Difference between Milestones and Deliverables in Project Management

Customers are driving demand like never before.

The markets and the entire innovation ecosystem is driven by customer demands and inclinations and this is putting unprecedented pressure on companies.

Not only do companies have to meet customer demand, they also have to be ahead of competition, lest someone else surges ahead. It has led to companies revisiting their products and service portfolios and rewriting their mission critical objectives.

Companies need to hasten the PDCA cycle (The Deming’s cycle or Plan-Do-Check-Act) like never before. The turnaround time between planning and execution stage has shortened to its lowest we have ever seen.

Make informed decisions like never before, especially when a lot is at stake in an increasingly volatile market

Make amends quickly, getting feedback and changing in time has become all the more crucial to save time and money and to move ahead again.

Amidst all this, projects have gained significance because they offer modular approach to the overall functioning. A project being a short-term, objective driven business, it requires focused approach at all levels. Projects operate well when there are pre-set milestones and deliverables so that each stakeholder is clear about their role and the outcomes.

What Are Project Milestones? 

As anyone who has embarked on a journey knows, milestones allow you a glimpse into major points on the way towards the destination. If we consider the project as a small journey in itself, milestones are those points on the way that:

  • Can be measured (offer a tangible idea about where we have reached)
  • Heralds a key stage as per schedule or plan
  • Lets the team know where it has reached and how much further it needs to work ahead
  • Provides an opportunity for the team, especially the project leader, to assess and make course correction in time

Let’s take an example of the building of a new division for a company. 

The whole project would involve deciding on the need for the new building, planning, estimation, work commencement and execution and then finally completion. It is here that the operations team comes into picture and takes over to set up the machinery and other required equipment. 

In the entire project, there could be several key milestones such as:

  • Approval of building plan
  • Sanctioning of permission from authorities
  • A date when the ground breaking would take place
  • When the foundation would be completed
  • When the slabs would be executed
  • When the cladding, plumbing, electrical and tile fitting work would end.

These could be independent to each other and hence run parallel, but each member on the project knows by when a certain task has to be completed so as to finish the project in time and hand over to operations. Any delay in that clearly means added expenses and also delayed production, both of which burn a hole in the company’s coffers. 

A project milestone serves to break down the whole project into parts- each one having its own time and plan of execution with responsibilities clearly chalked out. So while the civil division would be working at all times, the plumbing and electrical teams would come into picture only when the time comes. 

What Are Project Deliverables?

While milestone signify small progress on the way to accomplishing the whole project, deliverables need not always be about progress but also about responsibilities. 

For instance, reporting progress by the junior engineer to the CEO is also part of the deliverable of the team. These could also be:

  • Project Plans, 
  • Approval letters, 
  • Signed contracts, 
  • Sanctioned budget, 
  • Minutes of meetings held in the run up to and during the project implementation or 
  • Even handing over of specific outcomes. 

These deliverables are agreed upon by all stakeholders even before the commencement of the project and all parties ensure they are strictly adhered to. 

This is more so when it comes to time sheets, project status reports, variance report, etc. 

Project deliverables when accomplished as agreed help develop trust among the stakeholders that things are well on course and will be accomplished as agreed. 

The whole project complete is also a major deliverable which is accomplished once the project reaches closure and is handed over to the concerned party. 

Are they the same or different?

Though they appear the same and running parallel to each other, at times even overlapping, project milestones and deliverables are definitely different. 

At times, the two may merge. Ex. Handing over the keys to a completed block could be a milestone and a deliverable as stated in the agreement. 

However, the milestone is just a comma in the entire project journey while a deliverable is a duty completed. Using an allegory of the actual journey, a milestone signifies several towns that we reach on the way while a deliverable could be considered making a call back home at a specific time, halting for lunch, checking the car fuel and tyre pressure or even changing your vehicle. A project needs both to reach completion as planned. 

The two are significantly different from each other too, on several levels. While a milestone is an intangible aspect, a deliverable is something which can be seen and measured. Ex. Completing a block in time is a moment of change while handing over the keys is a tangible action. Milestones signify moving over to the next stage while deliverable signify completion of a specific action in stipulated time abiding by the agreement. 

A project requires strict adherence to time since time decides effort and cost. In doing so, milestones help you understand where you have reached in how much time and deliverables ensure you have accomplished a tangible action or completed a pre-determined task. 

Both these offer all the stakeholders (management, project leaders, clients, authorities) a glimpse into how the project is faring and whether timelines are being maintained by accomplishing tasks. Being ahead of time provides ample time for course correction whenever necessary. Completing projects on time is a feat that leaves all parties in joy and the competition in much worry.  

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