A well-defined milestone chart is a useful way to communicate a project’s progress and to identify upcoming deliverables. Unfortunately, I detest creating and updating milestone charts.

The problem is Microsoft Project doesn’t provide a user friendly milestone chart that users can easily understand. The Gantt chart is a great tool for project managers, but for practical status reporting, it can become unwieldy to manage, as milestones and summary tasks can yield too many levels. Project managers typically resort to Microsoft Excel or Microsoft PowerPoint to develop the appropriate milestone chart for status reporting (Figure A).
Figure A

Program work stream view. (Click the image to enlarge.)

Using desktop office software requires manual changes every time a milestone is completed or a baseline milestone date changes — there is no clean integration with the project schedule and the reporting mechanism. Fortunately, I’ve found a tool that makes this administration task a breeze.

Using MindView 3 Business

MatchWare’s MindView 3 Business simplifies milestone chart reporting. The tool’s mind mapping and project management integration with MindView 3 Business is excellent. It also provides multiple views of project data, including a mind map view, a Gantt chart view, an outline view, and (my personal favorite) a timeline view. The software is an asset to project managers implementing scope definition, activity definition, schedule development, and on-going status reporting.

I’ve been using the software for several months and generating a milestone level status report takes less than a minute by following the simple steps I outline below.

  • Import MS-Project Schedule into MatchWare MindView 3 Business.
  • Open MindView and select Import | Microsoft Project. The software will import your project schedule and build a Gantt chart view (Figure B).

Figure B

Gantt chart view of a sample project schedule. (Click the image to enlarge.)

Filter on Milestones

MindView 3 Business has a powerful filtering feature that hides project data based on your filtered criteria. A unique feature in MindView 3 Business is the filtered tasks remain filtered in the Gantt chart view, the timeline view, the outline view, and the traditional milestone view. This filtering is useful in a variety of project management applications, including activity definition and status tracking.

For this example, I only want to view the milestone data, so follow these steps:

  • Select Filter | New.
  • When the Filter dialog box appears (Figure C), click Add Level and select Duration Equal To 0 day.
  • Click the OK button.

Figure C

Filter dialog box

The Gantt chart view will now only display the milestone level tasks.

  • In the View ribbon bar, click on the Timeline view (Figure D).

Figure D

Timeline view

The Design view provides a variety of timeline layouts that support multiple formatting options with a click of a button. You’ll be pleased to find changing the format is much faster than wasting time moving lines, diamonds, and formatting the objects in a Microsoft SharePoint file.

  • Click the Design tab and select one of the timeline layouts (Figure E).

Figure E

Design and timeline layout
  • To select the type of project data you want to display on the milestone chart, select View | Show Branch Data (Figure F).

Figure F

Show Branch Data
  • Select Start/End date and select either Priority, Completion, or Resources.

The final result (Figure G) is ready to export into an image file to be embedded in a status report, a presentation, or an email.
Figure G

Milestone view in under 60 seconds

Try this timesaver for yourself

Using the Microsoft Office tools, I can easily spend one or two hours creating the chart and spend even more time tweaking each milestone so it aligns with the graphical timeline. The MindView 3 Business method takes under 60 seconds and leverages the existing project data that I keep up to date in my project schedule.

As project managers, we accept the administrative burden as part of the job, but we should always be looking for faster development tools to make our job easier. I’m just glad I found a tool that leverages the project artifacts I use on a daily basis. Until the project management gurus create an “Easy Button” for project delivery, I’ll continue to share the best tools for practical project management.

If you’re interested in taking MatchWare’s MindView 3 Business for a test drive, you can download a free trial from the company’s site.

Get weekly PM tips in your inbox
TechRepublic’s IT Project Management newsletter, delivered on Wednesday, offers tips to help keep project managers and their teams on track. Automatically sign up today!