When managing a project, the bottom line is knowing what the deliverables entail. “Deliverables” is a catch-all term one always hears in business, and it would be easy to think it refers to physical products one receives, but it’s far more wide-ranging than that.

What Are Deliverables?

Essentially, deliverables are the output of a project. But there are a few kinds of deliverables: internal and external deliverables, and project and process deliverables.

External deliverables are the services or products that a client or customer has engaged a company to provide. It’s something your business creates for sale to generate income for the company.

Internal deliverables are tasks and work completed within the company that is not customer-driven but a requirement for successfully running the business. Filing taxes, doing paperwork and managing accounts are all considered internal. Internal deliverables will never cross a client’s desk but they may be produced for authorities like the IRS or licensing bodies. They are still within (internal) your company, or necessary for the running of your company.

Project deliverables and process deliverables both fall under the category of external deliverables since they relate to client-based work. Project deliverables are client-directed results; any products and services that are to be provided to the client as a result of the project.

Process deliverables, on the other hand, are any of the work performed to complete the project deliverable. They are documents, plans, mock-ups, any clarifications on the scope and even work-structure breakdowns that are created for the internal team.

Understanding Project Deliverables

When customers or clients engage a business to provide a service or sell a product to them, the result they receive is the project deliverable. It can be a physical product, but it can also be something intangible, like a service, a report or a computer file.

For example, when an airline contracts Boeing to come up with a new aircraft for them, they’ll specify what they require from the plane – from the size, to seating and design. The plane becomes the deliverable. And if a company holds an internal conference and hires a transcriber to record and document the event, their transcription files are also deliverables.

Deliverables can be creative output, hardware, software, documents, equipment and other services. They can be short-term jobs or massively complex long-term projects.

The more clearly deliverables are defined in project contracts, the smoother the delivery process will go.

Defining Project Deliverables

It’s not enough to say what it is that will be delivered at the end of the project. It’s essential to have a clear scope, costs and timelines set out in the deliverables contract so both parties agree as to what will be delivered, when it will be delivered and for how much.

For example, suppose you’re contracting for delivery of a new corporate website for your clothing company. The more specifics you can provide for what you require of the website, the more likely you are to have the deliverables you desire.

Therefore, outlining the deliverables should entail listing all the aspects you’ll need from the website:

  • A dynamic e-commerce portal where customers can see clothing in multiple views with zoom-in capabilities. 
  • Customers can purchase online with credit cards, PayPal and Interac in multiple currencies.
  • Integrating mailing list aggregation is on the marketing department’s wish list. 
  • The product department wants the website to be easily updated with new product, but it must also adjust the company’s inventory 24/7, so products aren’t oversold or left unsold due to poor data-tracking.

Each of these aspects can be detailed in the project contract. Process deliverables will then be decided upon internally by the project team in a way that moves the project ahead quickly so that the external deliverables deadlines can be met.

In this instance, there may be more than one deliverable. The first might be the mock-up of the website design, and the second deliverable will be the functioning website or the wireframe. The first deliverable will need approval before the second deliverable can be created, and the contract will need to have the deliverables acceptance criteria clarified.

Steps in Defining Deliverables

The two most important words to keep in mind when defining deliverables are “specific” and “measurable.”

Specifics come in the project planning phase, and it’s where the details will be set out for what needs to be the result; the deliverable. Once the specifics are confirmed, the costs and labor can be figured out, and a budget client-approved.

Milestones are part of the “measurable” aspect of the deliverables, but they’re for internal use – process deliverables – just a checkpoint of sorts on the road to completing the project and releasing the client’s work.

Another aspect of the measurable part of project deliverables is that they must meet acceptance criteria. To this end, the client must be clear in what they need during the contract-writing, or they may have little recompense if their deliverables fall short of what they envisioned.

Baselines and Milestones

Either you’re working on a project that requires deliverables, or you’re engaging to receive deliverables. One way or the other, the project needs baselines and milestones to ensure success.

Project baselines can be either the scope baseline, the schedule baseline or the cost baseline. Together, they’re performance-measurement baselines and they are not defined until project planning is completed. They are to be a framework for oversight as the project gets underway.

The cost baseline is the expected budget. Scope covers what the full range of the project is and what the expectations and outcome should be. The schedule is the timeline for execution and delivery. If, or when, project details change, it must be noted and the baselines will need to be changed.

In monitoring the accuracy of baselines, milestones are important. Milestones are tasks or achievements which when completed help expedite the final deliverables of any project. Milestones can be large accomplishments, like the framing being completed in a new warehouse, or something like a contract being signed. Generally, milestones are an internal function, a means of monitoring progress that helps the project team stay on target for completion dates.

If a project’s milestones are being missed or baselines are shifting, it means the deliverables may not meet the deadline.

Managing Project Deliverables 

Scope creep can derail deliverables if the project’s scope expands after things have begun. To limit this, be clear about what deliverables are involved with the initial project agreement and build in additional time and budget as needed if new deliverables are added. Be sure to get approval from all stakeholders in these instances.

Clients and other stakeholders can improve the project’s success via their input about what the acceptance criteria should be. Be clear on the intended end use of the deliverable’s and what its purpose is, to ensure you’re meeting the needs and requirements of the deliverables.

Employ project management software to keep everyone on-target and up-to-date about the progress of the project and how much more work needs to be done for completion. This can be especially productive where there are more than one external deliverable. Ensure that processes, timelines and objectives are explicit and straightforward, and delegate tasks.