Objectives and Goals

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The terms objectives and goals seem to be interchangeable in many management discussions. The two terms are very different, and both are essential and fully compatible in results-oriented project management.

Objectives drive the long term outcomes of the project. They reflect the overarching vision and expectations of the project sponsor and key stakeholders. Work streams are formed around objectives, as reflected in the horizontal bars in typical Gantt charts. Interim deliverables provide a way to control the project, but seldom yield value to the customer, who must wait to gain value until all work has been completed and the very last deliverable has been accepted.

A project objective may be something like "Make our line of business more profitable by cutting costs by 20% and increase revenues by 45% within two years."

Goals drive the short term outcomes of the project. They reflect the installments of value en route to reaching the overarching vision and stakeholder expectations. These installments of value - often referred to as showcase results - stand on their own. They are real results, delivering real benefits to real people. They would stand even if the project was subsequently canceled.

A goal may be something like: "Cut costs by 5% and increase profits by 15% within six months in the Southwest region." Upon reaching that goal, the lessons learned could be applied and the rollout of the benefits to the broader national store base would be smoother.

Objectives and goals should all be measurable. Neither should be ambiguous. Having goals allows you to think in terms of something more within your reach. You don't get overwhelmed as with the higher level objectives. You can say "Let's all rally around [you put in your goal here] and I bet we could get it done."

Objectives are the compass heading for the overarching vision. Goals entice the day-day performance. Both are important. Goals make more sense.
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