MTA (Milestone trend analysis)

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Figure 1: MTA chart, own figure, following [1]

Within project, program and portfolio management, the Milestone Trend Analysis (MTA) can be found under the section Uncertainty. It is a tool for Monitoring that is mainly used for Project Controlling. According to ISO 21502 Project Controlling covers monitoring and measuring performance against an agreed plan of projects, including phases and work packages. This also includes authorized changes. [2] [3] Although the MTA is mentioned as an important tool for project management in different standard references, its origin is unknown. [4] A first impression of the tool can be gained from Figure 1.

The MTA is an effective tool to visualize the milestones within a project. It helps controlling the project by showing which milestone is ahead of, on, or behind schedule. The MTA uses different timelines: the reporting dates and the milestone dates. [3] [5] [6] The curves express the projects‘ performance. A horizontal line means that the milestone is on time, an increasing line reflects that the milestone is later than planned and the decreasing line shows that it is earlier than planned. [3]

The MTA supports the project managers in that sense that it provides simple trend analysis charts with an overview of bottlenecks, already in the early stages. It also allows a realistic forecast of the progression of the project. [6] It therefore is a combination of history and forecast since it shows time-related discrepancies. It assesses the project’s health by allowing insights into the schedule. This can be seen as one of the MTA’s biggest advantages. [7] [8]

Those advantages are only applicable when regular reporting dates are set as well as the milestones for the subcategories of the project. Here it is important that the milestones as well as the dates are well defined. [8] The method has its drawbacks in the lack of objectiveness that requires the projects participants trust towards each other. [9] [10]


Main Concept

Definition of Milestone and Trend analysis

Since the term MTA itself consists of different aspects that form crucial parts for a MTA, it is necessary to briefly explain the term milestone and milestone schedule as well as trend analysis before giving more insights on the MTA.

Milestone: A Milestone is defined as a significant point or event in a project, program or portfolio, that marks the completion of key activities. [11] [12] Those key activities can be from different natures like completing a work package, a delivery step or a management stage. [13] In addition a milestone must be defined, understood, measurable and quantifiable. [14]

Milestone Schedule: A milestone schedule is described as a type of schedule that presents milestones with planned dates. [11] The milestone schedule is sometimes also referred to as a milestone plan. Information to be included is the project start date, project end date, other major milestones and data items like deliverables or reports. [15]

Trend Analysis: Trend Analysis makes use of mathematical models to forecast future outcomes based on historical results. [11] [16] The main advantage of trend analysis is its key function of being an early warning system and therefore allowing managers to take preventive measures. [15] Hence it is based on the idea that what has happened in the past will continue happening in the future. [16]

Description of MTA

„The MTA is a special form of the trend analysis based on the milestone plan.” [3] It shows the project’s development over time. [8] Combining milestone schedules with trend charts leads to MTA. It is a tool to keep track of the project milestones and therefore also the project schedule. It can therefore be found under the knowledge area of time management. [4] The term Milestone Trend Chart (MTC) is often used in the context of milestones and scheduling techniques, and it might appear to be similar to the MTA. [14] It has to be distinguished between the two terms though because the MTA uses the typical triangle shape whereas a MTC in general can be a flow chart as well. [1]

The tool allows a visual overview of the milestones within a project and is a combination of history and forecast. It shows time-related discrepancies and therefore assesses the health of a project and allows insights into the schedule. This is achieved by estimating the date on which the future milestone will be done for every reporting period. The software should generate new estimated completion dates of all future milestones by taking into account the completed milestones and the revised completion dates for the milestones. [14] The MTA supports the project managers in that sense that it provides simple trend analysis charts with an overview of bottlenecks, already in the early stages. It also allows a realistic forecast of the progression of the project. [3] It is up to the project managers to decide how detailed the milestones will be but one important milestone that should always be looked at is the completion date of the project. [14]

Importance and relevance of performing MTA

Since milestones express important states which the projects should pass, they also represent important results and have more value besides being a checkpoint. [9]

The purpose of breaking plans into smaller intervals with milestones gives a better overview over the project schedule and allows project managers to deal with schedule issues faster. [13] Monitoring the progress of smaller milestones within a project is an important factor to the project’s success. [14] Reporting completion dates of milestones forms an important part of project control. It allows to decide between different possibilities of what to do in case the reporting reveals a lapse in project process. This can be moving the completion date, lowering the level of ambitions, bringing in additional resources and rearranging the workload. [9]

The completion dates are important, but it shouldn’t be the reason why delays aren’t being reported. It has to be kept in mind that the project will be assessed on whether or not the project is on schedule. Reporting anticipated variance from completion dates helps the project by being able to find the causes for those occurrences. Therefore, it is equally important to aim for completion within time as to constantly report delayed completion dates. [9]

Trend analysis is especially important in long-term projects to take corrective action in case of mayor delays within a project. [15] Furthermore, trend analysis is seen to be the most important information in project control since predicting via trends is more helpful than “just watch it happen”. [1] Unfortunately forecast to predict future performance is left out in a lot of projects, but in industries where time to market is a competitive advantage it is crucial to perform trend analysis. [1]

Since every project is different, it can be difficult to set a standard of how often a MTA should be performed, but the general rule is that a major milestone should be scheduled at least once each month. The consequence is that in order to perform a meaningful MTA it should also be conducted once a month. [17] This frequency of performing MTA is common practice in all sorts of different companies. The milestone status should then be reported in milestone meetings with those responsible and those involved. [3]


Graphical Background and Functionality

Figure 2: MTA chart, own figure, following [18]

Another important part of the topic is how MTA works. This section is about the graphical background of the chart and the data that is necessary to use it. As already mentioned, enough milestone dates must be available to perform MTA in the first place. This is also important for the graphical background of the chart, that’s why it is stressed again in this section. [8]

The MTA uses a simple graphical methodology where the horizontal axis represents the reporting time and the vertical axis the milestone dates. [3] [8] This is also the reason why there is no information on the lower right side of the chart, since the dates progress, which leads to its typical triangle shape. [19] Once the line of a work package hits the angle bisector the task is done. [10]

The different example graphs show how a MTA could look like. Design wise each MTA can differ a lot.

In Figure 3 the different dots are connected to each other with a line, whereas Figure 3 only shows the symbols, which are also different to each other. To make it graphically even more interesting it is also possible to already include bigger symbols with the different milestone stages in the top horizontal axis as it can be seen in Figure 4.

It should be mentioned that Figure 3 and 4 show MTA charts that have already been performed for a longer period of time. When initially starting the MTA only the dates on the very left side are visible as it can be seen in Figure 2.

For every reporting date a cross will be added at the respective coordinate for the milestone. After several reporting dates, those coordinates then build a trend line. [3] [8] This line is then used to interpret the course of the milestones. [3] [14]

Horizontal no deviation, project is within schedule
Decreasing milestone earlier than planned, potentially too much buffer
Increasing milestone later than planned, postponed several times

It can also occur that the trend line is alternately decreasing and increasing. This is an indication of high uncertainty of the date statements. [10] Another possibility can be that two lines with different milestones that are dependent on each other cross. This indicates a clash of dates which should be compensated by reducing the agreed output with the customer early enough. [10]

The graph can consist of different lines representing various milestones with diverse topics within the same project. [3] [8] Those different lines can include different work packages that depend on each other. This then also means that if a previous milestone is already late, the dependent milestones should also be updated in time. Here it is quite important to mention that the project manager should be able to identify those delays and update the time delay of the dependent milestones as soon as possible. [10] If that is not the case this slow reaction towards the delays will be visible in the MTA for people who have common understanding of the chart. Regarding the number of different lines in one chart it should be mentioned that although it helps in general to have more than one different milestone in one chart, too many milestones also make the chart confusing and this should be avoided. [18]

It becomes clear, that the amount of data that is needed to do MTA is relatively low. It consists of the pre-defined milestones at the beginning of the project and the deadline forecasts for the awarded milestones as of the respective cut-off date. Those dates don’t require more information since it is based on the assessment of the project manager. [3] [9]

There are a lot of different tools which help to implement a MTA, like Microsoft Project or Microsoft Excel. [19] It is highly recommended to use a tool for MTA since it saves a lot of time and effort by automating the task. Also, because the other alternative of drawing on paper doesn’t fit modern reporting standards anymore. The important basic information that all the different tools have in common and use to generate the MTA graph is a simple table. It contains information of the status date which will be the current date or the so called reporting date and the date of the milestone is necessary. [18] Such a table is presented in Table 1.

Table 1: Table with Status Dates and Date of Milestone, own table, following [18]

For this specific table it becomes clear that at the reporting dates of 4.2. and 4.3 the completion date of the milestone was the 10.10, whereas at the next reporting date (4.4.) the milestone completion date had to be adjusted by 5 days. Depending on the programme that is used the table can include a few more columns but the principle behind it stays the same.

Application possiblities

Since the MTA doesn’t require a lot of data it can easily be applied within project controlling but there are some important prerequisites:

  • It is mainly important that binding milestones of results and deadlines, accepted by all, have been defined during project planning. The data should always be up to date to provide meaningful information. [6]
  • Milestone reports should also include the mutual dependencies of the milestones as well as the expected milestone completion dates. [9]
  • Other prerequisites are that a responsible person for every milestone has to be named, that is also prepared to openly communicate their own difficulties for the deadlines at an early stage. [3]

If all those are given the MTA can be used for all different kind of topics and work packages and helps the project manager to complete projects within the planned schedule. [4] Both decreasing and increasing trends are helpful for lessons learned within the same project but also for other projects. [14] Studies found that milestone analysis shows a significant contribution to a project’s success. More specifically it contributes to the success in terms of time by checking the outcomes and the final status of the projects. It also needs to be mentioned that this goes in close contact with facilitating lessons learned. [4] The general rule is that a project benefits from MTA if it is complex and long term. If a project only lasts for less than a month the MTA might not be useful since evaluation is only possible after several months of the project’s duration. [7]

To sum this up, MTA provides helpful information for every project, depending a bit on the length and complexity of it, as long as some important prerequisites are existent.

Examples from companies

Different companies use the MTA to keep track of the most diverse projects. In the Instrumentation Systems product area of Robert Bosch GmbH for example, the most important planned milestones are taken from the MS Project schedule and transferred to an Excel application, which generates the MTA and shows postponements. The project managers then use the chart for presenting the schedule situation of the development projects to the project steering committee. [10] The grid operator Tennet also uses MTA for their project management. This is especially essential for the companies’ reporting strategy since they have to report the milestones to the federal network agency. This shows that reporting plays a key role not only for the company itself, but also for policymakers. Furthermore, every grid expansion project goes through an approval and implementation phase with specific, required processes and activities. Each of these individual tasks can have a negative impact on the project duration if they are not well planned in advance or not carried out with due care. Continuous controlling is also essential in order to be able to intervene at an early stage and in the event of deviations from the plan. Here the MTA helps in recognizing delays early on. [20]



The MTA can represent to some extent the optimism bias that you can find in projects or a measure of the planning fallacy syndrome. [21] Planning Fallacy describes the tendency of underestimating the amount of time it takes to complete a task. It can be extended to the costs and risks as well. It might be that it contradicts with our experiences. [22] That’s where the MTA is very useful because project managers get immediate feedback on their estimated times, and they can adapt to similar backgrounds.

As already mentioned before the MTA is an efficient early warning system for schedule delays. It can contribute to a greater awareness of schedule among project participants. [6] It uses the advantage of being a simple and intuitively comprehensible method. Also, the project managers are actively involved in deadline monitoring. In fact, they play a crucial part of the MTA’s success by determining the estimated milestone dates. [3] The MTA combines the advantages of milestone schedules and trend analysis in an understandable way and can be used for different management purposes. It therefore is an important instrument for documenting project progress and focussing team communication on the most important milestones. [23]


One important input for the MTA are the milestones itself. But the output is completely dependent on the quality of the input. This means that the milestones within the project schedule and their timeframe have to be well enough defined to perform an effective milestone analysis on a solid foundation. [1]

The next point is connected to the aspect that the MTA is dependent on those pre- set milestones. A project could have planned for example with a lot of buffers, which can lead to the conclusion that the project is performing very well. But in reality, the project managers could have used unrealistic time frames. [3] Therefore, this doesn’t give a neutral statement about the project’s health and its efficiency.

The tool is also only effective if the project participants work together in a spirit of trust, since the MTA is not an objective measurement method, as it is based on the subjective statements of the project participants. There is a likelihood that despite noticing some discrepancies within the milestone deadlines the project manager doesn’t identify it as potential problem for the project but keeps believing in the set timeframes, which makes the use of the MTA meaningless. [10] Another possibility here is that the project manager feels pressured to deliver on time and therefore tries to hide those facts by manipulating the chart. Here it should be kept in mind that reporting itself is as important as meeting the set times. [9]

Another limitation is the fact that it does not provide sufficiently differentiated results for complex projects, although it is supposed to be used for long and complex projects to have better insights into the schedule. [7] It can be said that the trend curve itself isn’t enough, but comments are important to identify the problem further. [24]

Finally, the milestone trend analysis is an effective project controlling method, but it is not used enough. This cannot be because the method is too complicated. There could be two different reasons for this. Milestone trend analysis is simply too little known. The functionality is not integrated into the well-known project planning tools such as MS-Project. However, there are free third-party add-ins for it. [24]

Annotated Bibliography

  • M. D. Alam and U. F. Gühl, “Project Phases,” in Project-Management in Practice, Springer Berlin Heidelberg, 2016, pp. 55–121. doi: 10.1007/978-3-662-52944-7_3.
- This chapter from the book 'Project Management in Practice' categorises each project into the following phases: planning, realization and closure. It uses different tools and checklists to illustrate how to structure and execute project phases. Chapter 3.3 Realization phase and explicitly subchapter 3.3.7 deals with trend analysis showing an example MTA as well as interpretation insights, advantages and limitations of the tool.
- This is the English-language edition of the German edition of this book that has found great approval within project management in Germany, Switzerland and Austria and is seen as one of the standard books on project management there. The book addresses key issues of why projects fail or only partially fulfil their objectives. Chapter 25 describes General Management Methods with subchapter 25.4 focusing on Controlling. Here the Milestone Trend Analysis is listed and the purpose described.
  • E. S. Andersen, K. v. Grude, and Tor. Haug, Goal Directed Project Management: Effective Techniques and Strategies. Kogan Page Ltd, 2009.
- ’Goal Directed Project Management’ offers effective ways for teams to collaborate in the achievement of projects with comprehensive goal sets and therefore gives valuable perspective on project management. One of the book’s main focus is on the central concepts of milestones and responsibility charts in project management. It gives insights on Milestone planning combined with schedule planning.
  • R. K. Wysocki, Project Management Process Improvement. 2004.
- The main purpose of this book is to answer the question on how to implement project management tools and processes into organizations on a management satisfactory level. Chapter 4 'Metrics to Identify Project Improvement Opportunities' introduces tools to identify individual projects whose performance suggest potential for improvement of the project itself and of the project management processes. One important tool that is mentioned is the Milestone Trend Chart. The section gives details about how milestone trends can be used to track the project schedule over time.
  • H. Kerzner, Project Management - A Systems Approach to Planning, Scheduling and Controlling', 12th ed. Wiley, 2017.
- This book can be seen as an addition to undergraduate and graduate courses about project management. It is also based on the fact that project management first appeared in the engineering disciplines and therefore uses engineering examples. Section 11.6 and 11.12 focus on the milestone schedule.
  • Project Management Institute, The Standard for Project Management and A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK guide), 7th ed. 2021.
- The 'Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge' includes a complete collection of relevant processes, best practices, guidelines, and terminologies within the project management industry. Especially the glossary has useful standard definitions for milestones, milestone schedule and trend analysis.
  • R. Fiedler, Controlling von Projekten - Mit konkreten Beispielen aus der Unternehmenspraxis - Alle Aspekte der Projektplanung, Projektsteuerung und Projektkontrolle, 7th ed. Würzburg: Springer Vieweg, 2016.
- This book (written in German) aims to describe the Importance of Project controlling. It uses different industry examples to underline the theory. In chapter 3 'Operative Project controlling' the MTA is being introduced. A case example from the German company Robert Bosch GmbH gives more detailed insights into the tool.
  • R. J. Martinelli and D. Z. Milosevic, Project Management Toolbox, vol. 2nd. Wiley, 2016
- This book gives a systematic approach of creating a project management toolbox. It has both educational as well as industry practice material and enables stronger alignment between business strategy and project execution. The Milestone Analysis aspect is listed under Cost Management but nevertheless gives important insights on the techniques used to perform milestone analysis under different contexts.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 R. J. Martinelli and D. Z. Milosevic, Project Management Toolbox, vol. 2nd. Wiley, 2016.
  2. International Organization for Standardization, "ISO 21502:2020 Project, programme and portfolio management — Guidance on project management", 2020
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 3.12 3.13 3.14 M. D. Alam and U. F. Gühl, “Project Phases,” in Project-Management in Practice, Springer Berlin Heidelberg, 2016, pp. 55–121. doi: 10.1007/978-3-662-52944-7_3.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 P. Patanakul, B. Iewwongcharoen, and D. Milosevic, “An empirical study on the use of project management tools and techniques across project life-cycle and their impact on project success,” 2010.
  5. P. Stoemmer, “Milestone Trend Analysis.” (accessed Mar. 14, 2022).
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 S. Reister, “Milestone Trend Analysis - Free Tool for MS Project.” (accessed Mar. 15, 2022).
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 M. Waida, “What is a Milestone Trend Analysis?,” Jul. 17, 2020. (accessed Mar. 14, 2022).
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 8.6 8.7 J. Kuster et al., Project Management Handbook. Springer-Verlag, 2015. [Online]. Available:
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 9.5 9.6 E. S. Andersen, K. v. Grude, and Tor. Haug, Goal directed project management: effective techniques and strategies. Kogan Page Ltd, 2009.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 10.5 10.6 R. Fiedler, Controlling von Projekten - Mit konkreten Beispielen aus der Unternehmenspraxis - Alle Aspekte der Projektplanung, Projektsteuerung und Projektkontrolle, 7th ed. Würzburg: Springer Vieweg, 2016.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 Project Management Institute, The Standard for Project Management and A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK guide), 7th ed. 2021.
  12. Nicholas, John M, Steyn, and Herman, Project Management for Engineering, Business and Technology, 6th ed. New York: Routledge, 2021.
  13. 13.0 13.1 AXELOS, Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2 2017 Edition, 2017th ed. TSO, 2018.
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 14.4 14.5 14.6 R. K. Wysocki, Project Management Process Improvement. 2004.
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 H. Kerzner, Project Management - A Systems Approach to Planning, Scheduling and Controlling, 12th ed. Wiley, 2017.
  16. 16.0 16.1 A. Hayes, “Trend Analysis,” Investopedia, Sep. 05, 2021. (accessed Mar. 14, 2022).
  17. J. A. Ward, “Productivity through project management,”,Information Systems Management, 10580530, Vol.11, Issue1, 1994.
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 18.3 R. Wichmann, “How to: Milestone Trend Analysis (MTA),” XFEL Project Office. DESY, Helmholtz Association , 2007.
  19. 19.0 19.1 E. Levenfeld, “Understanding the Milestone Trend Analysis Technique (part 1),” LinkedIn, Jan. 14, 2015. (accessed Mar. 14, 2022).
  20. S. Mcintyre, E. Eich, D. Ricci, and S. Patel, “Praxisleitfaden Netzausbau Erstellt im Auftrag von: Bundesministerium für Wirtschaft und Energie (BMWi),” 2021.
  21. P. Eik-Andresen, A. Johansen, A. D. Landmark, and A. Ø. Sørensen, “Controlling a Multibillion Project Portfolio - Milestones as Key Performance Indicator for Project Portfolio Management,” Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences, vol. 226, pp. 294–301, Jul. 2016, doi: 10.1016/j.sbspro.2016.06.191.
  22. P. Eik-Andresen, A. D. Landmark, and A. Johansen, “Managing Cost and Time in a Large Portfolio of Projects,” Procedia Economics and Finance, vol. 21, pp. 502–509, 2015, doi: 10.1016/s2212-5671(15)00205-1.
  23. M. Angermeier, “The Milestone Trend Analysis,” Jul. 27, 2017. (accessed Mar. 14, 2022).
  24. 24.0 24.1 R. Wanner, Projektcontrolling: Projekte erfolgreich planen, überwachen und steuern, 1st ed. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013.
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