interpret the guide correctly or even ignore the guide.  This is where the PMO should conduct a review to sense check that the guidelines have been applied correctly.

This review should ideally be completed with the appropriate project team member.  It is also advisable to go about this in a consultative manner as opposed adopting an audit approach.  The later will be interpreted that you are “marking the homework to find errors” as opposed to the former which should come across as you helping to make the plan better.

Summary

Project milestone levelling is a simple but powerful tool to enable the monitoring and reporting of progress.  Done right it will promote confidence with sponsors and senior management as they will be able to monitor progress.  The PMO can play a pivotal role in setting the standards and reviewing plans to enable this to happen.