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Project milestones – trail markers in a software development process

Successful software development needs good management, and good project management starts with setting goals and developing milestones that help you achieve them. Well-designed milestones can make or break any project. Their role is not only to mark the progress and help your team work according to schedule, budget, and scope but also to communicate your project’s success to all stakeholders. Understanding what milestones are (and what they’re not) is essential for their proper implementation. That’s why we’ve come up with this guide to explain the differences between milestones and other elements of software development management. Let’s get started!



What is a project milestone?

A milestone is a measure of progress in the project. They serve as signals that help you evaluate whether you’re a step closer to reaching your goal.

The milestones you set in your project are not a plan, but rather a set of signs that can tell you everything is going according to plan − or not. Your plan is the collection of actions you need to take to reach your goal, while milestones are the moments that make you realize you’re going in the right direction.

Think of it as the progress bar on a project tracking dashboard or a video game loading screen. When a task is completed, or a certain proportion of the work is done, the bar will move forward – that means that a milestone has been reached.
Often, milestones are tied to the project schedule, and each milestone may have a target completion date.

Milestones in software development

Each type of project will have slightly different milestones. When it comes to software development, they will be signals that your progress towards the launch of the software product is on track.

A good example of a software development milestone would be the completion of a database, finishing the UI design, or integration of payment options in an app.

As you may have noticed, these are moments in time rather than sets of completed tasks. However, completion of a key task may very well become a milestone.

Often, companies set milestones at a point in time when something is achieved which is essential for further progress. For instance, a completed user flow design is a good milestone, because reaching it means you’re now ready to design the app’s user interface.

Why are software development milestones important?

Well-designed milestones can be the key to your project’s success. They show you how far you’ve come and how close you are to completion. They let you know whether you’re moving towards the goal or stuck in a rut. They show whether you’re on schedule or budget, and tracking these metrics can help you react quickly to delays and bottlenecks (for example, by expanding your resources and outsourcing some of the key tasks via our Team Extension service) before they affect the end goals.

Without setting good milestones, you’re going to have a hard time tracking the progress of your project. That may also translate into an inefficient use of resources.

Imagine that you’re planning to outsource a certain part of the development to a software house, but the nature of the task requires another one to be completed first. If you base this purely on schedule, and there’s a delay earlier in the project, the service provider may start charging for unproductive time, because they can’t complete their task as the groundwork hasn’t been laid. If you use milestones to direct your decisions instead, you make sure your resources are used efficiently.

You might not have much experience with software development and may not know how to set milestones for certain types of projects. An expert (or a group of them) on board could be just what the doctor ordered. Our agile teams on demand will start working with you by carefully evaluating what milestones need to be met before we can help you, and we’ll also set milestones for our work to enable us to achieve our common goal.


Success criteria vs project milestones

Milestones are points along the project timeline, while success criteria are more of a checklist of the requirements that need to be met to mark your project as complete.

The former are related to tasks and progress, while the latter are more qualitative.
In addition, the former are tracked throughout the project’s duration, while the latter come into play at the end of the project.

Project goals vs project milestones

The goals you set for your project are measures of success. They are often quantitative and can include things like budget, completion time, or user test ratings. In other words, project goals are the overarching objectives of the project, and are measured upon the project’s completion.

Milestones are signals that you set throughout the duration of your project that help you gauge whether you’re on target or not. For instance, a delay in reaching an early milestone may already tell you that your target launch date needs to be postponed.

Project phases vs project milestones

It’s a good idea to divide projects into phases. Each phase might be a collection of tasks that need to be completed to reach the next phase. Within a phase, some tasks can run in parallel.
For instance, an application can be launched in phases like development, testing, beta, launch, and post-launch.

Completion of a phase can be a very important milestone, but you can have several milestones within each phase too. Reaching all of them can signify that it’s time to move on to the next phase. Conversely, not reaching all your phase one milestones is a sign that you might not be ready for phase two yet.

Project end product vs project milestones

The project end product is the result you’re hoping to achieve or the product you’re hoping to launch. Closely tied to the goals (which often describe how you want the successful end product to be), the end product is evaluated at the end of the project.

Milestones are points in time that help you gauge whether you’re on track to reach the target end product by giving you insights into your progress.

Project tasks vs project milestones

The project tasks are a list of the work that needs to be completed in a project. They describe the actions that need to be taken at certain times by designated stakeholders. An example of a task could be logo design or debugging.

Milestones, on the other hand, are points in time which often align with the completion of a key task or tasks.

Time to get setting!

Now that you know what project milestones are, you can identify and set them for your project. Doing it in the early phases of your project’s life cycle:

  • helps your team to navigate through their tasks and stay accountable for their work,
  • gives you and all stakeholders a clear overview of the progress and what to expect as the project progresses.

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