Archive for February, 2012
The PMBOK defines Milestone as a significant event in a project usually associated with the completion of a deliverable. Okay, so that may be what a Milestone is but it is so bland!
Milestones are the most under-used tool in a Project Manager’s toolbox. Milestones are how you can manage the progression of your project, assess risks without emotion, and set expectations with your resources up front & throughout the project.
Define Your Milestones
As you start your project, defining your milestones is the first step to using them. As you outline your project activities, you should note any major deliverable or step that deserves focus. Without this deliverable or step, your project success is unlikely – those are the type that you denote as a milestone. Anything with a contractual obligation – is a milestone. Typical IT projects may include completion of requirements, design, start of testing, completion of testing, deployment – are key milestones. Don’t under-estimate the value of a little more granularity though. Instead of Design, perhaps you should denote Interface Design, if your project has signficant integration requirements. If you are standing up a lot of new hardware for your effort, the deployment of this hardware should be a milestone.
With each milestone you identify, determine 3 things:
- Impacts – which of your resource teams “co-own” the milestone with you. Let them know up front of the plan to treat the deliverable/step as a milestone, and that you are going to be publishing the milestone plan & progress regularly to key stakeholders.
- Communication Plan – who will you notify when the milestone is met (or delayed).
- Risk Plan – if your team falls behind on delivering to the milestone, what steps will be taken? What impacts could be felt? What if they reach the milestone early? A detailed project plan would include Early & Late Finish dates for milestones.
During Your Project
As you publish your weekly status to key stakeholders (please tell me you publish progress reports…..), you can keep the emails short & sweet by keeping focus on milestones. You can be as detailed as Percent Complete for in-flight milestone activities, or just note Planned, In-Flight, Completed. Do not neglect to include the Planned Finish Date for your milestone so stakeholders can have clear expectations in front of them every week.
Hitting a Milestone
When your team completes a milestone, communicate it to the appropriate stakeholders but also take the opportunity to celebrate. Too many times, we wait until the end of the project to celebrate. Oh wait, no we don’t because we get busy planning the next project. Take time to celebrate when a milestone is hit (assuming it was early or on-time). Doesn’t have to be a party – but make sure the team members who contributed know that their effort was appreciated, and let other team members know that this is a big effort with many parts coming together – with one less piece to worry about with that milestone completed! This is also a good point to have your sponsor send out a note of Thanks to the team members. Too often we only hear from sponsors at the beginning, end, and during risk escalation. Ask them to help you keep the teams focused on the effort by monitoring & celebrating the milestones.
A race ran without milestones is long. A road trip without the occasional stop for a roadside attraction (world’s largest ketchup bottle….) is boring. Using milestones can help a project manager set expectations, keep momentum moving during a long project, and assess risk of delivering quality on time.
What are some other ways milestones can be used on a project? Any suggestions? Any horrible experiences? Let’s make this a group discussion – post a comment so we can gain some diverse ideas!
I worked in an organization once that had their managers spend an extreme amount of time on Excel and PowerPoint. Their job was to build operational reports about system performance, open tickets, project milestone trends, average hair loss of middle-aged people, you get the idea….
Measuring performance is important. You can’t get better if you don’t know where you are starting from. How much time should you really spend measuring? At what point should you spend less time measuring and more time making things better? Measure What Matters.
Determining what your want to resolve within your organization is critical. Make a list and throw it all on there. Involve your teams, your clients, anyone who has some stake in the game. Then play a game of word-association. Which topics are duplicates? Which ones are related? If you can group them into logical topics, then you can plan a little easier. Which ones are short-term wins? Which ones are game-changers that will make for lasting gains or allow you to tackle other areas? Try to narrow it down to a Top 5 based on priority and where you have the resources to work on the areas.
Can it Be Measured?
Once you have figured out your areas of improvement, you can assess how you will measure each of the areas for current performance. Not only do you have to review what tools you have to measure but what data is relevant to measuring the impact of the changes that you are making. For example, you want to improve MTTR (Mean Time To Respond) – so how are you going to capture the Response? What is considered a Response? An Email? Are you going to have your teams log the response in a tool? Is this really feasible? Be careful about what you decide to measure and how you measure it, as you may face resistance from your teams if you are asking them to work extra hours to log data to measure a change they are not totally on-board with in the first place. Doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t tackle it, just means that you have to address it in a different way.
Measure What Matters
Once you have a measurement plan in place for your Top 5 issues, then you are ready to decide on which ones to tackle. Not all of them at the same time – pace yourself! They are all going to make a difference (based on your initial assessment) so which ones do you have the resources to tackle now? Which ones do you have the resources readily available to work on the change? Pick your 1 or 2 efforts and then launch your effort.
Put down the email. This is a project. It has a defined start (today) and a schedule, and a scope. What is your overall objective for improvement? What is your timeline for making the change? What milestones do you want to achieve along the way? Build your team of people to help with your effort and get their buy-in during your launch meeting. Help them see how this change is going to make things better for your Customers or Employees. Why should they invest their extra time (ha!) on this effort. They need to be advocates for the change so they have to be bought in from the start. Take the time to host a Kick-off Meeting to launch your effort. Get your team excited about taking on this new effort and the difference that they can make to the organization. Explain the measurement plan and how it compliments the project milestones and the team’s ability to track their progress. And post the progress – let others see the great work that your team is doing!
As you continue down the road for your change effort, eventually, you will hit your goal. You have to consider how you will continue to measure the ongoing effectiveness of your change without the extra efforts. Can you re-use your existing reports to measure on a monthly basis instead of daily or weekly? Without a lot of overhead? Automating your reporting may be critical to validating that you implemented sustainable change.
Change is required of any efficient organization but making sure that you are changing the right things and not spending more time measuring than changing – is important to the overall success of your organization.
What methods have you used to launch a change effort in your organization? How did you balance the need to measure the rate of change against the additional workload to gather the data?