What Are Deliverables? A Guide for Project Managers

Project deliverables

As a project manager, you’re probably used to throwing around the term deliverables on a daily basis. You know your projects include a list of them, that your team members are responsible for producing them, and that they’re crucial to the success of the business. But do you and your team really understand what they are or how to craft them? 

In this post, we’ll present a clear definition for deliverables, show you how you can define them in a way that makes your projects run smoother and more efficiently, and give you concrete examples from a major project. 

What is a deliverable? 

Project managers discuss deliverables constantly, but when it comes time to define the term it’s surprisingly difficult for even the most experienced PMs. 

Put simply, a deliverable is a product or service created or performed in the completion of a project. When you consider a project, there are elements of input (what goes into the project such as time, resources, information, etc.) and elements of output — the deliverables.

For example, if one task within a project is to create a blog post, the deliverables could include a brief (provided by the stakeholder or requester), blog post copy (to be completed by a writer), and blog post image files (to be delivered by a graphic designer). 

What are key deliverables? 

While you may hear the term ‘key deliverables’ used interchangeably with ‘deliverables’, it’s helpful to think of these as separate concepts. Although a deliverable can be produced in connection to a project, key deliverables are the main outputs set and produced in the completion of a project. The overall project might have a list of 30 deliverables altogether, but perhaps just 5 key deliverables. 

An internal vs. external deliverable 

Many project managers separate deliverables by whether they’re internal or external. 

  • Internal deliverables: Any work that is not customer-facing or part of doing business with clients and customers (ie. doing payroll, creating internal communications or documents, etc.). These things need to be done to keep your business going, but aren’t directly tied to any revenue generation. 
  • External deliverables: Work that is customer-facing and which directly fulfills client needs (ie. client presentations, websites, etc.). If it is going to contribute to business growth or revenue generation, it is most likely external. 

How to define and outline project deliverables

As a project manager, you know that breaking down a giant, cross-organizational project into manageable deliverables can be a challenge. You not only need to understand what work is required — but who to assign it to. 

The work breakdown structure

This is where something like the work breakdown structure comes in handy. This hierarchical breakdown of all deliverables required for a project to be considered complete is an extremely useful tool for PMs. 

You start with your main project, say a complete company rebrand, and work backwards to create a flow chart of key deliverables (and any smaller components that feed into these). This allows you to clearly lay out and track deliverables according to your designated timeline. 

Now that you have a basic structure and template in place, it’s time to actually define the deliverables of your project. 

Deliverable definition

As mentioned above with the work breakdown structure, an efficient way to approach defining deliverables is to work backwards from the overall objective or goal. 

While this might still seem overwhelming, the following questions are a good place to start: 

  • What is the main goal of the project, from the client’s point of view? 
  • What are the separate parts of the project? For example, if the project was a puzzle, what would the different pieces be that create the whole?
  • How important is each of these pieces to the overall project? 
  • How will this piece or part be created? 
  • Who will create or be responsible for this piece? 
  • What is the timeline? 
  • How much will each piece cost (time, resources, etc.)? 

Deliverable requirements 

Once the deliverables are defined, the project manager needs to look into the requirements for each. It’s easy enough to create a list of deliverables, but making sure they’re actually relevant and help achieve the overall goal is the tougher part. 

For example, if you’re a branding agency and your main project is to present an overall brand refresh for a company, it might need to meet these requirements: 

  • Incorporate current branding guidelines or color palettes 
  • Include a new style guide for all employees to reference
  • Include an integration plan for launching on the client’s site and social channels

To gather and understand the requirements — and save your team from having to waste time redoing work — ask the following questions: 

  • Who are the key stakeholders for the project? Who gets the final say? This could be anyone from a creative director to the client business’ CEO. 
  • Is this something we’ve done before? Perhaps your team has created similar deliverables within a project in the past which could be referenced. 
  • Who is the target persona or end user? Who are the client’s customers? What special requirements are necessary to increase user experience? 
  • How will the success of this deliverable be measured? 

Tips for defining project deliverables 

Now that you have an overall idea for what goes into defining project deliverables, we’ve got some tips to help make the process as effective for project managers as possible. 

Tie them to KPIs

In order to set a clear path for success, your deliverables need to be measurable. Do a deep dive into each one and make sure they’re reasonable by developing metrics, deadlines, and goals for each phase for the project. Don’t forget about project scope and budget while completing this process. 

Set expectations

When defining deliverables, make sure everyone on your team, as well as stakeholders and clients, understand what their role in the project is. Clearly communicate deliverables and goals with all of those involved before the actual project kick-off to avoid confusion or conflict.

Identify deadlines

As you create your list of deliverables, ensure you’re assigning tangible deadlines to each one. Since some deliverables will rely on the completion of others before them, you want to make sure your projects don’t hit any roadblocks or delays due to planning issues. 

Involve key stakeholders 

In the same train of thought as setting expectations, project managers should consider involving key stakeholders in the deliverable definition stage. We’re not saying you need to get the input of 20 team members in order to proceed, but understanding the main goals and needs of your stakeholders will do wonders when it comes to keeping your project on track — without any confusion or major pivots. 

Review and approve

Once you’ve defined them, take the time to sit down and review. Is there anything missing? Could some be omitted or simplified? This is a great time to get the input of any additional stakeholders as a final measure of due diligence. 

Project deliverable examples

So you get how to define your deliverables, but are wondering what these might actually look like in the context of a real project. To help paint a complete picture, let’s take a look at what a list of deliverables could look like if your company was an agency hired to do a branding overhaul for another business. 

While each key deliverable listed would most likely include smaller tasks and outputs, this gives you an idea of the main project components. 

Project: Brand overhaul

Phase 1  

DeliverableAssignee(s)
Industry researchData Analyst, Brand Strategist
Content audit of current brand assetsContent Director 
Project outlineProject manager

Phase 2

DeliverableAssignee(s)
Revised brand strategy (values, mission, messaging framework)Brand Strategist
Brand identity (core brand pillars)Creative Director
Content and digital marketing strategyContent Director, Copywriters, Art Director, Graphic Designers
Mood board Art Director, Graphic Design Team
Paid advertising strategyPaid Advertising Specialist, Digital Strategist
Client presentationContent Director, Copywriters, Art Director, Graphic Designers, Brand Strategist
Website wireframe proposalWeb Developer

Phase 3

DeliverableAssignee(s)
Brand logo, image, and typography filesGraphic Designer, Art Director
Photography and illustration style guideGraphic Designer, Art Director, Photographer
Tone of voice document and style guide Copywriter, Content Director
Social media assetsGraphic Designer
Website designUX Designer, Web Developer
Website copyCopywriter
Website launchWeb Developer
Training manual for clientTechnical Writer

Ready to deliver?

Deliverables are one of the most important aspects to any project manager’s job. Once you know how to define your project deliverable, establish requirements, and assign to the appropriate team members, you set your project — and the business — up for success.