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Why clearly defined deliverables are key to your project’s success

PostsProject management
Georgina Guthrie

Georgina Guthrie

June 26, 2020

This post was originally published on June 14, 2019, and updated most recently on June 26, 2020.

‘Deliverable’ — unlike other trendy office phrases — is one that has real and practical meaning. Detailed deliverables clarify objectives and drive successful cross-functional collaboration. So it’s important to know exactly what a deliverable is, so your team can deliver them correctly.

What are the key deliverables in a project?

A key deliverable is anything that is produced or provided as a result of a process. When goals are met, deliverables are produced, and when the over-arching project is accomplished, your key deliverable has been created.

Deliverables are also usually tied to a specific date, which means that someone — usually a client/manager/stakeholder — is expecting it by a certain time. A project is only complete when the deliverable is accepted or signed off.

The key deliverables are the main goal, tangible or intangible, has been accomplished — or the many key deliverables set in the timeline along the way. These are the pieces most sought after and used by the client.

What are examples of deliverables?

What the deliverables of a project actually are varies greatly from company to company and project to project.

Deliverables could be big or small: from a product, program, or app, to software, test results, consultation services, or a contract. They can be tangible, like a magazine or a phone, or intangible, like improved sales results or a wider client base. If you’re a project manager, then common deliverables will include plans, minutes, and reports.

There can be one or several deliverables within the scope of a project. Sometimes, deliverables stand alone as unrelated milestones, but, more commonly, they’re dependent on the completion of other deliverables — each of which has a deadline of its own.

In software design and manufacturing, these sub-deliverables are called releases. Each phase is released, tested, and approved before contributing to the whole deliverable.

When it comes to larger projects, there are usually separate groups expecting different deliverables. For example, houses are developed and built for external customers, but the design requirements to create the house are created by architects and engineers as an internal deliverable for the builders.

Project deliverable vs. process deliverable

A project deliverable is a result. A process deliverable is a route you take to achieve that result and encompasses planning, document creation, information sharing, equipment, money, and software.

For example, if your project deliverable is to build a house, one of the deliverables would be to build the roof. The process deliverable here is in how to create that roof. There’s often some crossover when planning out your project deliverables and your process deliverables, as you might imagine.

Tracking and managing deliverables

Since project deliverables are a result of some activity, they must also be measurable and specific. If a deliverable doesn’t directly answer an objective, it shouldn’t be in the project plan.

One way to organize your thinking here is to set out some SMART goals, which will help you work out whether your deliverables fit the bill.

If you’re managing a project with several deliverables, then tracking becomes an important driver of your project’s success. You can use a spreadsheet to do this, but the easiest and most effective way is to use a project management tool. This way, you can avoid creating and updating different documents, which can get confusing when you’re in the thick of it with several versions all flying around.

Whichever method you use, make sure you standardize your process, so your entire team knows how to track their work. Here are some tips to help you set off on the right foot.

1. Plan ahead

You wouldn’t set off on a journey without a map of some kind; similarly, you shouldn’t set off on your project without first having a clear idea of where you want to go and how to get there. A good place to start is with a project charter. Breaking your project down into key objectives will help everyone understand the key goals and help you define the deliverables.

Some questions to ask yourself during this initial stage include the following:

  • What are we trying to achieve?
  • How are we going to achieve this?
  • What do we need?
  • Are the stakeholders in agreement with the plan?

2. Define your deliverables

This is where you dig into the details. Once your stakeholders have given you the thumbs up, you’ll need to work out which tasks are needed to complete your deliverables, how long each will take, and what the dependencies are.

There are various tried and tested project management charts designed to help you figure this all out, but we recommend using a Gantt chart. If you’re using project management software, like Backlog, then your tasks will automatically populate into each project Gantt chart, which makes the whole thing a little easier.

Some questions to ask yourself during this planning stage include the following:

  • What does this deliverable achieve?
  • What are this deliverable’s dependencies?
  • When does this deliverable need to be completed?
  • What resources are needed for me to achieve this deliverable?
  • Do I need to confirm a standardized method of communication?

3. Set everyone’s expectations

Once you’ve put in the prep work, its time to make sure everyone understands what to do and how to test and measure their own progress along the way.

Take some time to communicate the deliverables and overarching goals with everyone before project kick-off, so that when the work does begin, everyone’s ready to roll.

Some questions to ask yourself during this planning stage include the following:

  • Who needs to be involved?
  • What’s the best way to communicate these deliverables?
  • Do I need to set some time aside for training before the project kick-off?

4. Track your progress

It’s unlikely you’ll be working in a bubble; at some point, stakeholders, other teams, and upper management will want to check in on progress.

Keeping track of your deliverables, milestones, tasks, and dependencies means you’ll have all this information handy if called for. Monitoring your progress also helps you and your team pace yourselves and understand if you need to make resource/budget/timing adjustments to hit your deliverables on time. Collaboration software can help you to record, track, and share all this information.

Some questions to ask yourself during this planning stage include the following:

  • Do I have the necessary information to share with stakeholders?
  • Is my team successfully tracking their own work?
  • Are we on schedule?
  • Do I need to invest in any project management software?

5. Measure your effectiveness

As with all projects, being honest about what’s working and what isn’t is important. This will help you plan similar projects more effectively in the future. There are lots of methods for measuring progress, but one of the easiest ways is with a project post-mortem meeting.

Some questions to ask yourself during this planning stage include the following:

  • What went well? And what didn’t work so well?
  • What do we need to change next time?

Final thoughts

Having a firm grasp on what’s expected of you and your team, including objectives and deadlines, is crucial to your success.

Investing in intuitive project management software is a great way to manage your deliverables while improving collaboration and productivity. Having the ability to track schedules and share information in real-time saves you and your team sending countless follow-up emails and version updates. That means your team has a clear vision and an easy way to track their work, and you have more time to focus on making your project the success it deserves to be.



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