Manage deliverables, not tasks

One of our most basic tools for regaining control of a project that is at risk

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is the deliverables list or deliverables-based work breakdown structure.   Not a task list, but the most basic list of what the project is chartered to produce.   It starts with the product and then flows from there.

With your deliverables in front of you at all times, you will be able to assess whether stakeholder demands, tactical activities or overly-narrow application of methodology may be introducing risk or leaving gaps in the project outcome, or product.

Complex projects can be very “noisy” with multiple stakeholders making conflicting demands.   Project management tools often emphasize task lists over deliverables with durations and reporting on percent complete.   Methodologies include granular checklists of documentation to fill out and review.   Management utters utters general pronouncements of urgency or panic as deadlines loom.

However activity is not progress and documentation is not delivery.   General declamations of urgency can backfire and lead to chaos.   Methodologies, no matter how well spelled out, can leave gaps when applied to any specific unique project, introducing risk.

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A recent example that I observed involved the delivery of an integrated system of multiple software and hardware packages.   The methodology in question called for multiple testing groups to exercise the system which would, in theory, validate end-to-end operation.   However in this particular case, although all groups executed their activities according to the methodology completely and flawlessly… there was still a gap and the ultimate product would not have been delivered.

A lead who was “outside” the methodology stepped back, acknowledged that everyone had done their job, and simply asked if the ultimate product would be delivered.   The answer was “no.”   Because no one had focused earlier on the deliverable, but only on their activities, an unnecessary risk had been introduced to the project.    In fact the product was threatened to the extent that the project might have had no business case.   Subsequent activity focused on meeting that deliverable — other activities received lower priority.

Managing to deliverables can help you sort through the “clutter” of your project and identify gaps, avoid risk, and appropriately prioritize your activities.   Ultimately keeping an eye on your deliverables will help you protect the business for your project.



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