Milestone Planning

A Participatory and Visual Approach



By Eduardo Miranda

Pennsylvania, USA




This paper introduces a participatory and visual approach to milestone planning called the Visual Milestone Planning (VMP) Method. VMP promotes involvement and commitment, through the reification of the planning artifacts and their direct manipulation by team members who collectively create the plan. Once a project scope is defined via a work breakdown structure and relevant milestones identified, a novel construct called the milestone planning matrix is used to systematically and visually capture dependencies among milestones and map WBS elements to the milestones they help realize. The milestones due dates are later determined by accommodating sticky notes representing the work to be done on a resource and time scaled milestone scheduling canvas. The method is applicable to traditional as well as to agile projects.

Keywords:     Milestone planning; participative planning; collaborative planning; milestone planning matrix; visual planning; agile project management


Milestone planning is a planning approach pioneered by Andersen (Andersen E. , 1996) and Turner (Turner, 2004) in which projects are planned in terms of their outcomes, the attainment of significant process states, external dates and customer commitments, instead of on the basis of the tasks to be performed. Milestone plans are more robust, comprehensive, easier to understand, and accept and confer great flexibility in terms of how to achieve the milestones, which makes them a very apt tool to be combined with agile approaches. According to both authors, milestone planning should be performed by the group, as “it is important that a sense of community develops around the plan” (Andersen, Grude, & Haug, 2009) and “developing the plan in a group session builds greater commitment than if the project manager develops it on his or her own and tries to impose it on the team” (Turner, 2004), but they do not offer a systematic method for how to do this. This paper address that gap by proposing a participatory and visual approach to construct milestone plans called the Visual Milestone Planning (VMP) Method.

While thinking and expressing a plan in terms of milestones rather than tasks certainly contributes to the plan’s robustness, comprehensiveness, understandability and acceptability; these three properties are mainly the result of the how the plan is constructed and who is involved. Restating Turner’s words, a milestone plan developed in isolation by a project manager and later communicated or simply handed down to those responsible for its implementation, would not be as comprehensive, understandable and acceptable as one developed with the participation of the team using visual techniques.

In the context of this paper, participatory planning, is a practice in which the people responsible for the execution of the plan is actively involved in its formulation. Successful examples of this way of working are numerous: the pull planning process in the “Last Planner System” used in the construction industry (Ballard, 2000) and “Blitz Planning” (Cockburn, 2004) and “Cards on the Wall” (Phillips, 2001) on software development to cite a few. The benefits of participation in the planning process are many: better and more comprehensive plans as consequence of the involvement of a mixture of people which brings different perspectives to the process, greater commitment as plans are talked through and advance the thinking of the group, the development of a common framework and vocabulary for decision making which extends well beyond the “high” of a successful planning session and an overall higher probability of success as people that participates in the shaping of the plan better understand the needs, the goals and where their responsibilities lay with regards of those of others (Moss Kanter, 1989).

Visual planning is an approach by which a team plans its work and controls its progress through the use of physical representations of tasks in combination with frequent and interactive meetings. Visual planning provides cognitive, social and emotional benefits (Eppler & Platts, 2009). The cognitive benefits of visual representations include facilitating elicitation and synthesis of information, enabling new perspectives to allow better, more exhaustive comparisons and facilitating easier recall and sequencing; the social benefits include integrating different perspectives, assisting mutual understanding, and supporting coordination between people; and the emotional ones include bolstering involvement and engagement, providing inspiration, and aiding convincing communication. Visual planning variants are being used in a number of different contexts, e.g., lean product development (Lindlöf & Söderberg, 2011) and (Jurado, 2012) and construction projects (Tjell & Bosch-Sijtsema, 2003) among others.

VMP implements participatory and visual planning techniques through the reification of the planning constructs: work packages, milestones and schedules employed in the planning process and their direct manipulation by team members who collectively create the plan…


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Editor’s note: Second Editions are previously published papers that have continued relevance in today’s project management world, or which were originally published in conference proceedings or in a language other than English.  Original publication acknowledged; authors retain copyright.  This paper was originally published in the Journal of Modern Project Management (MIRANDA, E., Milestone Planning: A Participatory and Visual Approach. The Journal of Modern Project Management, North America, 7, oct. 2019. Available at: https://www.journalmodernpm.com/index.php/jmpm/article/view/488)  It is republished here with the author’s permission.

How to cite this paper: Miranda, E. (2019). Milestone Planning: A Participatory and Visual Approach; PM World Journal, Vol. VIII, Issue XI, December.  Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/pmwj88-Dec2019-Miranda-milestone-planning-participatory-and-visual-approach.pdf



About the Author

Dr. Eduardo Miranda

Pennsylvania, USA




Dr. Eduardo Miranda is an Associate Teaching Professor at Carnegie Mellon University where he teaches courses in project management and agile software development at the Master of Software Engineering Program and at the Tepper School of Business. Dr. Miranda’s areas of interest include project management, quality and process improvement.

Before joining Carnegie Mellon Dr. Miranda worked for Ericsson where he was instrumental in implementing Project Management Offices (PMO) and improving project management and estimation practices. His work is reflected in the book “Running the Successful Hi-Tech Project Office” published by Artech House in March 2003.

Dr. Miranda holds a PhD. in Software Engineering from the École de Technologie Supérieure, Montreal and Masters degrees in Project Management and Engineering from the University of Linköping, Sweden, and Ottawa, Canada respectively and a Bachelor of Science from the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina. He has published over fifteen papers in software development methodologies, estimation and project management.

Dr. Miranda is a certified Project Management Professional and a Senior Member of the IEEE. He can be contacted at mirandae @ andrew.cmu.edu.

For more, visit the author’s website at http://mse.isri.cmu.edu/facstaff/faculty1/core-faculty/miranda-eduardo.html