Project Milestone Reporting
Keeping Projects on Track by Monitoring Significant Check Points
Many managers will have been in situations in which they're told that work is "80 percent done" at a certain stage of a project, only to find that that project then massively and embarrassingly over-runs by weeks or even months. This is because the last 20 percent of the work takes longer than planned.
If you've ever been in this situation and suffered the painful consequences, you'll know why experienced managers carefully monitor how actual completion dates compare against planned completion dates at certain "milestones" within projects. This allows them to take corrective action, or manage people's expectations appropriately, and this is where Project Milestone Reporting becomes important.
A real-life milestone is a marker that tells you how far you are from a certain point – so you know how far you have come, or how far you have to travel.
Project Milestones perform exactly this role in a project plan. They mark significant events, deliverables or interdependencies that need to be monitored to keep the project on track. Project Milestone Reports show you what has been achieved and what else needs to be done to complete your project successfully and on time.
Project Milestone Reporting is just one of many ways to monitor and present the status of a project. It's a useful approach in large or complex projects (with many interdependencies) because it helps present information in a meaningful yet concise way, showing what has actually been achieved, rather than the gory detail of how it's been achieved. This article helps you think about how you want milestones to be reported to you.
Many organizations have specific approaches and methodologies for managing projects, and for reporting their progress and status. Before you specify a completely new approach, see if any of the existing approaches meet your needs.
Remember that it takes time to prepare these reports. If you ask for too much detailed information, or ask for information you don't actually need, you'll diminish the effectiveness of the manager or team member preparing the report. After all, time spent reporting is time not spent working on the project!
Project milestone reports come in many different forms. Some are narrative reports. Others are quantitative or graphical, using spreadsheets or project management software to manage the milestone data and track progress and completion. If your team uses project management software, the chances are the software will help them prepare milestone reports in a particular way, and it's best to make the most of these in-built features if you can.
If you need to design your own milestone report, our template is a good place to start. Together with the report description below, it will help you understand the principles of project milestone reporting in more detail, and so help you use this reporting tool in the best way for your project.
Creating a Milestone Report
Start by downloading our free project milestone report template. This contains all of the elements typically found on a milestone report.
The first part of a milestone report ("Milestones Completed") describes what has happened so far. It provides a quick summary of what has been accomplished and when.
Description of Milestone: here you provide details about what was accomplished in order to complete the milestone specification.
Due Date: record when the milestone was due according to the current project plan.
Actual Completion Date: record when the milestone was actually accomplished.
Comments: this section is for providing details about modifications from the original plan, in other words: why the due date was missed or why deliverables were changed.
Insist that deliverables are only shown as completed when they are 100 percent completed; 99 percent still leaves wriggle-room, and is not good enough!
Make sure you inspect a selection of the completed deliverables to make sure they actually are completed, and are completed to an acceptable quality.
The next section is used to report on the status of Future Milestones. Here you want to make note of the status of the milestones and understand changes to the original plan should they be necessary. Remember, milestones are critical events, so by reporting on their status you give yourself a formal method to modify the master project plan before too many tasks and responsibilities get off course.
Description of Milestone: what has to be accomplished in order for the milestone to be considered complete?
Due Date: what is the due date of the milestone based on the original plan (or previously modified plan)?
Status: here you record whether the milestone is on target, is at risk of getting off target, or is already off course. Our sample report uses a Green, Amber, Red system but that can be modified to suit the particular situation.
Modified Due Date: modifying a milestone due date is the last resort option. If this is necessary, record the modified due date. Remember that changes to milestones often mean changes to other dates in the project plan.
Required Actions: this is where you note what needs to be done to bring a milestone back on target and/or the repercussions of having to modify a due date and what has been done to address those issues.
Make sure the time spent completing Milestone Reporting provides benefit to the project. This means that you should continually assess whether it is worthwhile for your project and, if you decide that it is, include only the elements that will help you keep your project on target.
Milestone reports help you monitor the progress and outcomes of projects you are watching over, so that you can take corrective action where necessary. They are also a valuable control checkpoint that helps the project manager keep all the pieces of a project working smoothly and in co-operation with one another.
The format of a milestone report varies from organization to organization but the content remains quite similar: milestone descriptions, a note of their status, and relevant comments. When it's complete, one short report will show you the status of every milestone, and help you to plan and prepare accordingly.