18 February, 2020

Milestone or Deadline? What’s the Difference? | Video

Milestone or Deadline? Of all the tools we use as Project Managers, none is as simple yet powerful as the milestone. We use milestones to mark essential points along the project journey, and to track our progress.

One question I’m often asked is: ‘What is the difference between milestones and deadlines?’

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In many ways, the difference between deadlines and milestones is merely one of language and usage. For most purposes, the two are interchangeable. The real difference is how they make you feel.


A deadline is often used to indicate a time when something must be done. If not, there is an implication of consequences we may regret (a dead-line). Some even use the alternative (and starker) form of a ‘drop-dead date’.


For you, as a serious Project Manager, a milestone is also a time by which something must be done. More generally the term has the connotation of ‘a significant event’. We also use them to track progress.

How they Feel

So the feeling we get is different: deadlines are scarier and more intimidating. If you miss them, then… Something is lost. Milestones feel more positive: if you hit them, then… You have something to celebrate.

And that’s why I prefer milestones to deadlines!

For more information, here are two videos that go into more technical aspects:

  1. What is Milestone Planning?
  2. What is a Deadline?

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Mike Clayton

About the Author...

Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.
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