In this article, we will be discussing a vital aspect of project management —setting achievable goals and key performance indicators (KPIs) in your project plan

Key performance indicators (KPIs) and milestones are specific, measurable goals and metrics that can help you track the progress and status of your projects.

According to a report by Wellington, poor visibility of project status ranked among the top causes of project failure. This is bad news if you don’t know how to leverage the right KPIs for your project.

However, the good news is that being here, we will be exploring how these essential elements not only guide the trajectory of your project but also provide powerful tools for tracking progress and ensuring project success.

Importance Of Setting Milestones and KPIs In Your Project Plan

Let’s imagine that you’re planning a road trip. If you don’t set any milestones or KPIs, it’s like driving without a map or GPS. You might get to your destination eventually, but it will be a lot more difficult and time-consuming. It’s also much more likely that you’ll get lost along the way.

On the other hand, setting milestones and KPIs for your road trip, it’s like having a GPS system. You’ll know exactly where you’re going, and you’ll be able to track your progress and make adjustments as needed. You’ll be much more likely to arrive at your destination in time and without hassles.

That being said, below are some specific importance and benefits of setting KPIs and milestones you shouldn’t miss out-

  • Progress Measurement- Milestones and KPIs provide essential signposts, allowing teams to track their progress and determine if they are on track with their schedule. 
  • Performance Evaluation- KPIs provide a quantifiable means of evaluating the success of a project against pre-determined criteria. This gives project stakeholders a clear metric to assess progress and make informed decisions. 
  • Risk Mitigation- Project expectations and milestones are instrumental in identifying potential risks early in the project. This way, timely adjustments and mitigations can be considered.
  • Resource allocation- Breaking down the project into manageable phases, KPIs, and milestones helps in efficient resource allocation. It allows teams to prioritize tasks and allocate resources appropriately, while also identifying potential bottlenecks or roadblocks in advance. 
  • Communication and accountability- Clearly defined milestones and KPIs furnish communication among team members and stakeholders. They create a shared understanding of expectations, accountability and collaboration in achieving common goals.

So, just like a GPS helps you get to your destination on a road trip, milestones and KPIs help you reach your project goals. 

Types And Examples Of KPIs In Project Management

KPIs vary across industries and projects, but they generally fall into several categories. Here are common types with examples-

Financial KPIs

Setting financial KPIs is like having a checkbook for your project. You need to keep track of how much money is coming in and going out, and make sure that you’re staying within your budget.



  • Return on Investment (ROI) – this is like your checking account balance. You need to know if your project is making a profit or not, and ROI can help you figure that out.
  • Budget Variance –  this compares actual project costs to the planned budget. This metric is instrumental for further financial decisions.
Operational KPIs

Think of operational KPIs like the “pulse” of your project. They measure how efficiently things are running, and the pace of various project processes.


  • Cycle Time – this operational KPI measures the time it takes to complete a specific process.
  • Resource Utilization – this tracks how efficiently resources are used by comparing input with output.
Project Progress KPIs

Project progress KPIs serves as a report card for your project. You can use them to see how well you’re meeting your goals, and where you need to improve.


  • Task Completion Rate – this metric provides data on the percentage of tasks completed within schedule.
  • Project Timeline Adherence – this KPI measures adherence to the planned project timeline through the analysis of the project’s time components and factors
Quality KPIs

Quality KPIs are like a quality control system for your project. They help you make sure that the end product is of the highest possible quality. Without quality KPIs, it can be difficult to know if your project is producing desired results.


  • Defect Density – this examines the number of defects in a deliverable per unit.
  • Customer Complaints – tracks the number and nature of customer complaints and feedbacks.
Employee Performance KPIs

Employee performance indicators analyzes team performance and well-being. It is focused on evaluating human resource management and the impact of employees to the project and vice versa.


  • Employee Satisfaction –  this KPI is like a pulse check on your employees. It measures the overall job satisfaction within the project team.
  • Productivity Rate – indicates the efficiency of team members in completing tasks and deliverables.

There are many different types of KPIs, depending on the industry and project. It’s important to know the right KPIs for your project and plan accordingly.

Setting The Right KPIs In Your Project Plan

Defining Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) is a strategic process critical to effective project management. Follow these steps to establish the right KPIs for your project –

Clarify project objectives 

Consult project stakeholders and team for brainstorming sessions to clearly outline and define project objectives. Take the time to understand the goals of the project and how your KPIs will help to measure progress towards those goals. 

Identify Critical Success Factors

To create meaningful KPIs, start by identifying the key elements that will determine whether the project is successful or not. They include (but not limited to) time, quality, and budget

Set KPIs would directly track the progress of these critical success factors. In this way, they will be meaningful and actionable.


Quantifiable and Measurable

One important consideration for when setting KPIs is to make sure they are quantifiable and measurable. This means that each KPI should be based on specific metrics and data that can be tracked, analyzed, and quantified.

Establish Baselines and Targets

Set baseline measurements to understand the starting point, and establish realistic targets for each KPI. This provides benchmarks for performance evaluation.

Balance Leading and Lagging Indicators

When setting your KPIs, include a mix of leading and lagging indicators. 

Leading indicators are predictive of future performance and can be used to forecast success or failure. Examples— website traffic, task completion rate, number of sales meetings, etc.

Lagging indicators reflect past performance and provide insight into what has already happened. Examples— quarterly sales revenue, product defect rates, annual performance ratings, etc.

Together, leading and lagging indicators provide a comprehensive picture of the health of your project. 

Document and Communicate

With softwares like Google Docs and Office 365, you can easily document the chosen KPIs and communicate them across the project team. Transparency about measurement criteria fosters a shared understanding of performance expectations.

Setting Achievable Milestones In Your Project Plan

Setting achievable milestones in your project plan begins your project success in a step-by-step process. Here’s how-

Understand Project Phases

Identify the distinct phases in your project. This can be done through understanding the requirements and workflow of the project. 

For example, a software development project may have phases like planning—analysis and design—development—testing and deployment—maintenance, etc.

Each phase has its specific goals and tasks which make up key milestones that contribute to their completion. Your analysis can be further clarified using a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) for better clarity and realistic planning.

Align With Goals

When setting milestones, it’s important to connect them to the overall goals of the project. Each milestone should move you closer to achieving those goals. A milestone that isn’t aligned with the goals of the project is unlikely to help you reach your objective. 

Measurable and Specific

In order to be effective, milestones should be clearly defined. They should state what needs to be accomplished and how you will measure success.  

For example, a milestone might be “complete 25 interviews with users by the end of the week.” This milestone is specific and measurable, making it easy to assess whether it was achieved. 

Realistic Timeframes

Time is a critical factor in setting effective milestones. Milestones should be challenging, but also achievable within the given timeframe. If a milestone is unrealistic, it can create more stress and ultimately set the project back. Take the time to carefully consider the resources and timeline available, then set your milestones accordingly. 

Incorporate Stakeholder Input

In order to set effective milestones, it’s important to get input from the people who have a stake in the project’s success. This includes project team members, sponsors, managers, and other key stakeholders. 


Getting their input can help you avoid missing important considerations, and ensure that the milestones are relevant to the big picture. 

Common Pitfalls To Avoid When Setting KPIs and Milestones In Your Project Plan

Avoiding common pitfalls is crucial when setting KPIs and milestones to ensure the effectiveness of your project planning. Here are some pitfalls to steer clear of-

  • Ignoring external factors— External factors, such as market changes or regulatory shifts, can impact project dynamics. Failure to consider these variables may lead to unrealistic KPIs and milestones.
  • Excessive or inadequate KPIs— Striking the right balance is crucial. Too many KPIs can be overwhelming, while too few may not provide a comprehensive view. Make sure to focus on quality and relevance rather than quantity.
  • Inflexible planning— When planning your KPIs and milestones, it’s important to leave room for the unexpected. Projects are dynamic, and it’s important to be flexible enough to adjust as needed. 
  • Insufficient data quality— Innaccurate or incomplete data can compromise the reliability of KPIs. Ensure data sources are trustworthy and establish data quality processes to collect and analyse data.

Monitoring and Reporting KPIs and Milestones

Effectively monitoring and reporting KPIs and milestones involves a systematic approach to ensure transparency and informed decision-making. Here’s a concise guide- 

  • Establish a reporting schedule— Define a regular reporting schedule, whether it’s weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly. A more preferable approach is automating the process. Consistency is key for tracking progress over time.
  • Utilize project management tools— Leverage project management tools and software to automate KPI and milestone tracking. You can use Smartsheet to create data from multiple spreadsheets, Power Bi to analyze data, Tableau to create interactive dashboards, Asana to create digital Kaban boards, etc.
  • Visual dashboards—  Dashboard reporting has emerged to become the most prioritized feature in project reporting. Use visual dashboards to display key metrics, milestones, and their current status
  • Alerts for critical changes— Implement alerts for critical changes or deviations from planned milestones or KPI targets. This enables proactive responses to potential issues.
  • Narrative reporting— Supplement quantitative data with narrative reporting. Provide context to the numbers, explaining the reasons behind successes or challenges.
  • Comparisons to baselines— Compare current KPI and milestone performance to established baselines. This helps in assessing progress and identifying areas that may need attention.
  • Feedback Loops— Establish feedback loops within the team. Encourage open communication about challenges and potential adjustments needed to meet milestones or improve KPI performance.


The meticulous process of setting achievable milestones and KPIs in your project plan stands as a linchpin in the world of effective project planning. From the inception of well-defined objectives to the regular monitoring of progress, these strategic elements not only guide the project’s trajectory but also serve as vital tools for success.

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