In project control, there are various methods to monitor the project. In addition to the plan/target/actual comparison and earned value management, the milestone trend analysis (MTA) is one of the best-known methods for project monitoring. One of the main goals of the milestone trend analysis is to monitor the progress of the project in order to detect schedule delays at an early stage. Read on to learn more about this underrated tool.
Monitoring the Progress of the Project
Milestones are points in the project schedule when important pre-defined deliverables are due. You probably already knew this. With these milestones and the milestone trend analysis, you get a very effective method to monitor the progress of the project in terms of content. A prerequisite for MTA is the definition of a sufficient number of meaningful milestones—not only milestones at the end of each project phase but also important milestones within the project phases. Learn how to successfully use milestones in project planning in this article (follows).
Detect Negative Deadline Trends Early
Milestone trend analysis is a simple, transparent method of identifying negative deadline trends at an early stage. As a result, corrective actions can be initiated quickly. The MTA is also a good communication tool both inside and outside the project, with the aim of raising the deadline awareness of all project participants. A prerequisite for the MTA is, of course, that milestones are defined and deliverables are specified accurately and completely, and that acceptance criteria are defined for them.
How to Conduct the Milestone Trend Analysis:
- Define milestones, associated dates and deliverables, including acceptance criteria.
- Periodically review the milestone dates
- Assess future milestone dates (will be achieved according to schedule, will be achieved earlier/later)
- Reschedule future milestone dates if they are unlikely to be achieved as planned
- Comment on the deviations
- Define effects and corrective actions in case of deviations
A right-angled triangle is used to represent the milestones and their dates, and its shorter sides serve as time axes. The timing of both axes is the same and can be freely selected. The planned reporting dates are entered on the horizontal axis, and the originally planned milestones (baseline schedule) are entered on the vertical axis. At the reporting time, the expected date of each milestone is entered in the trend diagram and connected to the previous date by a line. This creates a forecast curve for each milestone that runs as horizontally as possible to the hypotenuse, where the planned milestone date lies. Often, however, the curves rise (deadline delay) and reach the hypotenuse late. A milestone is considered complete when all deliverables have been created and inspected and accepted according to the defined quality criteria. At this point, the milestone reaches the hypotenuse.
The Special Value of the Milestone Trend Analysis Lies in the Retrospect and the Outlook
The experienced project manager can make a certain forecast for the future course from the course of the curves and can identify probable problems in good time. The milestone trend analysis derives its special value from the combination of a retrospective view of the results achieved and the outlook on achievements still to be made. However, depending on the underlying planning method, different curve progressions result. In critical chain planning, for example, a certain increase in the milestone curves is normal, whereas in critical path planning, control measures should already be implemented in the event of small deviations.
Negative trends can often be straightened out—but this is usually a question of budget. Typical progressions of a milestone trend analysis are shown in the following figure. When the curve reaches the diagonal, the milestone has been met.
Based on the curve progression, a deadline estimation of the individual milestone is possible:
- Falling course: The milestone will probably be reached earlier (early milestone).
- Horizontal course: The planned milestone date will probably be met (on-time milestone).
- Ascending course: The planned milestone date will probably be exceeded (delayed milestone).
- In addition to statements about individual milestone progressions, statements can also be made about the overall picture of milestone progressions:
- Tendency to fall: If all milestones show falling progressions, planning was obviously too pessimistic.
- Tendency to horizontal progressions: This should be the typical course of a project. It is very likely that the planned deadline will be met.
- Tendency to increase: This is always an alarm signal. The planned deadlines cannot be met. Reasons for this could be: The work volume or complexity was underestimated, or the deadlines were planned unrealistically.
With the milestone trend analysis, you can identify negative trends in the course of the project at an early stage and thus initiate corrective measures at an early stage.
The first milestone trend analysis in the following image initially shows you a stable trend. Only at the end date of the first milestone does a delay become apparent. This picture indicates that the deadline situation of this milestone is not under control. The dependencies of the further milestones on this first one are clearly visible. MS1 is more than 2 months late. Will MS3 really be achieved only one month later than planned? In the second picture, a delay at the beginning of the project is corrected with control measures.
Monitor Milestones in a Systematic Way
Failed or delayed projects are often the result of insufficient monitoring of milestones, or of too few such checkpoints. But also because deliverables are not accepted professionally. First of all, you need to plan enough clearly defined milestones. However, one milestone at the end of a long project phase is clearly too few. Below are some advantages and disadvantages of milestone trend analysis:
- Simple and clear
- Schedule deviations are visible at a glance
- Raises deadline awareness
- Good communication tool
- Subjective assessment
- Trend curve alone is not enough. Comments are required
Milestone trend analysis is an effective project controlling method, but it is not used enough. This cannot be because this method is complicated. From my point of view, there are 2 reasons for this:
- The milestone trend analysis is simply too little known
- The functionality is not integrated into the well-known project scheduling tools such as MS-Project. However, there are free third-party add-ins for it.
As described above, the predictions of the milestone trend analysis are based on the subjective assessment of the project manager. If, on the other hand, you use Earned Value Management or the Earned Schedule concept, then the predictions are based on quantitative data from the past, without much influence from the project manager.