Milestone, Millstone or Task

How do you manage a project?

Milestone – a significant stage or event in the development of something

Millstone – a burden of responsibility

Task – a piece of work

Project management is an important task for businesses of every size. In small business, projects are often driven by a problem that needs a solution, for example, a company specialising in home energy assessments may wish to make regular contact with a database of architects through regular eNewsletters.  Although small, this type of project can often place a strain on the time and human resources of a small business.  Small businesses need to take a structured approach and utilise best practices for project management.  

There are many good software programs available on the market that can help you manage your project such as MS Project, but if you are a small concern and your lines of communication are good – a simple project management structure is all you should need.  Here is some basic advice about managing your project successfully and completing it on time and on budget.

Milestones are essential in developing and completing a successful plan.  It sets the plan into practical, concrete terms with real budgets, deadlines, and management responsibilities. It helps you focus on your project and implement your plan as you complete your project.  But it’s important to differentiate your milestones from your tasks and to make sure that your tasks don’t turn into millstones.

Unfortunately, too many people are encouraged to be task-based in their thinking, creating detailed task lists, assigning resources then adjusting these resources to fulfill the task. What is wrong with this picture? 

No matter how small your project, your plan should be like a road map – not only does it describe the nature of the project, it tells you what to expect and what alternative routes you can take to arrive at your destination. Milestone Planning is a technique that truly focuses on results rather than tasks.  However don’t be mistaken, tasks do have a place in planning; sometimes, a detailed task list is just what we need to estimate how long the project will take. But an over-emphasis on tasks can bring about an unnecessary burden creating a millstone that will eventually weigh you down.

When setting your plan a good tactic is to plan for results rather than plan for activity. Focus on your long-term goal.  Now, work backwards from your final goal to set the short term goals you need to arrive at your final destination.   Put some bite into your plan listing specific actions to be taken. Each action becomes a milestone. This is where a project plan becomes a real plan, with specific and measurable activities, instead of just a document.

You may set as many milestones as you wish, giving each milestone a description:

  • List Building
  • Data Entry
  • Newsletter design
  • Newsletter content
  • Newsletter dispatch

Each milestone then needs to be broken down into the number of tasks it will take to achieve that milestone and then assigned the following.

  • Start date
  • Projected end date
  • Budget
  • Person responsible
  • Deadline

This milestone plan can now be summarised as a commitment calendar, which lists the major milestones and who is responsible for each task. Obviously, the more committed the person is to the task, the more successful your project will be.  For example, if telemarketing was one of your database gathering tasks, you would assign this to a person with good phone skills and the time available to complete the task.  

A task is an activity that contributes towards a deliverable, or in this case, a milestone.  Completing tasks is a way of measuring your progress, the more tasks you complete, the closer you get to achieving a milestone.  Sure, you set yourself dates for fulfilment of your milestones, but they are not reached simply because the date has arrived.

Planning for results rather than activity is the most productive method.  The project team should measure results, employee response, and identify any areas for improvement or corrective actions. A final project report and closing findings and recommendations should be written and submitted to management.

For more help or advice, give one of our advisors a call on 1300 85 64 77.