So what are we supposed to do? What are they looking for?
Why don't they just tell us what they want?

I hear these and similar questions from employees fairly frequently as they try to determine what their managers really want them to do with a project. What are they supposed to deliver?

The questions are straight-forward; however, they shouldn't have to be asked in the first place. Not if the managers do their jobs well in clarifying expectations.

One of the key responsibilities of a manager is to be able to clarify what the desired outcome is -- or in the case of implementing projects -- what the deliverable needs to be. So what is "the deliverable?"

The deliverable is the end-product, service, or other tangible thing that is expected to be "delivered" as a result of the project or action. A defined deliverable allows both the "asker" and the "doer" to clearly understand what must be accomplished and delivered so the asker (a.k.a. the manager) can mark the project or action off as "Completed."

That's easy to say, but not as easy to do for many inexperienced managers. Why? Because to clearly define a deliverable before the work is done, one needs to think into the future, problem-solve, and challenge resources that are probably already strained. Managers also need to be able to specify what they believe the end-product needs to be to solve the problem as they currently under- stand it. That takes a combination of expertise and intuition. In addition, the managers need to be able to clearly articulate what that end result (i.e., the deliverable) needs to be so everyone who hears it will develop the same image of it in his or her brain. This allows all necessary staff to work towards the same end-result.
Less confusion; more clarity; more action.

The easiest way I know to help my clients achieve this clarity is to simply answer the question: What will I need to see from you to so I can mark this project off as 'Complete?' Do I need to see the software up & running, or do I simply need to see that we've purchased it? Will I need to see you operating the WY7000 at targeted rate by next Friday, or do I simply need to know you've had training on it? Will I need to have a report with recommendations for redesigning the office areas on my desk in 90 days, or will I need to have already selected a plan so we are sitting in redesigned office space within 90 days?

Whatever the deliverable is - it is. When the doers know what is expected, they can plan accordingly. However, it's up to the managers to provide the answer to the core question:
When is this complete?

Copyright 2008 - Liz Weber, CMC - Weber Business Services, LLC.
WBS is a team of Strategic Planning and Leadership Development Consultants, Trainers, and Speakers. Liz can be reached at or (717)597-8890.
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Author's Bio: 

In the words of one client, "Liz Weber will help you see opportunities you never knew existed."

A sought-after consultant, speaker, and seminar/workshop presenter, Liz is known for her candor, insights, and her ability to make the complex "easy." She creates clarity for her audiences during her results-oriented presentations and training sessions.

Participants walk away from her sessions knowing how to implement the ideas she's shared not just once, but over and over to ensure continuous improvement and management growth and development.

This former Dragon Lady has been there, done it, and learned from it. Whether speaking to corporate executives or government agency personnel, Liz's comments and insights ring true.

As the President of Weber Business Services, LLC, a management consulting, training, and speaking firm headquartered near Harrisburg, PA, Liz and her team of consultants provide strategic and succession planning, management policy & systems development, employee training, as well as marketing and media outreach services.

Liz has supervised business activities in 139 countries and has consulted with organizations in over 20 countries. She has designed and facilitated conferences from Bangkok to Bonn and Tokyo to Tunis. Liz has taught for the Johns Hopkins University's Graduate School of Continuing Studies and currently teaches with the Georgetown University's Senior Executive Leadership Program.

Liz is the author of 'Leading From the Manager's Corner', and 'Don't Let 'Em Treat You Like a Girl - A Woman's Guide to Leadership Success (Tips from the Guys)'. Her 'Manager's Corner' column appears monthly in several trade publications and association newsletters.