Milestone Trend Analysis (MTA)

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This article provides a practical explanation of the Milestone Trend Analysis (MTA). After reading, you will understand the basics of this powerful project management tool.

What is the Milestone Trend Analysis (MTA)?

The Milestone Trend Analysis (MTA) is a tool for project managers which is used to analyse different dates during a project and to compare these with scheduled dates. The tool is used to identify trends and deviations from scheduled work.

Reaching milestones is crucial for a successful and productive progression of any project period. Project progression is therefore studied at different times. The MTA is usually visualised in the form of a graph. Milestone dates are plotted in the graph against the actual reported dates.

As long as the project proceeds as planned, the graph will show a horizontal line. If the project deviates from the schedule, the line rises or falls over time.

The Milestone Trend Analysis (MTA) is a popular tool in project management. Project management software is often used for this purpose. However, it is also possible to create your own graph in Excel. Before the MTA can be set up, it is important that a fully completed project plan is available, including the project schedule.

How does the Milestone Trend Analysis (MTA) work?

A trend analysis shows the course of a project, or a set of specific statistics within the project context. For the analysis of milestone trends, actual and expected dates of delivered results are tracked.

The process is simple and will be explained in the steps below.

Step 1: Define milestones

This information is usually taken from the project schedule or project charter.

The team is brought together at some point during the preparation of the project to determine when they think they will achieve all the results. The milestones are interrelated and, together, form the route to a successful conclusion of the project. These milestones can easily be plotted in a graph.

The milestones are shown on the x-axis and the dates on the y-axis. The line drawn through the various milestones is the baseline for the course of the project.

Step 2: assess the situation after each reached milestone

After reaching each milestone, the project manager or task owner marks the actual delivery date. Then, the people responsible for each milestone are brought together again to reassess the planned dates. This is where the previously established line is redefined. The new line is the M1 projection line.

This process is repeated after each reached milestone. To avoid confusion, it is important to use and change the last projection line only. Do not include a new projection line for each milestone.

Step 3: Track progress

The last drawn line is the most important one. The Actual Delivery Line goes directly through the points in the graph where the milestones have actually been reached. The difference that arises between the basic project line and the delivery line shows whether the project is going according to plan.

Step 4: Reading indications

The value of a good milestone trend analysis is not just limited to identifying the differences between different lines, but also includes the identification of trends. For example, it can be seen that the project deviates 20% from milestone 2, but only 10% from milestone 5.

This shows that the initial projection was not accurate, and that progress is accelerating and the backlog is being caught up on. The opposite is also possible. The project can deviate 10% from milestone 4, but 30% from milestone 7. This indicates that problems appear to be accumulating as the project duration goes on and that, as a result, project progress is being jeopardised.

What are the milestones in project management?

When a person travels to a destination over land, every few kilometres they are reminded of the distance left before reaching their destination by signs at the side of the road. These road signs are not crucial for arriving at the destination, however they do assure the person that the road they are on is the correct one.

Project milestones work in the same way. Milestones keep the team and stakeholders informed of the project’s progress, and keep the team motivated by showing what success looks like.

Milestones are important dates in the project process which represent achieved goals, results or tasks. Milestones are used as benchmarks. When it comes to launching a new product, some of the milestones are completing the launch message, finalising product pages on the internet and the launch of the product itself.

Therefore a milestone is a mark indicating the end of a certain phase within the project. Typically, four phases are used in project management: initiation, scheduling, implementation and conclusion. A milestone is usually used at the end of each phase.

It indicates that the team and the project are ready to enter the next phase. The exact moment when the milestone is set depends on the project, the organisation and other, external factors. But milestones are not only used to mark the transition from one phase to the next. In project planning, important events are also listed as milestones.

How many milestones does a project consist of?

How many milestones should be registered, depends on the size and complexity of the project. There is no fixed number. Smaller projects have a few milestones where larger projects may have 10 or more. An event or result listed as a milestone must be important for the progress of a project. Therefore, milestones represent a certain moment in time.

Examples of milestones in project management

The final outcome of a project, the goal, is a first important milestone. However, there are several necessary steps before this point, which help the team move towards the end goal smoothly. An example of a milestone in project management is:

  • Approval of a key stakeholder so that the team can move on to the next stage
  • Important intermediate results, events or meetings
  • Start and end date of the project
  • Important presentations or a stakeholder meeting
  • Key deliveries

Pitfalls in the use of the milestone trend analysis

It is essential to use the right milestones in project management and therefore it should be done accurately. Setting milestones is an art. Therefore, there is no fixed way to do it. Some of the most common pitfalls for project management teams working with milestones are:

Too many milestones

As mentioned before, the number of desired milestones depends on the size and complexity of the project. Do not create milestones for the sake of creating milestones; instead, focus on the most important tasks that the team needs to carry out in order to bring the project to a successful conclusion.

Setting milestones that are somebody’s tasks

Milestones represent a moment in time. Milestones should therefore not be used as representations of a task. Use traditional scheduling of tasks to accomplish tasks, and use milestones to indicate when a group or set of tasks has been completed.

Keeping milestones separate from other progress

The best way to meet deadlines and maintain an overview of a project is to manage all the work in one place. Make sure that as many project management components and functions as possible are listed in the project management tool. The same tool, usually organisational software, also tracks milestones and the progress of tasks.

Milestone Trend Analysis summary

The Milestone Trend Analysis (MTA) is a widely used tool in project management to assess the progress of a project by comparing the proposed milestones to their actual date of completion. The method is suitable for identifying trends in the progress of the project. The MTA is often displayed as a graph. The axes of the graph represent time and the milestones.

Setting proper milestones is important to ensure both the progress of the project, as well as the motivation of the team. This process consists of several steps. First, it is important to set the milestones. Do not include milestones just to have more.

It is important that the chosen milestone represents an important point or moment during the project. After achieving each milestone, it is assessed whether the milestone has been achieved within the set time frame. A new line is then added to the MTA.

The last line is the Actual Delivery Line. This line goes directly through the points in the graph where the milestones have been achieved. The difference between the aforementioned lines shows whether the project is going according to plan or deviating from the schedule. The final step is to read trends from the graph.

For example, a milestone may deviate 20% from milestone 3, but only 10% from milestone 4. This means that the backlog is decreasing.

Examples of milestones are important events, start and end dates of a project, stakeholder approvals or important presentations. These events or results are important for the course of a project. Milestones are often included simply to have milestones.

Try to avoid this. Milestones are also often included when they are actually tasks. Use traditional planning to plan and execute tasks. Use milestones to indicate when a set of tasks has been completed.

Now it is your turn

What do you think? Are you familiar with the explanation of the Milestone Trend Analysis (MTA)? Do you use this method to evaluate the progress of a project you are working on? Do you think this method provides more control and a lowered risk of delay? What other supportive project management tools do you know of? Do you have any comments or questions? Please let us know in the comments below.
Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.

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More information

  1. Jones, C. (2004). Software project management practices: Failure versus success. CrossTalk: The Journal of Defense Software Engineering, 17(10), 5-9.
  2. Payne, J. H., & Turner, J. R. (1999). Company-wide project management: the planning and control of programmes of projects of different type. International journal of project management, 17(1), 55-59.
  3. Royer, P. S. (2000). Risk management: The undiscovered dimension of project management. Project Management Journal, 31(1), 6-13.
  4. Tausworthe, R. C. (1979). The work breakdown structure in software project management. Journal of Systems and Software, 1, 181-186.

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