The definition of goals, strategies and objectives can be difficult to define. However, through practice and the use of some common definitions, you can start to identify and tell the difference. 

Business Goals

TenStep does not use the term “project goals”. Goals are set at the organization level – not the project level. Objectives are at the project level.

Goals are high-level statements that describe what are organization is trying to focus on for the next three to five years. For example an organization goal might be to “increase the overall satisfaction levels for clients calling to the company helpdesk with support needs”. Because the goal is at a high-level, it may take more than one project to achieve. In the above example, there may be a technology component to increasing client satisfaction. There may also be new procedures, new training classes, reorganization of the helpdesk department and modification of the company rewards system. It may take many projects over a long period of time to achieve the goal. The goal should reference the business benefit in terms of cost, speed and/or quality. In the prior example, the focus is on quality of service.

If you can measure the achievement of your goal, it is probably written at too low a level and is more of an objective. If your goal is not achievable through any combination of projects, it is probably written at too high a level. In the above example, you could envision one or more projects that could end up achieving a higher level of client satisfaction. A goal statement that says you are trying to achieve a perfect client experience is not possible with any combination of projects. It may instead be a vision statement, which is a higher-level statement showing direction and aspiration, but which may never actually be achieved.

Business Strategies

Business goals tell you what is important. Strategies tell you how you are going to achieve the goals. There may be many ways to achieve your business goals. Your organization’s strategies are a high-level set of directives that articulate how the organization will achieve the goals, and ultimately move toward its long-term vision.

Projects may be authorized that contribute directly to the business goals, or the project may contribute to a strategy. For example, many organizations want to get better at project management. Getting better at project management is not a goal in itself. It is more of a “how” so it better aligns to strategy. Your organization could have a strategy to execute projects more effectively and a project management initiative can align to this strategy. 

Project Objectives

Objectives are concrete statements that describe the things the project is trying to achieve. An objective should be written at level that it can be evaluated at the conclusion of a project to see whether it was achieved. A well-worded objective can be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-bound (SMART). SMART is a technique for wording the objective. An objective does not absolutely have to be SMART to be valid.

An example of an objective statement might be to “upgrade the customer service telephone system by December 31 to achieve average client wait times of no more than two minutes“.

  • Note that the objective is much more concrete and specific than the goal statement.
  • The objective is measurable in terms of the average client wait times the new phone system is trying to achieve.
  • You can assume that the objective is achievable and realistic.
  • The objective is time-bound, and should be completed by December 31.

Objectives should refer to the deliverables of the project. In the prior example, the objective refers to the upgrade of the telephone system. If you cannot determine the deliverables that are created to achieve the objective, the objective may be written at too high a level. 

Objectives are important because they show an agreement between the project manager and the project sponsor on the main purpose of the project. The objectives should be written in a way that they are understandable by all of the project stakeholders. Objectives are also valuable since they provide alignment to organization goals and strategies. Your organization should not authorize projects that do not tie to goals or strategies

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