How to define deliverables in
project management

When planning 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 the scope and outlined from the beginning

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

A change in project objectives is one of the most common reasons for failure.

Well-defined projects ensure your clients know what to expect and that everyone is on the same page.

What are project deliverables?

Project deliverables are the tangible and intangible outcomes, results, or products that a project is intended to produce and deliver to its stakeholders. These items are essential components of project management, as they define a project's specific goals and objectives and provide a clear roadmap for success.

Deliverables can take various forms, depending on the nature of the project and its objectives. They can be physical products, such as a software application, a building, or a report, or they can be intangible results, like a marketing plan, a set of recommendations, or a training program.

One of the primary purposes of defining project deliverables is to provide clarity and alignment among project team members and stakeholders. Clearly specifying what needs to be accomplished and produced makes it easier to manage and monitor the project's progress.

Project milestones versus deliverables versus objectives

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

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 on to 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.

Categories of project deliverables

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

Internal deliverables are any task that doesn’t affect customers or clients. These internal deliverables help align teams by solidifying what will be created. 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.

On the other hand, external deliverables are items you’ll package up and hand over to clients at different points of the process. An external deliverable can be in the form of design files, concept presentations, or written copy.

Let’s look at the different types of deliverables your team will need to work on.

Internal process deliverables

An internal process deliverable refers to project outcomes to improve internal operations or project management. Examples include process manuals, workflow diagrams, and project plans, which streamline the team's workflow and enhance efficiency.

External process deliverables

External process deliverables are project results that enhance the experience of external stakeholders, such as clients or customers. For instance, an external process deliverable in a consulting project might involve a client onboarding process that improves the client's experience.

Internal product deliverables

Internal product deliverables are outputs primarily valuable to the organization, not external stakeholders. Examples include prototypes, testing environments, and research reports, which inform decision-making and contribute to the project's progress.

External product deliverables

External product deliverables are products or services created for external stakeholders, like clients or end-users. For a construction project, it's the completed building; in software development, it's the software application provided to end-users. These deliverables fulfill external stakeholder needs and define project success.

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 an excellent step-by-step list to go by.

1. Create deliverables

The first step is to create your deliverables.

An excellent 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 are a list of requirements a deliverable must meet to be considered complete.

When the deliverable is reviewed, you’ll check against these standards or requirements before advancing to the next round or handing it off to a client.

4. Define the 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: 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

Now that you can define project deliverables, it’s essential to grasp what deliverables will look like across the course of the project management process.

Project deliverables vary across different phases of the project management process. Here are examples of deliverables for various project phases:

Project management phaseExample of deliverables

Initiation phase:
In this phase, the project's purpose and objectives are defined, and a project charter is created to authorize its existence.

  • Project charter

  • Stakeholder register

  • Preliminary scope statement

Planning phase:
Detailed planning, including scope, schedule, and budget, takes place. A project plan is developed to guide the project's execution.

  • Project plan

  • Work breakdown structure (WBS)

  • Gantt chart

  • Risk register

  • Communication plan

  • Resource allocation plan

  • Budget

Execution phase:
Actual project work is performed, and deliverables are produced, while project progress is monitored and reported.

  • Completed work packages

  • Progress reports

  • Deliverable documentation

  • Change requests

  • Quality control reports

Monitoring and controlling phase:
Continuous oversight of project activities, risk management, and adjustments to ensure the project stays on track and within scope.

  • Progress reports

  • Issue log

  • Change control documentation

  • Cost and schedule variance analysis

  • Quality assurance reports

  • Risk mitigation plans

Closing phase:
The project is formally closed, including completing deliverables, obtaining client acceptance, and documenting lessons learned for future projects.

  • Project closure report

  • Lessons learned report

  • Final deliverable acceptance

  • Handover documentation

  • Stakeholder satisfaction surveys

  • Final budget report

These tangible and intangible outcomes provide structure, clarity, and control throughout the project's lifecycle. As projects progress through initiation, planning, execution, monitoring, and closing, these deliverables ensure that objectives are met, stakeholders are satisfied, and valuable lessons are learned for future endeavors.

By understanding and harnessing the power of these deliverables, a project manager can navigate their projects with confidence and precision.

Managing the entire project process

We’ve covered a lot so far.

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

One way to do this is with a work breakdown structure. Simply put, a work breakdown structure organizes your deliverables into project phases for the entire team to see.

Another way is with Agile project management software.

Tools like Hubstaff automate team and project management so project managers stay on track and meet 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.

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

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