How to Break Down your Projects into Milestones and Tasks?

How to Break Down your Projects into Milestones and Tasks

Project management is largely dependent on successful handling of the scope, resource, timelines, budget and delivery. Scope is where all the fun begins and the ability to break down the project into reasonable milestones and tasks is crucial to its success.

Carving a robust work breakdown structure from the project is the most common step performed by all project managers. It is like the first logical thing to do before the project hits the execution ground.

What will happen if you don’t do the project break down?

No matter how diligent the project manager is there are always a lot of grey areas in the project requirements.

Secondly, there are lot of important stuff hidden between the lines and if not captured can adversely impact the project; at times to a point of no return.

So, when you haven’t broken down the project into manageable activities and tasks you will land up in situations where you:

  • don’t know what you don’t know
  • cannot identify the possible risks
  • will not be able to make the right assumptions
  • cannot ascertain the project feasibility correctly
  • are unable to estimate the time, cost and resource requirements
  • run the risk of not understanding the stakeholder expectations
  • end up with no visibility to how the project execution would flow

Basically, you will be in a state of constant flux not knowing what happens next and when!

No project manager would like to put themselves in such a place and neither will your clients and the business.

How to do the project break down?

For e.g. once you have the requirements gathering done, you must first sit down to start with the high level milestones and delivery plan.

Work with the team internally to assess the requirements and how many milestones must be set.

Try and map realistic timelines for each of these milestones.

Note that you may not have clarity on the entire project scope or requirements.

Hence, starting with setting up high-level milestones will give you

  • a broad view of what the project entails
  • probable time and resource requirements
  • skills required to deliver the project
  • initial assumptions and risks to account for

Now, as a project manager, you should sit down with the project sponsor, stakeholders and decision makers to share your milestone list and delivery schedule.

Project Delivery

Get your stakeholders’ pulse and answers to:

  • Are the stakeholders in alignment with your plan?
  • Have you understood their expectations correctly?
  • Has your team got the milestone priorities right?
  • Did you miss out on any critical project requirements?
  • Did you really understand the project goals clearly?

All of these questions are crucial to project kick-off and completion. They provide deep strategic & tactical insights that lay the foundation for project execution.

Based on further inputs, finalize the milestone list and the ball park delivery schedule.

You have an understanding of how the project would tentatively flow. There is always scope for rejigging the milestone schedule based on new information, milestone priority and the milestone’s significance to the overall project goal.

Benefits:

  • Better clarity of the project goals and stakeholder expectations
  • Keep project costs low and prevent high upfront CAPEX
  • Built trust with the stakeholders
  • Project team and stakeholders have the same understanding of the project deliverables
  • Well-equipped to start with granular execution plan

Task Break down

Task breakdown is about getting into the nitty-gritty of the project. Everything needs to be accounted for:

  • Resources
  • Training programs
  • Budget
  • Timelines
  • Communication plan
  • Tools, license and equipment etc.
  • Scope

Really? How?

When you start breaking down your high level milestones, you get down to the lowest executable item!

You are at a stage where you first make a lot of building blocks and then start stacking them in a logical flow that will take your project to completion and delivery.

A relatively simple example of milestone and task break down can be requirements gathering or scope finalization.

You start breaking down the milestone into

  • Parent tasks
    • Sub tasks
      • Sub-sub tasks

Try to be as detailed and granular as possible. Project management is all about attending to smallest possible chunk of work. You miss one and end up with chaos. Robust task management

Try to make checklists as well for items that may seem insignificant to be treated as tasks but still are important activities.

Subtask View

The task breakdown will cover each and every aspect of task management for your project.

  • Outlining tasks
  • Planning task assignments
  • Setting up estimated hours
  • Classifying tasks meaningfully with task types, labels & tags
  • Identifying task inter dependencies
  • Establishing task relationships and linkages
  • Visualizing the overall project schedule

As you start putting the pieces in order one after the other, you get the master plan of your project.

The team knows full well as how the execution would be done, who will do what and when.

There is no confusion or scope of chaos.

More importantly, the stakeholders now know when to expect what.

There is increased stakeholder engagement and management support leading to enhanced project coordination.

Benefits:

  • Scope irregularities are highlighted
  • Assumptions and risks get verified, updated and approved
  • You have bandwidth for course correction
  • Clarity on the true deliverables and on their priority
  • Re-prioritize milestones or tasks as per project requirements
  • Clarity of responsibilities keep the team motivated & willingness to contribute more
  • Resource and skill requirements become clear
  • Proactive handling of resource allocation and conflicts
  • Progress tracking is easier and visible across the project team

Conclusion

Irrespective of your project methodology – Agile Scrum, Kanban or waterfall, project breakdown is a must.

All methodologies include end to end task management. Yes, terminologies vary from milestones to sprint, to tasks to stories etc. but the foundation remains the same.

The key is to manage the simple things effectively to enable effective results!

Running projects successfully is always a challenge. There are multiple moving parts and all need to be dealt with diligently.

Breaking down the project to milestones and tasks highlight missing items in terms of specific requirements, costs etc. hence you can re-plan and prevent expensive errors.

Moreover, when things aren’t clear you still have a vantage point to assess what is needed and can steer the project in the right direction.

What sweetens the deal is you have a better handle over the project and are at a vantage point from where you can assess what can go wrong, what needs to be improved and what must be eliminated.

And all of these aspects are crucial to maintaining high team morale, increased customer engagement, transparency across the entire project team & delivering the project successfully.

How do you do the project break down exercise today?

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