What are project deliverables? What are milestones? And what are project activities? Are they the same thing? What’s the relationship between them?
Deliverables, milestones and activities are conveniently defined for us by PMI – don’t worry, I have a little more here than definitions. Here are the definitions:
A project deliverable are any unique and verifiable product, result, or capability to perform a service that is produced to complete a process, phase or project.
A project milestone is a significant point in a project, program or portfolio.
And a project activity is a distinct, scheduled portion of work performed during the course of a project.
Okay, glad they cleared that up…
Simple version – starting with deliverables. Deliverables are things. Anything that you create or construct in the project that brings the project closer to completing it’s scope is a deliverable.
What this will look like will differ greatly from project to project. If you’re updating processes as part of your project, the creation of a process map would be a deliverable. If you’re making software then having a piece of code that creates a user interface is an example of a deliverable. If you’re building something, like a vehicle of some sort – when the electrical elements are completed, that’s a deliverable.
The test of whether it’s a deliverable though is mentioned in the definition – is it verifiable? You have to be able to prove that the deliverable exists. Using the examples I just gave, you could show the process map, you could interact with the user interface and you can switch the lights on in your boat. All are evidence that it exists.
Can an activity be a deliverable? No, because the activity is the work done to arrive at the deliverable. Having meetings and drawing process maps, sitting at a desk all day coding, or wiring electricity cables from place to place.
Is it a deliverable a milestone? That’s a little more complicated, because the completion of a deliverable could indicate the completion of a milestone. A milestone is a marker that a point in the project has been reached, often something significant. That milestone could be the completion of the review cycle for your process maps, the completion of user testing for your software, or the completion of furnishing the inside of your super yacht.
Now for a bonus tip.
It’s a variation of something I mentioned previously in a video about project status reporting. I mentioned that when writing project status reports, nobody cares about your activities – they just care about the deliverables and the milestones. The tip then is to take what you’ve learned here and to look at your most recent project status report and try to identify within the progress reported section whether you are talking about activities, deliverables or milestones. Remove the activities and replace them with deliverables and milestones – and highlight the milestones in some subtle way. Take another look at your report – there may be less content now, but does it seem more like a report that your bosses can look at and appreciate?
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