Milestones vs. Benchmarks: Why It Matters for Your Planning

Tracking outcomes is a vital part of planning and project management, for individuals as well as teams.

But even the most expert managers are not necessarily able to assess a project’s trajectory with total accuracy.

No one can know 100%, in advance, if things will work out in a given project or plan. That’s life... Things tend to change in unpredictable ways. But planning allows us to be prepared as best as we possibly can for whatever comes our way. 

It’s as true in the office as it is in our personal planning. On this basis, managers rarely rely on static milestones to determine the success of a project. 

In the Momentum app, in the Monthly Planner view, we’ve designed a space for you to create your own benchmarks and milestones. 

These are offered as separate options: “project”, “milestone”, and “benchmark”: 

Let’s talk about the differences between these three categories.

What Benchmarks and Milestones Are For, Exactly 

Benchmarks and milestones are not precisely the same thing. While some folks use “benchmark” or “milestone” interchangeably, meaning steps on a road to a place, there’s more to it than that. 

Benchmarks function as mini checkpoints on the way to achieving a milestone.

(In the uncertain world we live in, mini-sized checkpoints or benchmarks can be useful.) 

A milestone, meanwhile, is the big event. 

Life presents us with many natural milestones: birthdays, graduations, new jobs, and anniversaries. These are the days where you can easily recognize what you’ve achieved. 

Benchmarks let you see where you’re at along the way. On the way to those big days and goals, you’ll want to know how to assess your progress. 

Benchmarks are for that purpose. 

Sure, in one sense, running the Boston Marathon can be a project. But the actual event, the day when you’re going to finish the marathon, is the milestone. If you’re training for a marathon, the benchmark is how fast you are running when you try a half-marathon. 

If a marathon is your milestone, it’s necessary to set benchmark goals along the way. (Even every 1/4th of the total distance, not even a half-marathon starting out.) How long it takes you to run those specific distances are part of the benchmark. This changes as you get faster. 

Keep in mind: Based on how things look when you come to a benchmark, your overall plans may need to change. But as we said at the start, the plan being guaranteed to change is a part of the game. 

Because the mountain looks different from midway up or at the top than when you start out. 🏔️

Mary Clare O'Donnell

Writer & Content Creator at Productive Flourishing and Momentum. She's passionate about our climate, nature, foreign languages, and discovering uncharted places.