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Remember Tasks Are Not Deliverables

Paul Naybour Paul Naybour

Published: 6th November 2014

For project team members responsible for specific tasks or activities on a project then it is easy to get caught up in the fine details of those tasks. After all it is the fine detail that is important to complete each task well so the focus on the details is both necessary and understandable. As the project manager too you need to be focussed on individual tasks and activities to monitor progress and assess risks. However, project managers, while needing to look inward to the project team and specific details, also need to have a view of the project from the client’s perspective and that view can be completely different.

Clients are not usually concerned about how a product is put together, this is particularly so when the product is a technical item or piece of software where they may have no need of any relevant technical knowledge in how it is created. So it is important that the project manager also talks the language of the client and reports to them in a meaningful way.

A project is about doing work (tasks/activities) that deliver something of value. That something of value may not always be of value to the client (although it can be); it could, for example, be a building block for another deliverable, which may be the one the client is interested in. So, not only does the project manager have to distinguish tasks from deliverables but also intermediate level deliverables from client deliverables.

An example of this might be creating a new website; the tasks may include designing re-usable page templates, writing content or programming code for library modules – these tasks will probably all be delivered by different people and are necessary deliverables but the client is usually only interested in the layout and the content deliverables not the code, even though this is fundamental to the completed website.

And yet an essential element of project planning is the scheduled list of tasks and activities, with their inter-dependencies so how can you turn the scheduling and monitoring of those activities into a report that will have value to the client?

Project Plan

Can planning tools be better used to focus as much on client deliverables as on the tasks needed to deliver the work? This requires a clear distinction between tasks and deliverables but could help project managers to produce more meaningful progress reports for the clients and, indeed, would also be helpful for more accurately monitoring progress and managing risks.

All too often the effort input into tasks is assumed to be progress when, in fact, that effort could be meaningless if it is not moving the task closer to an actual deliverable; something that can be especially true when a product is just being endlessly “tweaked” without adding any real or significant value.

This distinction between tasks and deliverables could also help to produce more accurate estimates and schedules at the initial planning stages, which would mean the client has more realistic expectations. So, as a project manager, don’t neglect to view the project from the perspective of the client. After all project success is about the quality and timeliness of a final product not the day-to-day tasks that are completed or how hard the team are working.