What is a deliverable in project management?

What is a deliverable in project management - cover

At various stages of a complex project, outputs are created as stepping stones that help shape the final product of the project. 

In project management, these stepping stones are called deliverables

What makes them distinct from project milestones, objectives, and phases is the fact that a single deliverable is a standalone piece of output that does not need to rely on other project components.

Depending on the type of the project, deliverables can be many things โ€” from business cases, different types of documentation, prototypes, etc.

This guide will help you:

  • Get a clear picture of what a deliverable is
  • Learn how to differentiate deliverables from other project elements
  • Understand the types of deliverables projects commonly use 

In addition, we will show you some examples of project deliverables, and include a step-by-step guide on how to define deliverables for a specific project.

What are the deliverables in a project?

To expand a bit on the explanation of what project deliverables are, we can say the following โ€” deliverables are different types of products that represent independent steps towards achieving any organizational objective.

In project management terms, a deliverable is a piece of output that conforms to the following set of requirements:

  • It is within the project scope.
  • It has been agreed upon by internal and external stakeholders.
  • It has an observable impact on accomplishing the project goal.
  • It is well-defined, specified, and delineated.
  • It is a result of deliberate work.

๐ŸŽ“ Plaky Pro Tip

To learn more about project management and why it’s important, check out this guide:

To further specify the concept of deliverables, we will compare them to phases, objectives, and milestones.

Objective vs Deliverable

A project objective is a set of directives that will define its:

  • Benefits to the organization,
  • Predicted outcomes, and
  • Ways it will affect the business processes.

On the other hand, a deliverable is a standalone product within a wider-scope project, produced with the intention of enabling the project objective.

Phases vs Deliverables

A project is initially broken down into several phases โ€” each of which includes a particular set of activities grouped according to their purpose. 

In simple terms โ€“ a phase is one part of the project process, whereas a deliverable is the output that is produced in its duration.

Milestone vs Deliverable

During a project, milestones are used to set checkpoints that signify when a phase of the project is completed. 

What differentiates milestones from deliverables is that the former do not need to be presented to external or internal stakeholders, as they represent simple reference points for project progress.

What are examples of project deliverables?

To help paint a clearer picture of what project deliverables look like in practice, weโ€™ve listed a few examples of deliverables:

  • A website wireframe
  • A project plan
  • A strategic report
  • A survey
  • A process improvement plan

And following up, we take a look at the application these deliverables have in different scenarios.

๐Ÿ”ป Project deliverable example 1 โ€” a website wireframe 

A digital marketing company hires a freelance UX designer โ€” Sienna โ€” to create a wireframe for the new company website. Producing this deliverable is one step of a greater plan to build a company website, and it is aligned with the general direction of what the organization aims to achieve with its business.

๐Ÿ”ป Project deliverable example 2 โ€” a project plan 

Michael is an architect working on constructing a new bridge. Currently, he is part of a team that has the task to produce a project plan โ€” the deliverable necessary for the actual construction to take place. Michael collaborates with the project manager, financial advisors, construction experts, and primary stakeholders to provide his expert opinion on what the project plan should look like.

๐Ÿ”ป Project deliverable example 3 โ€” a strategic report

Karina is the director of a large business and she is required to provide a strategic report at the end of the year. In it, she needs to analyze and review important developments and performance calculations of the companyโ€™s business. This deliverable is intended to show how Karina has been fulfilling her duties, and to predict what strategic moves would be wise to make in the following year.

๐Ÿ”ป Project deliverable example 4 โ€” a survey

Delilah is a marketing specialist working on designing and conducting a survey of public opinion on the new product her company has released. She is focused on selecting the right questions to ask, the way the survey would be conducted, and the target audience. With the data this deliverable provides, the company can assess if the new product has been successful, and what can be done to improve it.

๐Ÿ”ป Project deliverable example 5 โ€” a process improvement plan

Rhett is an engineer at a car factory. As part of his duties, he needs to provide a manufacturing process improvement plan. This deliverable describes in detail what the current process looks like, and what adjustments can be made to help make it more efficient and cost-effective. This plan is further used as a starting point for redesigning the manufacturing process.

What are the types of project deliverables?

According to their intended audience, the form they come in, and their scale, we can differentiate three sets of deliverable types:

  • External or internal
  • Tangible or Intangible
  • Process or product

Following up is a brief explanation of each of these project deliverable types.

External or Internal

External deliverables are intended for the customers and other stakeholders outside the company making the product. 

๐Ÿ”ป Example of an external deliverable: a site investigation report, conducted to investigate soil characteristics before building construction.

Internal deliverables are created for the needs and purposes of the company producing them, to aid an internal objective.

๐Ÿ”ป Example of an internal deliverable: a marketing study, used by a company to design a marketing plan by studying what the industry trends are.

Tangible or Intangible

A tangible deliverable is a physical or digital product that can be interacted with either in real or virtual life.

๐Ÿ”ป Example of a tangible deliverable: a 3D rendering of a building.

On the other hand, intangible deliverables are conceptual, but still measurable project outputs.

๐Ÿ”ป Example of an intangible deliverable: number of repeat customers.

Process or Product

Process deliverables are steps along the way of creating the end product, and are not intended for the customers.

๐Ÿ”ป Example of a process deliverable: a project scope statement a company defines for an upcoming project.

The previously mentioned end product of a project is what we could call a product deliverable. It is customer-oriented.

๐Ÿ”ป Example of a product deliverable: a finished website.

Deliverables commonly used in different project phases

The phases of project management include the following five phases:

  • Project initiation phase
  • Project planning phase
  • Project execution phase
  • Project monitoring and controlling phase
  • Project closing phase

Weโ€™ve taken into account these phases, as well as some of the recommendations made by experts at the Sonoma State University, in order to list several types of deliverables commonly used in different phases of the project process.

Project phasesDeliverables
Phase 1 โ€” Initiation– Business case
– Project proposal
– Tender document
– Kick-off meeting
– Project charter
Phase 2 โ€” Planning– Project work plan
– Document with project requirements
– Communication plan
– Product prototype
Phase 3 โ€” Executing– Status report
– Progress report
– Engineering report
– Meeting notes
Phase 4 โ€” Monitoring and controlling– Project change request
– Design review
– Final project acceptance
Phase 5 โ€” Closing– Project closure spreadsheet
– Project closure notification

How to define project deliverables? 

Now that weโ€™ve established what deliverables are, their types, and which deliverables are common for which phase of the project โ€” we can go on to define deliverables for a specific project

For this purpose, we have devised a step-by-step guide that can help you organize a structured approach to the task.

First of all, defining project deliverables is part of the wider process of determining the scope of a project

The project scope is defined to put in place the boundaries for the project โ€” by establishing and documenting its stakeholders, goals, tasks, cost, deadlines, and of course โ€” deliverables.

With this in mind, we can approach the process of defining project deliverables by first referring to the other elements inside the project scope

One additional step to this process will focus on studying the industry standards and guidelines โ€” which can help further shortlist possible deliverables and give you ideas of what they might be.

๐ŸŽ“ Plaky Pro Tip

For a better understanding of what โ€œproject scopeโ€ means in project management, as well as templates you can use for your own project, take a look at our guide to:

Now, we can pay some mind to the seven-step process that leads to defining project deliverables. Here are all the steps:

  • Step #1: Define the main stakeholders and their requirements
  • Step #2:  Determine project goals
  • Step #3: Calculate the cost and compare it to existing resources
  • Step #4:  Define specific tasks that need to be completed
  • Step #5: Refer to the project schedule and deadlines 
  • Step #6: Look into industry standards
  • Step #7: Use project management tools to list all deliverables

Letโ€™s review what each of them entails!

 Step #1:  Define the main stakeholders and their requirements

The first step in defining project deliverables is to pay attention to who the main stakeholders are, and what their needs and expectations include. 

Usually, the main stakeholders are:

  • Customers,
  • Project manager,
  • Other team members working on the project,
  • Investors,
  • Suppliers and vendors, or
  • Governments.

Study the requirements of each of these parties, and how they can be combined in a way that will aid in understanding what deliverables would best fit each party.

๐Ÿ”ป Example of defining the main stakeholdersโ€™ requirements:

The project manager of one marketing company is tasked with organizing a product marketing campaign for a newly-launched ski clothing line. 

How does she go by defining deliverables for this project? 

First, she lists all the stakeholders with interest in this project โ€” in this case: 

  • The customer that hired the services of her company, 
  • Herself, 
  • Her team, and 
  • The supplier of the necessary goods. 

Once this is done, she notes down the requirements each stakeholder has made for the project, and tries to find a common ground. 

Step #2: Determine project goals

Next, it is critical to determine project goals

This will give you the general direction the project is supposed to move in, and an understanding of what it intends to accomplish. 

A good way to set goals is to use the SMART method, which says the goals should be:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Realistic
  • Time-bound
SMART goals

๐Ÿ”ป Example of determining project goals:

Defining the project goals goes hand in hand with each stakeholderโ€™s vision for the project. 

During a joint stakeholder meeting, the project manager uses the SMART method to help shape the final version of what the project goals are. 

Boiled down to the most important objectives, her campaign should do the following:

  • Distribute both digital and physical adverts to draw in the target audience โ€” in this case, young, adventurous people.
  • The results of the campaign will be measured by the revenue the products draw in, as well as new site memberships.
  • The campaign is set to last three months.

Step #3: Calculate the cost and compare it to existing resources

Of course, you always need to take into account the resources available for completing a project. 

This gives you insight into the scale and type of project deliverables you can choose. 

When you get an idea for a potential project deliverable, first, make sure to calculate the cost of its production. 

Then, compare the cost to the project resources โ€” and assess if they align appropriately.

๐Ÿ”ป Example of comparing cost and resources:

Before assigning specific tasks to her team members, the project manager has to have a broad idea of what their execution might cost. 

To make sure she stays within the approved budget, she consults the documents that cite available resources.

Step #4: Define specific tasks that need to be completed

Once youโ€™ve reviewed the project goals, you can go on to define specific tasks that need to be completed in order for the project to be successful. 

Each project is unique, and will require a different set of tasks to be completed. 

A good way of organizing your approach is to pick out a project management methodology suited to the needs of your project, and then use it to single out specific tasks.

๐ŸŽ“ Plaky pro tip

For a brief overview of 15 widely used project management methodologies and how to choose the right one for your project, have a look at our guide on:

๐Ÿ”ป Example of defining project tasks:

To better organize the project activities, the project manager makes the initial division of physical vs. digital campaign tasks. 

In consultation with her team members, she assigns one group of people with the physical distribution tasks, such as: 

  • Designing the leaflets, posters, and other materials,
  • Deciding about proper locations and forms of distribution, and
  • Contacting suppliers of necessary materials.

On the other hand, the second group of people is supposed to deal with digital campaign tasks, including:

  • Product website copywriting,
  • Designing automated email and SMS notifications, and
  • Promoting the product on social media.

Step #5: Refer to the project schedule and deadlines

Another important factor that goes into defining project deliverables is the project schedule. When you have a set time limit, you can refer to it to make choices about what kinds of deliverables should be used.

For projects with longer deadlines and more available resources, deliverables can be more complex and of a higher quality. 

On the other hand, a fast-paced project may not prioritize deliverable quality as much as, for example, completing the project as soon as possible.

๐Ÿ”ป Example of aligning to schedules and deadlines:

One more accommodation the project manager has to make when it comes to defining project deliverables โ€” understanding how they fit in with the existing project schedule and deadlines. 

In the span of the pre-defined three months, Sally needs to decide what kinds of deliverables can be produced in a way that minimally disturbs predicted dates for project completion.

Step #6: Look into industry standards

A good way of assessing what deliverables would be appropriate for each step of the project is to study what the industry standards are. 

To do this, ask the following question:

โ€œWhat deliverables are similar companies from my industry using?โ€

The answer to this question can help you additionally narrow down the potential deliverables for your project.

๐Ÿ”ป Example of adjusting to industry standards:

Already an industry expert with many years of experience, this particular project manager is very familiar with the industry standards, and the types of deliverables other companies have successfully used. 

She applies this knowledge when deciding which deliverables to use in this particular campaign.

Some include:

  • A project plan
  • Target audience survey
  • Leaflet design
  • Poster design
  • Website ad design
  • Promotional video
  • KPI report
  • Customer satisfaction report

Step #7: Use project management tools to list all deliverables

And finally, a great way to organize your deliverables is to list them all using project management software. This type of tool is designed to give you a clear visual overview of each phase of the project and the deliverables that correspond to it.

Plaky
Plaky, as an example of a project management tool

Using tables, progress charts, and task boards โ€” project management technology can simplify the project process, as well as reduce the loss of time and resources that happens when organization is lacking. 

๐Ÿ”ป Example of using project management tools to list deliverables:

Using a project management tool, the project manager can list all the defined deliverables according to each project phase they belong to. In the previous projects her team has completed, this tool has been shown to be very useful and efficient in facilitating the project process.

While going through these steps, you will begin to see the outline of the possible deliverables taking form, getting more defined and specific along the way. 

The end products should be independent deliverables that provide value to all stakeholders.

In summary: Defining adequate deliverables facilitates the project process

Both in simple and complex projects, defining appropriate project deliverables is a necessary step towards efficient work organization. 

Choosing to focus on producing a deliverable that is not the right fit for the project, or one that โ€” for example โ€” requires too many resources, can seriously disturb the workflow and outcomes of the project. 

To counter this, itโ€™s best to first familiarize yourself with the broader concept of deliverables, and how they can be used in different phases of the project. 

When youโ€™ve acquired a clearer understanding of what kinds of deliverables you have at your disposal, we recommend you follow the step-by-step guide to help make defining deliverables for a specific project much easier and more straightforward.

References

  • Project Management Institute. (2021). A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOKยฎ Guide) โ€“ Seventh Edition and The Standard for Project Management (ENGLISH) (Seventh edition). Project Management Institute.
  • Sharma, A. M. (2021). Business Management. BrainMass. https://brainmass.com/business/human-resources-management/business-management-271591
  • What are the key deliverables of the project management process? (2020, April 29). Information Technology at Sonoma State University. https://it.sonoma.edu/kb/pm/what-are-key-deliverables-project-management-process

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