Plan Your Project: Outcomes, Objectives, and Deliverables

When I plan a project, I start with a single document or whiteboard that contains three headings: Outcomes, Objectives, and Deliverables. What goes under each of those headings? And how do I write each item? I’ve found that how I write the items is a crucial project-management strategy.

I use this method, derived from standard project management thinking, to help me write grant applications. It maps particularly well onto the components prescribed in SSHRC applications of various kinds. But you can use it for a digital humanities project, a curriculum redesign, your summer research plans, a house renovation, or even your weekend garden plans. Eventually, you’ll break down the deliverables into task and sub-tasks, but focussing initially on the Outcomes, Objectives, and Deliverables keeps you out of the weeds of detail.

I’ll give examples from a MoEML plan to finish the old-spelling anthology of the mayoral shows. See the end of the page for a non-scholarly example from a recent garden project.

Outcomes

How do you want the world to be different when your work is done? What do you want to be possible? What do you want people to be able to do?

The world is a big place, and perhaps your project will affect only a small corner of it, but something will be different for someone when you are done.

The standard formula is: X will VERB Y, where X is the user/person/group, the verb spells out the action that will become possible, and Y spells out the direct or indirect object and provides some context.

For the user/person/group, think about who will benefit. Whom are you trying to reach? For whom are you doing this work? It can be yourself, a particular type of person, a group, a country, or even the world.

For the verb, be specific. Use strong, descriptive verbs.

Example from MoEML:

  • Teachers and students will be able to teach and read the pageant books in classrooms.
  • Scholars will produce a new wave of scholarship on these occasional texts, drawing on the historical records, eyewitness accounts, and visual materials in our editions.
  • Geohumanists will generate new insights about place and cultural performance.

Objectives

Objectives are the things you have to do in order to make the outcomes possible. They always begin with a verb and end with a direct or indirect object. “I will” or “We will” is always the implied subject of the sentence. If your project is really big, you might want to specify the person, people, or team who will undertake the objective; if you do specify the person/people/team, then add a comparable subject for each item so that they are grammatically and rhetorically parallel.

Example from MoEML:

  • [The Editorial Team will] Publish the full anthology of mayoral shows.
  • [The Programming Team will] Prototype the edition of the event.
  • [The General Editors will] Break the book to create the polychronic peripatetic edition.

Deliverables

Deliverables are the things you have to get done in order to achieve the objectives and make the outcomes possible. I always write deliverables as nouns. Usually, they are tangible (a file, a document, a tool, a text, a dataset, a database, a webpage, a chapter, a paper, an event). Deliverables are things you can publish, host, put somewhere, or send/read to someone.

You might divide up the deliverables into related groups. For this particular MoEML project, we had content deliverables (to be delivered by the scholarly team) and digital tool deliverables (to be delivered by the programming team). You might also add a date for delivery. SSHRC grants like deliverables spelled out by year; MoEML talks about Y1, Y2, and so on when we are organizing our deliverables.

Example from MoEML:

Content

  • Transcription guidelines (Y1)
  • Finding aid for extant mayoral shows in libraries (YI)
  • Revised editorial declaration for shows (YI)
  • Revised encoding declaration (YI)
  • Finding aid and list of eyewitness accounts (YI)

Digital Tools

  • Facsimile viewer (Y2)
  • Encoding mechanisms for tagging place of performance, using Triumphs of Truth as proof of concept (by Y2)
  • An anthology builder tool (Y3)
  • A TEI model for the event edition (by Y4)
  • A mechanism for rendering an event edition (Y5)

In two forthcoming pages, I’ll talk about how to turn deliverables in tasks, and how to mobilize your project plan for a SSHRC application. For now, I leave you with the fun example.

The Patio Project

Here’s a simplified version of the plan that drove much of my summer in direct and indirect ways. It had a few more moving parts that more than justified our use of a giant white board to plan it out. This project turned out to be dependent on several other projects (because clearing the patio meant moving a large planter box, which meant preparing beds for the plants elsewhere, which meant sifting soil, which precipitated several other projects) but that hydra-headed project is fodder for another page!

Outcomes

  • We will be able to sit in comfort on a shady patio at high noon. [My world will be different when the project is done because the patio is currently in full sun, cluttered with planters, and occupied by an uncomfortable picnic table.]
  • We will increase the food-growing capacity of our yard. [The world will be a tiny bit greener because one household will be eating fewer imported, transported, packaged, and/or sprayed food items.]

Objectives

  • Build a structure over the patio
  • Provide seating
  • Provide shade
  • Grow food

Deliverables

  • A clean slate for building
  • Pergola design
  • Completed pergola
  • Four waterproof chairs
  • An outdoor coffee table
  • Four grapevines