Planning: Determining Your Project's Outcomes, Goals and Objectives

Success is what you define.  

If arriving in New York on Tuesday is your objective, showing up at the city limits at 11:45pm would be considered a success.  What if the reason you needed to be in New York was for a conference that started at 10am on Tuesday?  Then arriving at 11:45pm would be a failure.  Simply saying you didn’t commit to being there by 10am would not change the fact that you missed the conference – and in the opinion of others, you failed. 

The two keys to setting your projects outcomes, goals and objectives; 

1.     Get the Details

2.    Publicize your Project Goals.

Get the Details

Asking the right questions will help you create comprehensive project goals and outcomes. 

  • Why? Why are we doing this project? Why is it important? Why is it important to the individual stakeholders? 

  • What?  What problem is this project expected to solve?  What criteria will be used to measure success or failure?  What deliverables are expected from this project? What does success look like? 

  • Who? Who has an investment in the outcome of the project?  Who will determine the success of the project? 

Let’s look at the terms Goals,Outcomes and Objectives

  • Goals are broad – describing success in general terms.

  • Outcomes are more specific – describing the goal in measurable terms. 

  • Objectives are the measurements of success – describing the precise measurement expected. 

For example:

  •  Goal
    “Improve customer service.”

  • Outcome
    “Decrease the number of customer complaints.” 

  • Objective
    “A 15% decrease in customer complaints regarding product delivery.” 

Ultimately, you want to get to specific, measurable objectives – this is the proof that your project is successful.  You can see that if you simply define broad goals, such as; “Improve customer service” – success in this area could be determined in a variety of ways.  In the mind of one stakeholder a decrease in customer complaints maybe their perception of success where as another stakeholder might want to see a reduction in the time to deliver the product.  Both would be outcomes for the goal, but you need to get these out on the table, discussed and documented.  The more you understand everyone’s perception of success the more likely that you will be able to meet their expectations and be “successful”.  

When you are documenting your project’s objectives think in terms of SMARTgoals.  

Specific – clearly defined and understood.

Measurable – an objective that can be quantified and has a means of demonstrating the measurement.

Achievable – an objective that is achievable within the timeframe, the available resources, etc.

Relevant – objectives relevant to the project and aligned with the business or organizational goals.

Timely – and objectives that have a specific deliverable date.  

Successful project management requires clearly defined goals, outcomes and objectives.  Once these are clearly defined in measurable and meaningful terms you can then architect a project plan to achieve success. 

Publicize your Project Goals.

Defining success is the first step, next you must publicize and broadcast these goals and objectives to your project stakeholders. 

During the project it is likely that your stakeholders will change their perception of success.  They may want to add or change the initial goals and objectives.  

To help manage the inevitable changes, you will need to make your objectives well known – this is more than just publishing them in a document.   Put them on your status reports.  Share them repeated in stakeholder meetings.  Your team and stakeholders will grow tired of hearing them. But that’s okay.  

Each time you review the terms of success you open the door for your stakeholders to share their new definition of success.  Don’t ignore these comments.  Nail them down.  It is important to clearly define and agree on what is being accomplished and what success looks like for your project.  You may need to subsequent phase to your project, you may need a change order, you may not be able to achieve what they want --- it is important to capture this information and articulate that to your stakeholders.  

Remember, the project plan defines success and if you missed a critical piece, like that a conference is at 10am in New York, arriving on Tuesday at 11:45pm is not success.  

Success is a perception, manage the perception.