What to Do When Milestones Don’t Easily Get to 'Done'

Ken Whitaker of Leading Software Maniacs (LSM) has more than 25 years of software development executive leadership and training experience in a variety of technology roles and industries. He has led commercial software teams at Software Publishing (remember Harvard Graphics?), Data General, embedded systems software companies, and enterprise software suppliers. Ken is an active PMI member, Project Management Professional (PMP) certified, and a Certified ScrumMaster (CSM). Sources for LSM's material come from case studies, personal leadership experience, the PMI Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide) and Ken's leadership books: Managing Software Maniacs, Principles of Software Development Leadership and I'm Not God, I'm Just a Project Manager.

What do you do if all milestones don’t come together? Often a project will achieve a milestone in different stages. For example, a database project composed of three major modules may achieve so-called “alpha” at different points in time. What date should you use to specify completion? When all three modules achieve alpha, or when two of the three modules (the majority) achieve it?

Although the precise answer depends on the specific project (or your organization’s “rule of thumb”), the team should agree that a milestone is met when certain basic requirements have been achieved. Agreement on a milestone’s completion date should be designed to give the team confidence that the next milestone can be met. Take the traditional alpha and beta milestones used for years in traditional software development—“alpha” would imply code is basically functional and, correspondingly, “beta” would signify functionally complete passing unit tests. (I would normally hop right into agile instead, but alpha and beta works quite nicely as examples for this topic.)

For instance, the team may agree that alpha is met when modules 1 and 2 are complete and the user interface of module 3 is complete. The fact that all of the components of module 3 may not be at a true alpha may be considered a negative. Given lax definitions…

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