Setting and Achieving Construction Milestones: A Guide for Project Managers

We’ve all heard stories of tremendously delayed and painfully over-budget construction projects. In fact, they’ve become the expectation rather than the exception. 

While many factors contribute to poor project execution, the underlying issues are almost always the same: inadequate planning and project management.

Meticulous planning is vital to drive your project to success. Only when you have deep visibility and control over every aspect of your project can you achieve excellence and profitability. 

Here, we’ll show you how to elevate your planning strategy with project milestones. 

Defining construction milestones

Imagine your construction project is a road trip with a start and endpoint. Your project milestones are like toll gates you pass through along the highway to reach your destination. They act as a critical path and map, signifying you’ve reached the end of one phase of a project and are ready to move on to the next one in the project schedule. 

Like a real-world toll gate, reaching a project milestone requires you to slow down, check your progress, and ensure everything is on track before you begin the next phase. In doing so, you’ll improve team accountability and collaboration, catch potential issues before they escalate, and unlock a new level of accuracy and clarity. 

Why construction milestones are important

Seventy-one percent of construction projects run over budget and behind schedule. Embedding construction milestones into your project helps you mitigate this risk, so you can move through each critical project phase with confidence. 

Schedule management

Construction projects can be complex. Throughout the project management lifecycle, you have to contend with plenty of moving yet disjointed parts. Ever-changing construction documents, the onsite crew, bottlenecks from third-party vendors, quality control — the list goes on and on. 

Embracing project milestones enables you to bring cohesion to the often siloed construction process. With a detailed, holistic understanding of what’s been completed and what needs to be done, you’ll be able to execute your construction plans swiftly and accurately.

Performance measurement

A key factor of any project’s success is making sure things stay on budget, so it’s important to keep track of your construction project’s financial health. However, keeping tabs on all the data needed to assess your project’s finances can be difficult in the busy day-to-day of project execution.

Project milestones can help here. By weaving performance measurement into the milestone journey, you’ll give yourself strategic opportunities to evaluate project progress and overall performance at regular intervals. 

Stakeholder communication

One of the biggest setbacks in the construction industry is undoubtedly missed or overlooked revisions. Typically, the number one reason for this is miscommunication between project leads and their stakeholders.  

It’s easy to see why this happens. Back-and-forth emails, different document versions, and unavoidable project changes can all erode alignment between project managers and stakeholders. 

With project milestones, you build in intentional time for stakeholder communication, offering regular updates on project progress, changes, and time to completion. This helps to ensure that everyone is on the same page, so you can deliver your project with minimal errors. 

Motivation and team morale

Research shows that engaged, motivated employees significantly improve business performance. One of the best ways to keep your team motivated and eager throughout a project is to regularly carve out time to celebrate their progress. And project milestones facilitate just that. 

Each key milestone you reach is an opportunity to acknowledge your team’s great work and look back at what you’ve achieved. This propels you into the next phase of the project plan with high morale. 

How to identify and set milestones in a construction project

If you’re not yet using project milestones to manage your projects, you’ve been missing out on a key advantage. Harnessing the power of project milestones is one of the best ways to keep projects on target and on time.  

With that in mind, here’s how to set your own milestones for your construction projects.  

1. Define project scope and objectives

Before you can plot your project milestones, you’ll first need a clear understanding of your project’s overall scope and objectives. Detail is critical here. You’ll want to clearly understand all the tasks that need to be completed to reach your objectives, the various team structures and responsibilities, and the projected timeline. 

Typically, the scope of work covers all of these factors, so make sure yours is well-prepared, reasonable, and all-encompassing. Once you’ve developed a keen understanding of the big picture and timelines, you can then begin breaking down your project into smaller milestones. 

2. Outline project phases and key deliverables

The beauty of milestones is their flexibility — there are no hard and fast rules about when and where you should use them. However, it often makes sense to align milestones with the five well-known project phases: initiation, planning, execution, monitoring, and controlling. 

Using these five phases as a framework, you can build your milestones into your construction schedule. Depending on the scope of your project, the five phases might be milestones enough in themselves. Or you may want to add further milestones into each phase for enhanced visibility and control. 

3. Engage stakeholders and set milestone dates

Once you’ve created your new and enhanced schedule, it’s time to check in with your stakeholders and finalize your milestone dates. The reason behind this is to ensure that, first, your milestones are feasible in regard to resources and task dependencies. 

Second, this conversation helps you set expectations with your stakeholders, so everyone is aligned on the project vision. Following this, you’re ready to begin.  

4. Monitor and adjust to complete milestones

We all know that construction projects rarely ever go exactly according to plan. Factors like labor shortages, material price volatility, and bad weather mean changes are inevitable. This is why it’s important to review your overall schedule as you move through each milestone. 

Based on what’s been completed and what’s running behind schedule, you can then adjust your milestone timeline so that your targets remain achievable. As you do, make sure to inform your stakeholders — and remember to celebrate your team each time you accomplish a milestone!  

Examples of effective construction milestones

If you’re wondering where and how you should place project milestones within your construction schedule, here are a few examples you can use for inspiration. 

  • Completing design blueprints
  • Getting client approvals
  • Executing the construction contract
  • Finalizing the project team
  • Kicking off the project
  • Roofing
  • Finishing the build 
  • Completing the handoff
  • Building occupancy

It’s important to note that this list is by no means exhaustive. As we’ve said, there’s no rulebook for project milestones. Where you put them will depend on the scope and complexity of your project.

But as a general rule of thumb, it’s wise to insert project milestones at the end of significant phases within your project. This allows you to pause, review and assess, and move forward confidently. 

Achieving construction milestones with collaboration tools

While project milestones are intrinsic to success, they can easily become another administrative burden without the right tools. No one wants to have to look through countless emails and documents to ensure that everything is on track. 

Thankfully, with the help of collaboration and communication software like ActiveDraft, embedding construction milestones into your project becomes effortless. 

ActiveDraft streamlines project collaboration and management, eliminating disjointed communication, multiple document variations, and unorganized resources.

The browser-based platform makes it easy to manage documentation, communicate with teams and stakeholders in real time, track progress, and assign tasks — all from one intuitive interface. The result is accelerated project delivery, fueled by project milestones you can count on.

Accomplish your key project milestones through ActiveDraft

Harnessing project milestones is a simple but highly effective way to elevate your construction project’s success. By regularly reviewing your progress against defined parameters, you can confidently deliver projects on time, on budget, and to the highest standard of excellence. 

Ready to invigorate your project management strategy with milestones? Discover how ActiveDraft can help you accelerate project delivery today.

Jeff Mack is the Head of Marketing at ActiveDraft, where he is responsible for developing the brand and telling the ActiveDraft story.

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