Most projects go through several stages depending on how large or complex they are. In the initial stages the expected outcomes are decided, and the planning is done with the objective of achieving those outcomes within the constraints of time, budget, and quality.
In a complex project, there are several things that can go wrong. The planning may not have been sufficient. The expectations may have been different for each stakeholder, the budget may be inadequate. These problems in planning or in execution will usually surface only when someone realizes that the progress of the project is slow, or the outcomes are different from expectations.
At this point a significant amount of work has already gone in. To do a course correction or to bring the entire project back on track will be challenging. The effort that went into the project and the effort required to set things right could have been avoided if the issues were spotted at an earlier stage.
What could be done to ensure that such wasted efforts can be avoided? How can the issues be identified before they become a drain on all resources? This is where identifying and defining the deliverables for a project plays an important role.
Projects that are big and complex need to be broken down into stages, processes, components, categories, or any other classification that could make it easier to understand what is happening on a day-to-day basis. Without such a classification, it would be hard for anyone to understand what the work is that is happening, how it contributes to the project or even why it is needed.
Dividing the project and tasks into small measurable parts helps all stakeholders measure the project progress. These small parts are the deliverables.
Project Managers may tend to classify deliverables according to their preferences or the nature of the project. A deliverable may be internal or external. A task that does not have an impact on the customer would be classified as an internal delivery. For example, it could be a piece of internal communication. An external deliverable may be an update to the website or app.
By closely tracking these deliverables, you can make sure that the project is staying on track. Any part of the project that is not meeting the outcomes can be identified and rectified at an early stage.
It falls to the Project Manager to group the various stages of the project into sets of deliverables that can be completed and measured at brief time intervals. This assures all the stakeholders that the project is going smoothly according to plan and allows for enough transparency across the different teams working on the project.
When defining a deliverable, it’s important to include guidelines in terms of what would be the acceptable quality, and what constitutes a deliverable being completed. The effectiveness of a project plan depends on how clearly deliverables are defined. By measuring the quality, timeliness, and frequency of these deliverables, you can be reassured that the project is progressing in a way that is on track to achieve the desired outcomes.
A project plan, or a status report are also deliverables. There is a distinction to be made here between project deliverables and product deliverables. While project deliverables track important variables that measure the health of the project, they do not relate directly to adding value to external customers. Project reports can improve the confidence of external stakeholders but are not directly related to a solution for the customer.
Product deliverables, on the other hand, relate to those deliverables that contribute to a product or solution for customers. By including both kinds of deliverables in a plan, you can ensure that apart from the work on the product there is also a robust mechanism in place to track progress according to predefined and expected outcomes.
A milestone is a term that is often confused with a deliverable. Both concepts are distinct and each of them serves a different purpose. A milestone signifies reaching a particular phase in a project, while a deliverable deals with meeting a smaller goal that is more clearly defined. There can be overlaps between deliverables and milestones. For example, meeting a deliverable may coincide with or result in reaching a milestone.
Milestones signify different stages in a project. Tracking milestones alone will not give you a clear idea of how well the project is progressing. Milestones are achieved by completing a set of activities that could involve several deliverables. Without tracking the deliverables there is no way to ensure that a project is meeting its goals in terms of quality and expected outcomes.
Checking progress only at milestones may lead to a lot of wasted effort and the need for course correction at an advanced stage. Milestones are too few in each project to provide an accurate checkpoint for progress.
Deliverables always deal with a tangible outcome or result that can be measured, while milestones can be conceptual. Both are important to a project, but a focus on deliverables will ensure that project goals are met, and the outcome is closer to what was expected.
As with most things, new and evolving software has had a big impact on project management. As projects become larger and more complex, it becomes difficult for a project manager or even a team to keep track of all the deliverables and all the issues affecting them. A robust project management software can make the task a lot easier for everyone involved.
Using project management software would help the project at every stage. Even in the planning stage, a software tool could prompt users to define each deliverable and the expected outcome more accurately. It could also show how it is linked to other deliverables and where exactly it fits in the bigger picture.
It also helps when all stakeholders have access to the deliverables that are important to them, and they can be monitored continuously and in real time.
One important question to be answered is if the project is too small or has too few activities involved in it, should the team make the effort to use a tool? If the components and activities are straightforward and can be completed in a short timeframe, there is no real value add by introducing a new tool or software. Instead, the new process would only add unnecessary time and effort to the project.
Another important consideration is to think about whether the new tool or software would meet the expectations of all the stakeholders involved. Any change made to how the project is managed should not disrupt the ways in which the other stakeholders get updates or communication related to the project. In such cases where things do change, the stakeholders should be brought on board to the new way of working.
The amount of advantages and features that project management software offers makes it an easy decision to use one. It makes life easier for everyone involved. The harder choice is to decide which software to use.
A range of project management software tools are available based on the project needs. You can pick software or tools that you find most compatible for the organization or for the project.
Deliverables provide a way to check the health of a project by measuring the progress of work against the pre-defined expected outcomes. By keeping track of deliverables, you can carry out quick course corrections and find issues before they become major roadblocks to the project.
Project Management is not a new development. Some of the tools used are over a hundred years old (GANTT chart was introduced in 1917). In the last couple of decades in the 20th century software in project management started to flourish.
The rise and speed of the internet has enabled bigger and more complex projects that are spread out globally. Labor costs move job roles to different countries where labor is available at a cheaper rate. Teams tend to be more diverse and distributed today. There is also an emphasis on meeting requirements quickly and delivering value to the customer in a shorter amount of time.
In this environment of rapid development, and changing nature of the workforce, it has become even more important for a project manager to focus on deliverables to make sure the project is set to achieve its desired outcomes.
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