It feels great to complete a project after weeks or months of hard work. When you deliver the final project/product to your client, that is a deliverable.
But there are also multiple items along the way that mark progress and measure success. These can also be deliverables - in fact, it is the more common usage of the term.
Clearly outlining deliverables for your team and client can increase efficiency, reduce costs, and improve customer success.
So, if you’ve ever wanted to know how to define a deliverable or improve your team’s approach to project management, this post is for you.
New to project management? Check out Project Management 101 for a helpful overview.
What is a Project Deliverable?
The standards and guidelines provided by the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK) define a deliverable as any unique and verifiable product, result, or capability to perform a service that must be produced to complete a process, phase, or project.
In short, whether it’s big or small, a deliverable is a defined output that is critical to the project and is the result of deliberate work.
Let’s break that down a little further.
Project Milestones vs. Objectives
You have likely reached milestones and defined objectives numerous times in your career.
While these terms are often used interchangeably and can look like deliverables, they do have specific meanings in a project management context.
Milestones are those important dates within the project timeline - think of them as checkpoints.
This could be completing critical tasks that set the foundation for subsequent tasks, or simply reaching the halfway point of a project. They are a good way to measure progress and expectations through status reports.
Objectives are the first thing you define for a project - they are the overarching goals.
Perhaps you want to improve utility inspection rates using GIS tools. This is an idea and a goal but is not itself an actionable plan.
Objectives therefore require a number of deliverables in order to be completed. They are what you constantly reference when making concrete plans for the project.
Note that a deliverable is a tangible and discrete thing, while this is not always the case for milestones and objectives.
Internal vs. External Project Deliverables
With any project there are tasks that matter for the team and the product’s development, and there are items that are for the client. This is an internal/external distinction.
Internal deliverables are not directly connected to client-facing business. It may be crucial to your company’s operations, but they are not sent to the customer.
These internal elements are often process deliverables. Examples include internal documents covering project scope, governance, and work assignments. These documents likely won’t make it to the customer, but they are crucial to a clear and unobstructed workflow.
External deliverables are the lifeblood of a business. These are the things that you provide to clients and customers, whether they are demos and finished products, or contracts and invoices.
Think about it like this: internal deliverables cost money, external deliverables generate money.
Project Deliverables Checklist
Checklists are essential for project managers to get everyone on the same page - from team members to the client.
We have all made checklists, and while your grocery store list might be on scratch paper, project deliverables must be clearly defined, categorized, and prioritized for all team members to see.
They are official documents that will be seen by many people.
Each project will have its own set of deliverables, but there are some standard checklist templates that can help you get started.
Below is a 9-point overview that will apply to just about any project in any sector.
1. Goals & objectives
This is perhaps the trickiest part of the project - it must be clear enough to prove value but flexible enough to allow for changes and uncertainty.
At its core, the goals and objectives at the top of your list must define a problem that your project will solve.
Stakeholders have an interest in the project’s success.
While product and project team members will be doing the work, they are working for someone. This might be an enterprise company, a single individual, or thousands of dispersed users.
Ask yourself, who are the stakeholders, what are their expectations, and how involved or hands-off will they be in the process?
3. Specs & requirements
At this point the list becomes results oriented, which requires the right tools.
You have identified a problem and proposed a solution to a client - what will you need to build the product or complete the project? Think about software/hardware and materials/resources. As you build the product, how will it be verified or tested?
For software development this will require testing for functionality and bugs. For the built-world, this might require third-party inspections or structural integrity tests.
For team members developing the product, this is often the most important part of the checklist.
4. Project plan
Once you know the specs and requirements, you are ready to define the project plan.
How will you execute the build? What dependencies are there - which things cannot be started until something else is finished?
This will naturally start to look like a timeline, but at this phase, focus first and foremost on the work.
5. Project budget
When the specifics of the project plan are clear, you can calculate a budget.
Here the timeline component is crucial - don’t forget that time is money.
It can help to start general, then go step-by-step to identify specific timeframes for each phase of the project.
6. Resource allocation
Which team member will complete each task and with what?
Think about individual tasks versus team specific stretches of the process. And remember, your team members are often your greatest resource.
Will you need additional hires or upgraded equipment?
Realizing that you lack resources midway into the project can temporarily shut down the entire process, which costs money and could cost you a client.
At this point you will have a detailed understanding of the project plan, budget, and resource allocation.
Now you can make an accurate schedule.
Each phase of the project, down to the week or day, will have a purpose to reach milestones and complete deliverables in a time sensitive manner.
While changes can occur and disrupt any schedule, planning ahead and updating changes as needed will keep everyone on track.
8. Communication plan
This component of the checklist can be taken for granted.
Sure, once team members know their roles and when to complete tasks, everyone is ready to get to work. But keeping communication channels open to clearly identify changes, updates, or problems is crucial.
Also, don’t underestimate the power of useful feedback.
In short, information silos and communication breakdowns are inefficient, costly, and can frustrate stakeholders.
9. Progress tracking
Crossing the last thing off of a checklist is satisfying. But most projects are not linear or straightforward - no matter how well planned and organized they are.
Thus, tracking progress is paramount to reaching the finish line.
There are plenty of traditional approaches here that have survived the test of time - think record-keeping books, legal pads, or sticky notes. Excel revolutionized these tactile items for the digital age, and has inspired an entire industry of project management software.
This will naturally start to look like a timeline, but at this phase, focus first and foremost on the work.
Tracking and Managing Project Deliverables
If you do your checklist right, the project manager could step away and everything would come out fine.
Sure, this is an oversimplification, but the idea holds true. Clearly outlined planning is a tried and true approach to projects of all kinds.
So how can project management tracking software improve this process?
1. Define deliverables as clearly as possible
According to PMI, less than 3 out of 5 projects are completed within budget.
A clear checklist with defined deliverables keeps projects on track - this reduces waste and saves money by avoiding scope creep.
Scope creep is all of the little things that get added to the project along the way but aren’t initially accounted for by the time and resources budget.
Vague expectations and loosely defined deliverables are a major factor in this problem.
When in doubt, ask questions during the planning process to make sure everyone clearly understands each deliverable and its function within the broader sequence.
2. Use a project management software
Dedicated project management software is a great tool when it comes to tracking deliverables.
Most software uses some visual component to easily monitor and track progress, such as Gantt charts, Kanban boards, or maps. This information is available for the whole team to ensure transparency and real-time updates.
Regardless of which tracking method you employ, it should make it easy for each team member to monitor the project’s progress.
3. Establish a plan to address unruly deliverables
No two deliverables are created equal.
Some are small and will be completed quickly, while others are not so easy.
When it comes to unruly deliverables, it helps to keep the team aware of the upcoming challenge. Some project management methodologies, such as critical path, are built around these difficult stretches.
Understanding the potential challenges you might face will help prepare your team for tougher days and necessary contingencies.
Think about KPIs (key performance indicators) or other metrics to see how you tackled the difficult stuff and make plans for improvement. Plus, these metrics allow you to give meaningful feedback to team members and reward work done well on the stickier deliverables.
So, no matter what the deliverable is, know that clear definitions and tracking will improve your process and measure your outcomes for the subsequent project.
When a project is completed on time and to the satisfaction of the client, everyone wins.
Establishing discrete deliverables with a clear timeline and well-organized workflow can create better collaboration and efficiency for your team to serve your clients.
All that is left to do is get started on your project plan, define your next set of deliverables, and get to work!
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