Project goals and objectives

by Edward Witchey

Project goals and objectives are developed early in both project management and business analysis. In project management, goals and objectives are defined during the creation of the project charter. In business analysis, goals and objectives are defined during the needs assessment. In both areas, goals and objectives are often interchanged and misunderstood. The development of goals and objectives helps clarify the business need and the scope of either the project or the product. This is used exclusively to eliminate uncertainty and to align the project or the product with the goals, objectives, and overall strategy of the organization.

Alignment is key to sound project management. The project manager needs to ensure that the project is justified and executed for the right reasons. Goals and objectives help in this alignment by providing perspective, margins, and the overall target for the project. For many organizations, it would be seen as a waste of time and resources if a project was undertaken that didn’t align with the goals and objectives of the organization. Goals and objectives, developed early, provide a sound foundation on which to base scope and requirements. Fully articulated goals and objectives can be directly linked to requirements to ensure those requirements are within the scope of the project and add value. They are also instrumental in reducing scope creep.

Goals and objectives both have different levels that define them. While they are different, they work together to break down actionable and measurable statements that help support the business targets of the strategic plan. Goals can be broken down into multiple categories, including organizational, business, and project. For example, an organizational goal for a company might be to “lead the industry in technical support.” At the next tier down, a related business goal might be “to sustain a high level of customer satisfaction.” A project goal to support the business goal might be “to reduce customer complaints.” Goals are more comprehensive and help an organization support its strategy and vision.  

Objectives follow the same tiered level of definition but are more specific and look to support an overarching goal. Staying with our previous example, an organizational objective might be to “be the number one company of technical support according to industry standards.” Different from the organization’s goal, this objective now adds a specific attribute to measure against, which is an industry-standard. A business objective might be to “maintain a 4-star rating or higher on all customer feedback surveys.” A project objective might be to “reduce issue response time from 4 hours to 2 hours.” For objectives to be feasible, they must have qualities that allow them to be tracked and measured.  Often, this is done by associating a specific time period or some quantifiable value. Also, they should align with the objectives of the organization and be within the capabilities of the organization.

Together goals and objectives help to shape the desired outcomes that a business wants to achieve for a project or a product. As we’ve seen, they are very similar but function in very specific ways. Goals are the broad outcomes, and objectives are specific actions that help achieve a goal. They are invaluable in setting a project or product design on the correct path to success. 


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