A deliverable in its most noble form advances some objective of the project, or represents a physical output from the project that furthers the companys objectives and delivers monetary value to the organization.
Where deliverables go wrong is when they become disconnected from the actual objectives of the project, and morph into an end in themselves.
Distilled to their essence, a deliverable should be regarded like any other output of your corporation. They have cost associated to their generation, and should have a corresponding, quantifiable benefit. They must also advance the project towards its ultimate objectives and the corresponding returns associated with completing the project.
While any business process has some supporting steps that do not directly generate value, astute organizations keep these supporting steps to an absolute minimum, and complete them in the most rapid and cost effective manner in order to focus on the core of a process and where it generates value for the organization.
Sadly, many organizations that are quite effective in delivering efficient and cost-effective ongoing operations fall flat in a project environment. Often a key contributor to this project malaise is the deadly deliverable.
Many projects become obsessively focused on deliverables rather than the end-game. Hoards of otherwise intelligent people scramble around leaving a wake of PowerPoints and spreadsheets slicing and analyzing deliverables every which way, focusing all attention on components of the solution, rather than the solution itself.
Traditional project management techniques, unless executed flawlessly, tend to shift the focus away from the end-game as well: chopping a project into phases and tasks, and focusing on completing tasks in sequence rather than completing tasks that will deliver the maximum amount of organizational value.
CIOs and line managers become focused on the percentages tied to each phase, forgetting the fact that each number is based solely on the task and time to complete, not organizational value.
Avoiding The Grim Reaper
How does one avoid this death-by-deliverables? Distill your project into several critical success factors, each with a measurable value to the company.
Much of this work should already have been done and is sitting in a forgotten business justification document collecting dust somewhere.