Whether you build software, apartments, cars - or just about anything - your project work can be defined as working towards project deliverables. So, let's clear up any confusion around this term.
Without deliverables, you don’t have a project. It’s as simple as that. Deliverables represent the end goal you’re working towards, whether that’s a physical product or an intangible concept, like an increase in brand awareness.
Today, we're exploring the ins and outs of deliverables in project management, from defining 'deliverables' to breaking down how to deliver a successful project every time.
As a project manager, it’s important you understand exactly what a deliverable is in project management.
A project deliverable is the end result that a project sets out to achieve. There’s no limit to what a ‘deliverable’ can be. Depending on your team’s specialism, you may be briefed to create something as grand as a new apartment block or as small as a single PDF!
Many projects will have more than one deliverable, as outlined as part of the project’s scope. This process is formally known as creating a project scope statement; by establishing boundaries for what you will (and won’t) deliver, you ensure your team and the project’s relevant stakeholders are aligned around a shared goal. This document should be updated if the project deliverables change.
Clearly defining project deliverables up-front informs the planning process, allowing project managers to create a prioritized task list, aids resource management, and helps prevent disputes around project scope later in the project lifecycle.
Project managers know all too well how complex project management lingo can be. Confusingly, many of the industry’s specialist terms sound very similar — but are not interchangeable.
You might have heard the terms ‘project objectives’ and ‘project milestones’ and wondered if they’re the same thing as a project deliverable. Let’s break each term down.
Project deliverable: A project deliverable is the tangible or intangible product or concept that the project sets out to achieve.
Example: A finished project management software.
Project objective: Project objectives are broader goals that influence your deliverables. Before you can know what you’re going to produce, you need to understand what outcome or benefit you’re trying to achieve. Typically, project objectives are informed by business goals.
Example: Capture a larger share of the project management market by releasing new software.
Project milestone: Whereas objectives are broader than project deliverables, milestones are more minute. A project milestone represents a significant checkpoint or event critical to a project’s success. Most projects will have multiple milestones representing the project phases within the timeline.
Example: Create a software feature list and specifications or launch a beta version for user testing.
So far, we’ve established that anything can be a project deliverable. But how does this concept relate to your projects?
Well, there are two main types of project deliverables: internal and external project deliverables. You’ll know from the project’s outset whether you’re working with external or internal deliverables, as this will define how you hand over the final outcome and which key stakeholders are involved.
External deliverables: If you’re producing something on behalf of a client or for public consumption, this is an external deliverable. External project deliverables can cover anything from social media campaigns to printed brochures. When working with a client, external deliverables are defined up front and outlined in a contract.
External deliverables are typically created with the intent to inform an audience, meet a market need, or influence a company’s public perception. Even if a company produces a piece of software or marketing campaign in-house, if this is promoted to external clients or customers, it is considered an external deliverable.
Internal deliverables: An internal deliverable is the opposite — they are produced by internal project teams on behalf of their employer and are used internally only.
Internal deliverables are created with the goal of benefiting the company. For example, a piece of software may be developed to improve effectiveness, an event may be planned to support employee morale, or a new company policy may be written to increase operational efficiency. The clue is in the name: internal project deliverables are created by businesses for internal use only.
Everyone involved in the project is responsible for completing the project deliverables successfully, at least in part. Yet, true responsibility for project outputs lies with the project manager.
As project manager, you oversee project execution. Key project management activities include defining project deliverables, creating project timelines, and producing status reports. You’ll experience many project management challenges along the way, but it’s your job to overcome these and ensure the project’s objectives are met.
Project deliverables vary in complexity, depending on the project outputs and the team’s specialism. Let’s put what we’ve learned into context by exploring some common examples of project deliverables, which we’ve broken down into five categories.
Tangible means something that can be touched. As such, tangible deliverables are products that exist physically.
There are countless examples of tangible project deliverables — we bet you can name 10 just by looking around the room you’re in right now. Tangible deliverables can include:
Intangible deliverables are, unsurprisingly, the opposite of tangible deliverables. You can’t hold or see an intangible deliverable, making it conceptual.
This category includes:
IT project teams produce deliverables that cover software, digital products, and much more beyond, including:
A project’s output may be as simple as producing a piece of documentation. Documentation can include:
Law firms, consultancies, and agencies are more likely to deliver an intangible service than a product. Services deliverables may include:
So, how are project deliverables defined, planned, and executed? Good deliverable management boils down to having a good project management process.
If you want to create successful deliverables every time, you’ve got to master the art of project planning.
As mentioned earlier, deliverables must be defined during the project planning phase. The project’s scope forms part of a document known as a project charter, which also lists the project’s objectives and stakeholders.
In addition to the project charter, you may want to create a Work Breakdown Structure, also known as a WBS. The Work Breakdown Structure makes the project’s deliverables visible in a hierarchy, helping you identify and overcome potential challenges or roadblocks.
For instance, any dependent deliverables (those that can’t be worked on before another is complete) represent potential delays to the project's timeline and should be closely monitored.
Next, you need to coordinate the work required to complete the project’s deliverables. This involves resourcing the project team, balancing workloads, and overseeing stakeholder management.
It’s important everyone on the team understands what tasks and milestones need to be completed, by when, and by whom. By using resource management software to plan out milestones and assign resources, you ensure this information is accessible to all team members.
If you’re only running reports at the end of the project, you’re waiting too late. Sure, wash-ups help improve processes for future projects, but you need to monitor project progress.
One way to track project progress is by producing a project status report. This provides an overview of the status of each key project deliverable, revealing whether you’re on track to hit your deadlines or if the project is burning. This can also be shared with project stakeholders.
Keeping deliverables on track means keeping your team on track. Regularly reviewing these data points will help you right the ship before it sinks if something goes wrong. For example, if one milestone is taking longer than expected, you can check in with those responsible and re-assign resources if necessary.
Thankfully, generating status reports with real-time project data is easy when you use a project and resource management tool to track your key project deliverables. In fact, this is exactly what Runn was designed to help you do.
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