Project deliverables – what they are and how to define them

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Project deliverables are the created results that constitute the completion of a project. They are the tangible or intangible things that a project manager works to accomplish to satisfy the requirements set out by clients or stakeholders.

Sounds confusing? Don’t worry, let’s take a step back and break it down.

Every project has an objective.

To accomplish this objective, certain tasks and goals must be completed.

And the final results must be delivered to the internal or external stakeholders.

Let’s take improving a website’s SEO as an example project. The objective is clear – to improve the website’s search engine rankings and generate more organic traffic.

We can imagine that within the scope of this project 3 things are agreed upon and need to be done for the project to be successful:
(1) Keyword research
(2) Fixing existing website content according to SEO best practices
(3) write 3 SEO articles 

Therefore, for the stakeholder to view this project as complete, they might ask to receive 3 things: a keyword research document, a report detailing the SEO changes that have been made on the website, and the 3 articles. These are the project deliverables for the project manager. 

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We can immediately pinpoint several things that define project deliverables:

  1. They help accomplish the objective of the project
  2. They are agreed upon by the project manager and the stakeholders
  3. They are defined from the start

As such, project deliverables are useful for project managers to better organize the project and for clients to better oversee it.

Let’s take a look at each of these points to better understand what are and what aren’t project deliverables. 

1. Project deliverables help accomplish the objective of the project

As you can see, we’re distinguishing between the objective and the deliverables. Some of you may ask – are they not the same thing? 

They can be, but most of the time they’re not. It depends on the scope of the project. If the project’s objective is to create 3 SEO articles, then the objective and deliverables overlap – you need to deliver 3 articles and, once you do, the project is completed. 

But anything more complex than that will likely result in a multitude of deliverables that are different yet complementary to the objective.  

Project deliverables are the results you’re passing on to the client or stakeholder. As such, they can come in many forms:

  • Reports about completed work
  • Spreadsheets
  • Project plans
  • Design documents & images
  • Presentations
  • Strategy documents & recommendations
  • Such completed work items as articles, emails, business plans, signed contracts, 
  • and more

What project deliverables are NOT:

  • Milestones – milestones help keep the project on track, but they are typically not deliverables in themselves. 
  • Product deliverables – things like software and hardware, and finished physical products are typically referred to as product deliverables and differentiated from project deliverables. 
  • Accomplishments outside of the scope of the project – things that are achieved during the project but were not defined as necessary for its successful completion. 

The type of deliverable depends on the industry, type of project, and what’s agreed between the parties. This brings us to our next point. 

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2. Project deliverables are agreed upon by the project manager and stakeholders

Project deliverables help manage expectations—having objectives without deliverables can potentially lead to disagreements between parties. 

For example, if the project objective is to improve a website’s SEO, but no deliverables are outlined, then a client might be dissatisfied if, after the website has been adjusted, they see no immediate improvement in organic traffic. 

This might not be the fault of the service provider, however, the client might see the objective as incomplete and as grounds for a dispute.

In this regard, project deliverables help with transparency, accountability, and defining the scope, and they must be agreed upon by both parties.

3. Project deliverables must be defined from the start

It is essential that the agreement comes at the very start of the project. Clear-cut deliverables help organize the project, assign responsibilities, and define a timeline. 

Of course, they can change and evolve throughout a project if it’s mutually agreed upon by the involved parties. 

However, moving goalposts can lead to confusion and project derailment, if mismanaged. The entire purpose of project deliverables is to ensure everyone is on the same page and works toward achieving a specific goal. When goals change, it can render some completed work obsolete, or teams might need to be restructured, or project plans might have to be reworked. 

As such, it’s better to define more general deliverables that leave the team room to maneuver, rather than set out with really specific ones that inevitably need to be fine-tuned or changed. 

Note: use DeskTime’s project tracking feature to capture the time spent by your team on specific tasks to give accurate reports on your project deliverables. 

How to define project deliverables

When it comes to defining project deliverables, you need to do two things:

(1) break down the project objective into specific sub-goals and
(2) define their acceptance criteria. 

To find the sub-goals, simply ask what needs to be done to fulfill the objective. For example:

Objective: Create a social media presence for a company

How? Register social media profiles on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn, and then prepare content that can be posted on each platform. 

Then define the acceptance criteria for the subgoals. This means specifying at what point they will be considered to be completed. 

Acceptance criteria: Profiles are created and filled out for all four platforms. 1 month of daily content is prepared for each platform. 

Now taking the goals and the acceptance criteria into account, we can define the project deliverables, which will be handed over to the client upon completion. 

Project deliverables: 1) A document with all the log-in information for the social media accounts; 2) A content calendar with daily posts for 1 month. 

Once these two things are delivered to the client, the project is finished. 

Usually, both parties are involved in defining project deliverables. Sometimes a client might come with a goal and look to the service provider to explain how that goal will be achieved. Other times, a client that is knowledgeable in the field might have a specific ask and require specific deliverables. 

What type, what format, how many deliverables—all of this must be outlined from the get-go to ensure everyone is on the same page. 

Conclusion

Project deliverables are most commonly used by project managers to help structure their work. However, any project can benefit from them, as deliverables define responsibilities and ensure all parties are on the same page about what’s ahead. 

Deliverables can be anything from a report about the work done to the thing that’s created in the process. The type of deliverable depends on the type of project and the agreement in place. 

Ultimately, clearly defining deliverables improves the success chance of a project, so don’t hesitate to give it a try, if you haven’t already. 

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