New England Project Services



Milestone Trends Chart

Many project managers will identify a set of major milestones, and in progress reports will provide an updated forecast of the milestone dates.  (A major milestone, as distinct from a minor milestone, is one that is a good representation of progress against the key project objectives).

This is good, but more can be done, without the need to spend any more time capturing additional data.  All that is needed is to keep a history of milestone updates, and present this history in the status report.  After several reporting periods you can start to spot trends very easily, assuming that you have displayed the data in some form of chart.  Below, we show milestone data, and a simple chart that can be created based on this data.

The first column is the list of milestones.  The next column is the planned date for each milestone.  Succeeding columns show the revised forecast for the milestones at each reporting period.  You can see that when representing data in this format it can be difficult to spot trends.

However, if you represent it in a chart like the following, trends can be spotted at a glance.  All you have to do is look to see how the lines are progressing.  Horizontal lines represent milestone dates that are not changing.  Upward movement indicates a delay in the milestone.  Of course you would want to make sure that the chart can be easily read, on this page it may still appear cramped, although the lines should be easily distinguishable.

If you were reviewing a project which produced the above chart you could conclude that one of three possible situations is occurring:

  1. The project manager is managing near term events and not forecasting out to the end of the project.  The end date may be in jeopardy but the project manager is unaware of this.

  2. The project manager knows that the end date cannot be met but does not want to say this!

  3. The project manager understands the situation and believes that the end date is still achievable.

Armed with this simple chart you can ask the project manager some pointed questions to determine which of the above three situations was occurring, and then ensure that appropriate actions are taken if it was situation 1 or 2.

We have not been able to find a simple commercial tool that produces this chart in an easy to use format.  However, we have been using these charts for over 20 years, first using pen and paper, then an internally developed tool (no longer available to us).  However, you can download the following Excel spreadsheet which contains the above example data.  This is not a robust implementation and might need some revised formatting for your project, but it shows what can be done to represent this data visually, and it was very easy to create.

Milestone trends chart Excel file



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