Clonal assays offer a powerful approach to dissecting the many events involved in the generation and maintenance of complex tissues from an undifferentiated stem cell pool. The application of such quantitative functional methodologies to studies of the hematopoietic system have been key to defining the hierarchy of progenitor subsets that reflect an irreversible stepwise process of lineage restriction. Recent studies now suggest that a similar paradigm applies to the normal mammary gland. The adult mouse mammary gland maintains a population of stem cells that generate biologically distinct and physically separable subpopulations of mammary epithelial progenitors which, in turn, generate terminally differentiated cells. Suggestive parallels between mouse and human mammary cells point to the likelihood that a similarly structured multi-step differentiation program characterizes the mammary gland from both species.