Using Milestones in Agile Product Management

Editor’s note: the following was written by a guest blogger. To contribute to the blog, please contact ellen@productschool.com

Product developers are well attuned to the fact that the landscape can change in the blink of an eye, leaving you five steps behind when you were once leading the race. Changes to technology, consumer market, or competitors mean that product managers always need to keep an ear to the ground as they set milestones and research how to improve their products continuously. 

This is where product management comes in. Agile product management is based on the premise of innovation and iteration, meaning that product managers should develop upon preexisting ideas to release an updated version that will generate more market share.  Agile approaches are highly responsive to change and can adapt more quickly. 

Synonymous with the digital world, Agile project management came into mainstream popularity after the 2001 Agile manifesto was published. Product developers have since popularized it as they adopt that framework into their own projects. 

Many agile product developers relish the kind of freedom that comes with this planning style; to edit, tinker, and improve as needed, without being put on an overly restrictive timeline to develop the best product on the market. 

However,  by not correctly setting milestones in your roadmaps, you miss out on an effective planning technique that can make your sprints even more efficient and relevant.  

Product managers “preside over one particular product, working with designers, engineers, marketing, and business analysts. They are essentially the glue that keeps the whole team working together” and often  communication centralized.  So they must have a full overview of the product they are working on. Milestones help make this process easier by establishing clear goalposts for updates and progress. 

Machinery illustration

Setting a Product Roadmap 

Every Agile product manager knows that setting a product roadmap is step one on the path to success.  These roadmaps are continually shifting, depending on the project and feedback, but they offer teams a strategic framework to progress. They help teams break projects down into small goals while continuously adding new goals along the way. 

In traditional, or waterfall, product management, roadmaps are predictable documents focused on long term outcomes and don’t leave room for immediate adjustments. But in Agile product management, roadmaps highlight key focus areas and act as a communication tool to align different parts of the organization and get buy-in from stakeholders.  Agile product roadmaps are a navigational tool designed to guide teams while allowing them to course-correct as needed.

When building your roadmap, it’s essential to also build in milestones to guide your team as they progress. These milestones balance the uncertainty that can occur in Agile planning by providing clear outcome-based goals that everyone needs to work towards. Milestones should elicit questions to address whether the roadmap is an accurate reflection of the team’s priorities and how to best get there. 

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Determining Your Milestones 

When we talk about milestones in Agile product development, we don’t mean the arbitrary key dates aligned to product launches as a milestone example. In today’s working environment, products are continuously launching and being improved upon, rendering these key dates less critical. 

Instead, milestones should be thought of as a specific goal to be achieved by the end of a sprint. They are results-driven and more macro-focused, as opposed to key dates, which operate on a more granular level. 

When a milestone has been completed, it means that they have:

  • Met technical and design requirements
  • Have tested code
  • End with a shippable/deployable product

Some examples of milestones might be the following: 

  • Hitting a target KPI goal 
  • Providing the functionality to serve a new kind of user
  • Delivering an app on a new platform 
  • Gathering sufficient data to conduct A/B testing to confirm if a new idea is viable for production

As you can see, these milestones are more directly linked to the value proposition and the benefits that they can provide to the business.  They go beyond items such as testing code or conducting research. 

Milestones can function as either the goal for the end of a sprint or a quarterly reminder of the objectives that matter to the business. 

If they are sprint-related,  use them to communicate the specified goal that the team should achieve by the end of the sprint. You might want to ask questions such as, “what OKRs do we want to hit with this sprint? What are our dream outcomes?” Keep in mind that due to the nature of Agile planning, they might be moved to a future sprint if priorities change or tasks are moved. 

If you’re using them more like a check-in to make sure things are on track on a quarterly basis, tie them back to the bigger goals of the quarter. You can use this as an opportunity to ask more important questions, such as, “Where do we want the product to be at the end of each quarter? How will we effectively use milestones to drive the action towards that ideal outcome?”

Planning for Success with Milestones

Product managers are in charge of developing the milestones that will resonate with their teams in order to motivate them. It’s necessary to gain buy-in from team members and stakeholders alike. By explaining the value behind each milestone, you’re connecting that to a business outcome that benefits stakeholders, team members, and customers. 

These outcome-focused milestones should clearly illustrate the impact you want to have on your users once they are achieved. While this might be slightly more difficult to measure than measuring the success of an output, it ultimately drives teams to work more creatively and strategically. 

Milestones are a critical piece of any project’s success. They might initially seem counter-intuitive to Agile product management, but they provide value by tying actions back to business outcomes. 

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When implemented correctly, milestones in Agile aren’t restrictive. Instead, they act as goalposts and communication tools to guide your team’s progress on a sprint or quarterly basis. This helps to ensure that goals are completed more successfully. 

By continually referencing and re-evaluating your roadmap and milestones, you ensure that your team is always aligned with the most current business needs and work to drive valuable outcomes.

Meet The Author

Nifty PM

Nifty is a new wave project solution helping thousands of forward thinking teams across the globe operate more efficiently. 

Michelle is a New Yorker living in Spain and traversing the international business world. She operates at the intersection of human resources, technology, and self-development and is passionate about the future of product management and workflows. 

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