How to effectively establish deliverables in tech projects – Part 1 30:08:2019

What is a Project Deliverable?

In project management practice 'delivarables' have a very clear and specific meaning: ''Deliverables are outputs created as the result of work performed during the course of a project.'' Defining, tracking, and managing project deliverables are therefore also the most important responsibilities of a project manager (PM).

project deliverablesFor any output to be classified as a ''deliverable'' within a project, it has to meet the following criteria:

  • It must be within the scope of the project,
  • stakeholders – external or internal – must agree to it,
  • it must be the result of deliberate work, and
  • it must also have a definite role in accomplishing the project’s single or multiple objectives.

The deliverable can be massive and tangible, such as a stadium or a factory. It can also be tiny and intangible, such as a one-page marketing document. Deliverables can also be ''stacked'', i.e. one deliverable might have several sub-deliverables. This also means that deliverables can depend on one another. Deliverables by themselves are not the project’s objectives. Rather, they chart the path to reach them. The more deliverables you complete on time, the better your chances of meeting the project’s goals on schedule as well. This is why project managers often focus obsessively on the deliverables – in defining, managing, and tracking them.

Project deliverables definition process

To define the project deliverables, you have to work backwards from the project objective. Figure out what you need to do – then figure out the requirements that will make the deliverable acceptable.

To define deliverables, start by asking the following questions:

  • What is this project trying to achieve?
  • What is the purpose, goal, or end result the stakeholders want once the project closes?
  • What are the constituent parts of the project’s objective?
  • What is the form and function of each of these constituent parts?
  • How important is this part to the overall project?
  • How will we create (or acquire) this part?
  • What is the cost of production/acquisition of this part?
  • How much time will it take to produce/acquire this part?

Essentially, you are decomposing each project objective into smaller parts. At the same time, you are evaluating the feasibility and priority of each constituent part. Refer to your work breakdown structure – if you have one – to help define the deliverables.

Deliverables vs. Milestones

Another source of confusion for new project managers is the difference between deliverables and milestones.

Milestones are checkpoints in the course of a project. You can insert them at any point to mark the completion of an important activity. They don’t have deadlines, nor do they have an impact on the project’s objectives. They are simply a way to keep track of the project’s progress.

You’ll create milestones to break down a complex deliverable into its constituent parts. For example, if your deliverable is to create a set of ''high-level requirements'', one of your milestones might be to ''document current processes''.

Milestones are not meant for clients or external stakeholders – they are meant for the internal project team. You can include them in the project status reports but it is not essential to do so.

Project vs. Process deliverables

There is yet another distinction you need to make when it comes to deliverables: project vs. process deliverables.

Project deliverables are the big, client-focused accomplishments we talked about earlier. Process deliverables describe the path that will help you create the project deliverables.

Think of all the documents you create in the course of managing a project. You'll start off with a project scope statement, create a project plan, and develop a work breakdown structure. These documents are seldom client-facing. Instead, they're crated for internal stakeholders and the project team to help manage the project better. You can very well run a project without them, though you will likely have a hard time reaching your objective.

All these documents are examples of process deliverables. Creating them is not the goal of the project. But creating them does make reaching the goal much easier.

Some examples of process deliverables are:

  • Statement of work,
  • work breakdown structure (WBS, see Diagram 1…),
  • project scope statement, and
  • the governance plan of the project.


19-08-26 project management 1

Diagram 1: A work breakdown structure (WBS) as an example of a process deliverable (Author: Alexandros Hatzigeorgiou, University of Macedonia (UOM), Department of Accounting and Finance).

(Summarized after 'Complete Project Manager’s Guide to Project Deliverables' by Sylvia Moses, 2018)


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