How to define deliverables in
project management

When you first plan out a project, you’ll often start by listing what you hope to accomplish.

What will you have to show for this project once it’s completed?

Project management deliverables are what you will create to fulfill the project objective. They are the actual items (tangible or intangible) that will come out of this project to accomplish your goals, such as a wireframe for a website or a concept presentation.

To be considered a project deliverable, it needs to:

  • Help accomplish the objective

  • Be agreed upon by those involved

  • Happen through meaningful work

  • Be within scope, and outlined from the beginning

Without a clear objective, your team works in circles and it’s unclear when you’ve reached the finish line.

In fact, a change in project objectives is one of the most common reasons for project failure.

Well-defined projects make sure your clients know exactly what to expect, and that everyone is on the same page.

Project milestones versus deliverables versus objectives

Before we get into key deliverables in project management, let’s cover how these differ from milestones and objectives, and how both help you achieve your objectives.

Your project objective should be the easiest and first thing to define. What are the goals of your project, and how do they align with your business objectives? Project deliverables are the things you create to help you fulfill the objective, whereas milestones are the checkpoints along the way. They are a way to gauge if you are on track and meeting goals. Milestones track which deliverables have been completed in each phase before moving onto the next.

In other words, milestones move you along within a project versus deliverables, which are the tangible items you create. Both of these help you achieve your objective.

External vs. internal deliverables

Some deliverables will be only for your internal team, but are crucial nonetheless.

Internal deliverables are defined as any task that doesn’t affect customers or clients. External can be defined as any work done to fulfill a customer or client demand or need.

These internal deliverables help align teams by solidifying what will be created along the way. Think of your scope document, timelines with internal check-ins or work breakdown structure as these are primarily for you and not for external stakeholders.

You likely won’t hand these off to clients, but they’re key for defining and completing projects.

External deliverables, on the other hand, are items you’ll package up and hand over to clients at different points of the process. Design files, concept presentations, and written copy are a few examples.

Defining key deliverables in project management: A step-by-step process

Now that you know what project milestones to account for, it’s equally important to understand some functions of project management deliverables.

So what do you need to consider when determining your deliverables? Here’s a good step-by-step list to go by.

1. Create deliverables

The first step is to create your deliverables.

A good way to do this is to look at your objective.

  • What are you trying to achieve?

  • How will you accomplish this?

  • What steps do you need to take?

Answering these questions will help you create a list of key deliverables. You want to break out the objective into steps. Also, look at these steps to make sure they can be feasibly done in a reasonable timeframe.

2. Define internal or external audiences

The next step is to define who your deliverables are for, as mentioned above.

Deliverables can be categorized into internal and external, so at this point, you’ll specify the audience for each task.

3. Add requirements

All deliverables should have two components: the specific deliverable and the acceptance criteria.

Acceptance criteria is a list of requirements that a deliverable must meet in order to be considered complete.

When the deliverable is in review, you’ll check against this list of standards or requirements before advancing to the next round or handing off to a client.

4. Define project and process

Here is where you’ll break out subtasks under each deliverable.

In the case of an employee training program, for example, you may have subtasks like:

  • Roll existing training materials into a new system

  • Train employees how to use it

  • Gather feedback on how the training program is going

5. Meet expectations

Of course, the deliverables should meet the internal or external expectations.

So for example, if you are rolling out new product videos for your customers to download, you’ll want to meet an external expectation in this case, the customers.

6. Measure deliverable success

The last step is to check that your deliverables will be successful before they become part of the plan.

Things like focus groups or A/B testing are helpful for external audiences. Or internally, you could hold roundtable discussions or survey employees about your proposed deliverables.

Project deliverable examples

Let’s look at a simple sales and marketing project to better understand how these pieces fit together.

If your project objective is to improve the conversion rate of a sales email, your deliverables might be:

  • Copy deck of your email content

  • Spreadsheet of your email list

  • Images of your product

  • A PDF report outlining project success

Your milestones might sound something like this:

  • Planning and strategy approved

  • Draft produced

  • Internal review

  • Email QA

  • Email scheduled

  • Results

  • Follow-up meeting for future planning

That’s just one project example. Your deliverables will be created in relation to your objective, which means your list might look completely different.

Here are other project management deliverable examples to get you thinking:

  • Signed estimates

  • Contracts or agreements

  • Budgeting tool or spreadsheets

  • Creative briefs

  • Project timeline with tasks broken out

  • Sketches or wireframes

  • Outlines

  • Prototypes or MVP

  • Report outlining test results

  • Next steps for the project based on results

It’s important to keep in mind that your project will likely be more complex, requiring phases of milestones and a longer list of deliverables at the end of each phase.

Managing the entire project process

We’ve covered a lot so far.

Now that you have an overview of what project deliverables are, and how they work with milestones, it’s time to start creating yours.

One way to do this is with a work breakdown structure. In simple terms, a work breakdown structure takes your deliverables and organizes them into project phases for the entire team to see.

Another way is with Agile project management software.

Hubstaff Tasks

Tools like Hubstaff Tasks automate team and project management so that your team stays on track and meets each deliverable with focused sprints, detailed tasks and visible kanban-stye workflows. There’s no question that using project management software will simplify and streamline the process.

By defining your key deliverables and milestones upfront, you can create a workable plan for the entire team to follow. And with this process in place managed by the right software, you’ll complete projects successfully and on time.

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