4.4 Nurturing a Feeling of Satisfaction

Learning Objectives

  1. Describe the advantages of using project milestones.
  2. Describe the advantages of including the client in celebrations and guidelines for doing so.

Manage around Project Milestones

Project milestones represent significant events on the project. Some project milestones signify external events that provide critical information or resources to the project or an external event that requires information or deliverables from the project.

Board of Directors Meeting

The client’s board of directors meets on March 15, and the client must report the project progress and submit the project final budget for approval. The project team develops the information needed for the project progress report and finalizes the project estimate by March 10 to provide the client with five days to review the information and make any changes.

Recall that a milestone is an event that consumes no time or resources. In this example, the Provide Client with Report is the milestone event. All the activity to develop and deliver the report takes place before the milestone event.

Extra Effort to Meet a Milestone

On March 8, the project team determines that the progress report and estimate cannot be completed by March 10. The team will need one more day to complete the report and estimate. Should the project manager ask the client for a one-day extension? The client may be able to review and revise the information before it goes to the board in four days, but the message to the client has a bigger impact on the project. By missing the deadline, the client can develop the perception that client deadlines are less important, that the project team is unable to complete critical tasks on time, or that the project team is not dedicated.

Instead of asking the client for one more day, the project manager pulls together the project team and asks what it will take to make the milestone date. If the estimator works overtime tonight and the project controls team starts a few hour early on March 9, then the project controls team can work late on March 9 to finish the report. The project administrative staff can come in early on March 10 to do the revisions and make copies, and the reports can be ready by noon. Other activities will have to be delayed and critical staff will work overtime, but the client will get the needed information by the promised date.

Making the extra effort to deliver by the milestone date communicates to the client and the project team the importance of meeting milestones. The client develops confidence that the project team is dedicated to meeting client expectations and that deadlines are important. The extra efforts by the team to meet the client’s critical dates will often result in the client making an extra effort to help the project team meet critical dates.

During the life of a project, the project team encounters a large number of small problems that can cause small delays. A thunderstorm caused the loss of electricity in the office building, and the bidders’ conference had to be delayed one day; a computer virus shut down the use of computers, causing the loss of another day; and the airplane flights were late, so the project reviews were one day late. None of these events caused significant problems for the project, but together they add up to delays that could affect the end date of the project.

If these delays continue to add up, then the project end date will begin to slip. As the project nears the completion date, the team will work overtime, decisions will be rushed, and resources will be added to the project to avoid missing the project end date. This type of end-of-project atmosphere will leave a strong lasting impression with the client and usually does not produce a satisfied client.

Project milestones provide the opportunity for the project manager to spread the end-of-project pressure over the life of the project. Project managers add resources, authorize overtime, and expedite work to accomplish what is required to meet the milestone. The project work increases in intensity, motivating project team members to accomplish the work on time until the milestone is achieved. After the milestone is achieved, the project celebrates and acknowledges the success of the team and then begins working toward the next milestone. Project managers use milestones to increase this intensity and focus to keep the project on schedule and prevent the delays of hard decisions to the end of the project.

This approach allows the project manager to lower the intensity of the project after a milestone is accomplished. After celebrating the successful completion of the milestone, a project manager will often review the future plans and allow the team to reflect on finding new ways of approaching the project work. Adjustments are made to the project work plan and the milestone cycle begins again.

Milestones are rarely evenly distributed over the length of the project. Project managers often select key events and make them milestone events to create roughly equal spacing between milestone dates. On large, multiyear projects, managing to a milestone each quarter provides good timing for the project. On shorter projects, monthly milestones can provide the right timing. On larger, more complex projects, typically a large number of activities can be designated as milestones for the project. On smaller projects, the project manger may need to artificially create milestones.

Include the Client in Celebrations

Project celebrations are a time when the project manager and the management team can thank the project team members for their contribution to the project’s success at various stages of the project. Celebrations for successfully accomplishing project milestones are good examples of creating the opportunity to honestly celebrate. Some projects have birthday celebrations for the team or holiday celebrations, and although these events can be a positive contribution to the project morale, they are not connected to the success of the team in accomplishing project objectives.

Successful celebrations reinforce the effort and activities that created the success. Successful celebrations communicate appreciation for the energy and commitment of the team, focused on team goals. Successful celebrations communicate progress and confidence to project stakeholders, and successful celebrations share the success of the project with the client and reinforce the meeting of client expectations.

Successful celebrations result from good planning and the application of some basic principles for celebrations. The following are some of the basic principles for developing a successful celebration:

  • What was accomplished and why it was important to the overall success of the project should be communicated to the team. Discuss the goals that were accomplished and the milestones met and how that advanced the project. For example, the civil design team on a construction project completed the site work design early, the bids for the site work were on the street early, and the project met the milestone of moving dirt on the site by May 1. Starting the site work early helps assure that the construction work will be under a roof before the bad weather hits in the late fall.
  • Appreciation should be expressed specifically. A general statement that the project met all the goals does not carry the same meaning as “the project team completed the development of the new training curriculum by December 1.” People associate their activities with meeting the milestone and take pride in their contribution to the project’s success. Team members appreciate it when the project manager and others recognize their contribution.
  • Celebrations should occur in the work area where the accomplishments were achieved. Celebrating holidays in the cafeteria is appropriate. Celebrating the accomplishments of the project in the project task force area brings a stronger association of the work of the project with the accomplishments being celebrated.
  • Accomplishments of the team should be celebrated shortly after the milestone is achieved. The more time elapsed between the accomplishments and the celebrations, the less the impact.
  • The persons that publicly recognize the team are important. The project leadership expressing personal appreciation reinforces the recognition of the work and effort to achieve project goals. Senior managers of the company reinforce the importance of the project to company goals and recognition of the role of individual project team members’ contribution to company success.
  • In many cultures, food is associated with times of reflection, such as the dinner table discussion or lunch meetings. Serving food communicates that this event is special. Serving food also communicates that someone took the time to prepare and serve the project team as a form of appreciation.
  • Clients play a special role in celebrations, and celebrations play a special role in meeting client expectations. A client expression of appreciation to the project team is often more significant than the appreciation expressed by senior managers. Clients in most commercial organizations are acknowledged as the source of profits, bonuses, and future business. A client expressing appreciation to the project team, especially in front of the company’s senior management, gives the project team special status for creating goodwill with clients.

When clients speak at a celebration, their remarks usually provide high praise for the work of the project team. This event provides an opportunity for the client to reflect and appraise the progress of the project team. Often the client concludes that the team is meeting or exceeding expectations. The celebration reinforces that conclusion.

If the client has doubts about some of the project performance but still speaks at the celebration and praises the team, the client may experience cognitive dissonance. The client will typically reevaluate the perception of the project team’s performance and conclude the team really has done a good job. The perception is now consistent with the client’s remarks and the end result is a client perception of a project as meeting expectations.

Understanding and meeting client expectations is a proactive process. The project manager and the project team develop plans and processes that focus on defining both specifications and expectations that are often difficult to quantify. The team executes the project in a way that meets both the specifications of the client and also the more subtle expectations not reflected in the measured data.

Key Takeaways

  • Making extra efforts to meet milestone dates keeps the project on track and avoids large problems at the end of the project. It allows for lessening of intensity after a milestone to provide stress relief for team members, and it builds confidence in the client that the project will be completed on time.
  • If the client is included in milestone celebrations, he or she has a better understanding of what effort it takes to keep the project on track. If asked to say something at the celebration, the client will usually say positive things that have an effect on his or her perception of the project. Celebrations should communicate the importance of the milestone to the project and praise specific accomplishments. The celebration should occur in the workplace. Get high-ranking people to praise the project team in front of each other to reinforce a sense of satisfaction and include food in the celebration to make it more social.


  1. Managing a project using ___________ keeps the project on track and allows for periodic celebrations of achieving interim objectives.
  2. Clients should be encouraged to ___________ in celebration of project achievements.
  3. Why should extra effort be expended to meet a milestone when the final project’s due date is months away?
  4. Why should the client be included in milestone celebrations?

Milestone Celebrations

Consider a workplace with which you are familiar. If it utilizes milestone celebrations to mark completion of special tasks or phases of work, compare the components of the celebration with those recommended in the text. If it does not, describe how you would use milestone celebrations in this workplace.


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Project Management from Simple to Complex Copyright © 2016 by University of Minnesota is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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