What is a milestone chart and why is it beneficial?

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Summary

A milestone chart is a way to visualize the most important steps of your project. Each milestone your team achieves brings you closer to completing your project—in this way, milestones provide a sense of accomplishment and show your team how the work they’re doing contributes to the overarching project objective. 

Milestones aren’t just important for your team—they also simplify your role as the project manager. You can share your milestone chart with project stakeholders to visualize your project’s progress and ensure everyone is on the same page. 

So how can you create a milestone chart? 

We’re going to explore some of the different ways you can tackle this step in planning your project. We’ll also provide tips on how marking and celebrating milestones will keep team morale high.

What is a milestone chart?

A milestone chart is a visual representation of the most important tasks your team needs to complete throughout a project. 

[inline illustration] what are milestones and why are they important (infographic)

Essentially, milestones allow you to take a look at what your team has to work toward or has already done. Think of them like rungs on a ladder—the higher you climb, the closer you get to completing your project.

Different ways to create milestone charts

There is more than one way to create a milestone chart. You can add milestones to your project timeline template, create a Gantt chart, or use a work management software with a timeline tool.

A Gantt chart is a horizontal bar chart used to illustrate a timeline of a project, work, or program. While Gantt charts are a great way to visualize your project schedule and milestones, they can be time-consuming to set up and become messy as you add more details. You can learn all about the pros and cons of Gantt charts in our full guide.

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The best alternative to a traditional Gantt chart is a modern project timeline tool. Let’s take a look at the benefits of using a designated project planning and timeline tool to create your milestone chart. 

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Why should you use a project management tool to create your milestone charts?

To get the same bird’s-eye view of your project that a Gantt chart offers, use a timeline tool in your designated work management software. There are several advantages to using a timeline tool over a Gantt chart:

  • A timeline tool is easy to set up and maintain, especially when you have to add new tasks or adjust milestones.

  • Tasks and other underlying work can be linked to your timeline and will update in real time.

  • With a click of a button, you can share your timeline with your team or stakeholders.

7 steps to create a milestone chart

Now let’s walk through the process of creating a milestone chart step by step, starting with defining your project goals.

[inline illustration] how to create a milestone chart step by step (infographic)

Step 1: Define project goals

Before you create your milestone chart, you’ll have to outline your general project timeline and goals. Defining your project goals gives your team a thorough understanding of your targeted project outcome. This way, your team knows exactly what they’re working towards and why it matters. Then, define a rough timeline for your project beginning with a start and end date. 

Example: Let’s say you’re a communications director and your company is merging with another one. Your overarching project goal is to merge the two companies successfully. The start date of your project is the creation of the internal announcement, the end date is the global company event celebrating the successful merger. 

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Step 2: Create a task list

Now that you have your rough timeline and overarching project goal defined, it’s time to create a task list. These tasks should be recorded in chronological order and ideally linked to dates or date ranges to alleviate some work later on in this process.

Example: Among others, your tasks for the company merger will include the creation of the internal announcement newsletter, scheduling Q&A sessions with employees, press conferences to announce the merger externally, and planning the global merger event.

Step 3: Identify milestones

To identify your milestones you first need to understand exactly what a milestone is and what it isn’t. 

[inline illustration] know what a milestone is and what it is not (infographic)

Goals tend to be more important than milestones. A goal should outline what happens once your project is successful and how your project aligns with overall business objectives; a milestone allows you to take a look forward to an upcoming point in your project or back at what you’ve already accomplished. 

It’s also easy to confuse a milestone with a deliverable—however, the distinction is a little more on the nose here. A deliverable is something tangible like a report or a product. A milestone is more conceptual and marks a checkpoint that your team can work towards. 

You can identify whether or not something qualifies as a milestone by considering the following questions:

  • Does this task impact your deadline?

  • Is this a significant point in your project that indicates progress?

  • Should this task be reviewed by your stakeholders?

  • Can the project still be completed without this task?

If the answer is yes to all but the last question, you have successfully identified a milestone.

Example: To build out your merger project and to-dos, you must first categorize each initiative:

  • Creating the internal newsletter to announce the merger is a task. 

  • Sending out the newsletter is a project deliverable. 

  • Announcing the merger to the company (the completion of the above two to-dos) is a milestone.

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Step 4: Create your timeline

Now it’s time to assemble the puzzle and turn your tasks, goals, phases, deliverables, and milestones into a timeline. Take a look back at the timeframes you added to your project deliverables and verify if the phases are long enough. This is also a great opportunity to check if there are any dependencies that could cause a bottleneck.

Add all of your project tasks and phases to your timeline tool, define dependencies, adjust phases where necessary and then indicate to-dos, deliverables, and key milestones. Once you’ve finalized your project timeline, you should have a clear visualization of your entire project plan.

Example: A project the size of a company merger will naturally have some tasks or phases that can’t get started until others are completed. For example, you’ll need the updated logos from your marketing team before you can send out the press release announcing the merger itself. To keep your project running smoothly, visualize these dependencies in your timeline.

Step 5: Share your timeline

Now that the timeline is complete, you’ll want to share it with your immediate team to ensure that nothing slipped through the cracks. Your team can verify that all dependencies have been defined, all milestones are added to the timeline, and all project phases are long enough to avoid bottlenecks or other project issues.

Once your immediate team has verified that the timeline is good to go, share it with your wider team. This will give everyone a better overview of the tasks and phases they have to complete to reach the project milestones and eventually finalize the project successfully.

Example: Four eyes see more than two. After sharing your milestone chart with a communications manager, they find that you didn’t allocate enough time to prepare the internal Q&A sessions for employees. This would’ve caused a great amount of stress on your communications team and potentially negatively influenced how the rest of the company felt about the merger. By adjusting the timeline, you’re able to give your team enough time to prepare for this project phase.

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Step 6: Add documentation

Throughout the project lifecycle, you’ll want to add any documents, notes, and relevant communication associated with the project to the respective tasks, phases, or milestones. Your milestone chart is never final—it’s a growing project management tool that needs to be modified and added to so it’s always in sync with your project.

Connecting relevant information with your timeline will help your team keep an overview of what’s been done, what’s in progress, and what’s still on your to-do list. 

Example: Once the marketing team has shared the new logo, link the file to the respective task in your timeline. This allows everyone else working on the project to easily locate and use the design when needed.

Step 7: Celebrate milestones

When you reach a milestone, celebrate it! Depending on what the milestone marks, you could order some pizza to the office, let your team go early on a Friday afternoon, or send everyone a gift card for a local coffee shop. Acknowledging your team’s hard work by celebrating milestones boosts morale and improves your team’s engagement.

Every time your team checks off a milestone, you’re one step closer to completing your project. Keep tracking your project’s progress with your timeline and share milestones with stakeholders—they, too, will appreciate knowing that things are moving forward.

Read: Work hard, better: Leading your team to better results

Example: Your team has worked tirelessly to pull off the most amazing global company event marking the official merger of the two companies. Everyone had a great time and your CEO even mentioned how happy they are with the outcome of the event. You could celebrate this milestone by giving your entire team the following Monday off to recharge before the project post mortem.

Other ways to plan your milestones

While a timeline is the best way to outline your work and get an expansive overview of tasks, deliverables, and deadlines, there are other ways you can visualize and plan your milestones.

[inline illustration] alternative ways to visualize milestones (infographic)

While these visualizations may not be the best project management tools, they’re great for presentations or brainstorming

In our example of the company merger, your communications team may want to share a simplified version of the timeline with the whole company when they’re announcing the merger via the internal newsletter. Sharing your timeline with hundreds or even thousands of people is not only unnecessary but also risky.

Instead, create a simplified visual highlighting only the milestones or a modified version of your Kanban board so the company’s employees get a better sense of who is contributing to what.

[inline illustration] what are milestone charts (infographic)

Say goodbye to spreadsheet headaches

If you’re ready to ditch the Gantt chart and try timelines instead, check out Asana’s Timeline tool. Use one of Asana’s existing milestone chart templates or create your own with the Timeline tool.

And don’t you worry: if you’ve already created your milestone chart in Excel, you can import your CSV file directly into Asana. Say goodbye to spreadsheet-induced headaches and hello to streamlined project planning.

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