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Project Activity, Deliverables, and Milestones

Now that you have an understanding of project phases and life cycles, you are ready for a description of some common elements that are present in all types of approaches. In this final section, we introduce project activities, deliverables (including their measurement), and project milestones.

Project Activities


An activity—or task, story, work package, or use case—is a scheduled step in a project plan that has a distinct beginning and end. An activity usually involves several substeps; when those substeps are completed, the whole activity can be regarded as completed. Several related activities can be combined to form a summary activity.

Let’s work through an example of a party where food, games, and entertainment are being planned. We might list several activities, such as these:

  • Prepare a proposal for the party and a budget.

  • Identify potential locations.

  • Obtain permission for a venue.

  • Arrange logistics and notify the security personnel and custodians.

  • Identify the food vendor and the menu.

  • Identify the music entertainment vendor.

  • Finalize contracts with vendors.

  • Create the party event committee.

  • Design invitations.

  • Email the invitations and personally invite stakeholders.

  • Conduct a dry run before the event.

  • Execute the party.

  • Come to administrative closure and list lessons learned.

  • Send out a survey.



Project deliverables are measurable outputs of activities. They can be tangible or intangible. You can imagine handing off (delivering) something to the project sponsor or stakeholders at the conclusion of an activity. For the party project example, the following sample list shows activities and the deliverable associated with each activity:

  • Prepare a proposal for the party and a budget: Statement of work or charter

  • Plan for the party and select a final party location: Approved permit or reservation with location, day, date, and time

  • Select the food vendor: Signed contract with the food vendor

  • Collect survey responses: Post-party survey results from participants

It is important to recognize that the overall project itself is associated with a deliverable. The overall product or service being delivered by the project as a whole can be regarded as an end deliverable.

Intermediary deliverables also are present, such as the design and delivery of various project components. The project management process results in specific process deliverables, such as documentation and managerial reports. Examples of intermediary deliverables include:

  • Scope: This might consist of several separate deliverables as the project proceeds, including preliminary requirements, conceptual design, and detailed design.

  • Cost and schedule estimates: These are required at major milestones to report on the status of the project.

  • Intermediate project components: These might include early prototypes and partial project deliverables.

  • Project management reports: These include monthly reports, containing cost and schedule data, project status, risk updates, stakeholder issues, and so on.

Measuring Deliverables


Every deliverable must be checked for compliance with the scope, schedule, and budget. The outcomes hinge on assessing or measuring the quality and acceptability of the deliverable. Therefore, when the deliverables are proposed, the project manager must consider how they are to be assessed and measured; this is a necessary step in defining a deliverable. Examples of measurable deliverables include miles of roadway completed, pages of document completed, and square meters of wall painted. Even deliverables such as software can be measurable if they are described correctly according to their functions (for example, “A new customer can register a new account successfully by using the customer account registration function”).

Let’s get into a bit more detail. When you propose a document as a deliverable, for example, someone knowledgeable about the deliverable should be able to provide an expected outline and maybe even an expected page count. Besides helping to better describe the deliverable, these measures are essential because they provide a foundation for cost and schedule estimation, especially if the organization has a good idea of how many units per hour, day, or week a typical employee can produce. If a road construction crew can pave 3 kilometers of roadway per day, and the total crew typically is paid a certain overall set of wages per day, then knowing the total length of roadway defined by the end deliverable will assist the project manager in estimating the time to completion and the total labor cost estimate for this deliverable.

When a deliverable is defined and then assigned to a given resource, these measures can communicate what level of effort is expected. At any given elapsed point in time, you can then reasonably measure the progress against expectations estimated for that elapsed time. If actual deliverables are only half of what was expected, for example, then you immediately know that you have a problem and should investigate how to get the progress back on track.


A milestone is a significant point or event in the project. The term originated from the ancient Roman Empire. The Romans were famous for building roadways across thousands of miles, and many of them remain visible today. Figure 4-14 shows an example of a Roman milestone—a marker made of stone that was placed along a roadway and engraved with the distance from the milestone to specific destinations in the Roman Empire. These milestones enabled the Roman army generals to calculate how long it would take to move troops from one area of the empire to another. Merchants and travelers also used these milestones to determine where they were on a given roadway that could be correlated to a map. In other words, the milestones were markers providing specific geolocation information that could be used to predict the time and cost in getting from one place to another. Highway construction engineers use similar markers on our roads today, although they are no longer made of stone; they are usually small signposts set at regular intervals along a highway, each with a code that corresponds to the distance from the start of the highway.

Figure 4-14

Figure 4-14 A Milestone from the Ancient Roman Empire

Just as milestones informed the ancient Romans—and still inform today’s land travelers—milestones are used in project management to allow a project manager to track progress along the timeline of a project. Milestones can be used to designate the completion of certain segments or deliverables for a project. Complex projects may have many milestones in the timeline, and they are helpful in determining how much work has been completed and how much remains to be done.


Like the markers of stone in ancient Rome, a project milestone is an event that marks either the beginning or the end of activities. A milestone has no duration or resources assigned; it is simply a marker for reference. Project software tools can typically show views of milestone completion, comparisons of estimates with actual progress, and so on.

At the point of project planning and estimating, each milestone should have a target date associated with it that shows the expected point at which all the activities before that milestone will be completed. During project planning, the date associated with the milestone is the planned milestone completion date; after successful execution, it becomes the actual milestone completion date.

For example, completing the definition of project scope is typically a major milestone for projects. Completing project planning is another major milestone; it marks the completion of the project management plan deliverable and the customer’s acceptance of the plan. This type of milestone might be called Project Planning Complete and is first given a planned date of completion and then given the actual date when the customer accepts the plan.

In this final section, we have introduced the idea of using project activities as a way to define the steps needed for project completion; project deliverables (including their measurement) as the means through which we can determine that a project has met its expectations of scope; and project milestones, which provide markers along the project timeline that can be used to measure estimated and actual progress. These concepts are universal with regard to project approach: They are integral in helping a project manager ensure successful project completion, no matter which development approach is chosen.

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