Running a project without objectives is like planning a wedding without a groom. Or a bride. Or a venue and a date.

Basically, you’re planning a bad party for yourself.

Goals and objectives are the very reason you are running your project, to begin with, and should never be an afterthought you come up with mid-process.

If this is old news to you – kudos. But, too often, this statement is not as obvious as you might think.

When working as a project manager in a fast-paced environment, it’s not unheard of to plow full speed ahead into a project that was dropped on your lap without fully understanding the project’s objectives.

That’s why you need to get into the habit of writing down complete and thorough project objectives before you put even an iota of effort into the project at hand.

Not sure how? You’re not alone. Even some of the most seasoned project managers end up walking before they crawl. It’s never too late to go back to the basics and make sure you have a solid foundation for every project.

But first, let’s start with a quick definition of project objectives.

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What are project objectives?

A project objective is the what, when, and why of every project – what is the project (action items), why are you doing it (desired result), when does it need to happen (deadline).

Wait – So, what’s the difference between a project management objective and a goal?

That’s a question that is often asked and is the source of a lot of confusion.

Let’s settle it once and for all.

Just think about it like this: Goals are the general long-term outcome you want to achieve (seldom by one project alone), while objectives are the measurable actions you take to help you achieve a goal.

For example:

  • Goal – Increase annual recurring revenue (ARR).
  • Objective – Collect 5K new leads every month.
  • Goal – Improve your product’s user experience.
  • Objective – Reduce the set-up process from 6 to 3 clicks.

Types of project objectives

There are endless objectives that a project can have, all depending on your company department and industry, but it can be helpful to find a way to categorize them into organized groups. By labeling each project with a broad category, you can apply a more holistic approach to your overall project management.

So, while not to paint the vast range of project objectives with too fine a brush, here are the 3 different categories you can use to boil them down:

Financial project objectives – This type of objective typically focuses on how the project impacts the organization’s financial performance. However, as projects that make money cost money, it’s important to define a clear and measurable objective to achieve the target without losing sight of your costs.

For example: Launching a pay-per-click marketing campaign that will produce a 150% ROI (return on investment) within 2 months.

Quality project objectives – This type of objective focuses on upgrading the quality of services or products delivered to customers in order to improve outcomes and get you closer to your business goals. Regulatory requirements and compliance objectives can also fit under this umbrella.

For example: Updating the interface of the payment page to reduce abandoned carts by 15% by the end of Q2.

Technical objectives – This type of objective focuses on improving overall project management and technical efficiency to streamline work processes and generate better results.

For example: Implementing a new work operating system across the company that will reduce repetitive tasks by 50% within two months.

Defining the category of each objective will ultimately make it easier to organize and prioritize company projects as well as track and manage objectives based on their grouping.

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How to write effective project objectives

Now for the part you’ve all been waiting for – the formula to writing a project objective.

While there are quite a few different formulas, each with its own merits, we recommend incorporating the SMART practice.

If you work in the field of project management, chances are you’ve heard this term before. SMART is a standard project management criteria for developing objectives and is the best way to proof your projects.

Keep your project objectives SMART

SMART project best practices

  • Specific: If your objective addresses multiple issues, chances are it won’t address anything in the end. Keep your objectives targeted to ensure maximum results.
  • Measurable: Every objective should be quantifiable so that you can measure the project’s progress and success.
  • Attainable: Ask yourself – is this objective realistic? Based on past experience, the resources available, and the time at hand, is this an attainable objective?
  • Relevant: Remember the long-term goals we mentioned above? Make sure that every objective aligns with your business goals and brings you closer to defined success.
  • Time-bound: For a project to be worthwhile, it needs a defined timeframe. Without it, you are creating a resource-draining money pit that will likely not bring you closer to your goals. Sorry for the doom and gloom, but it’s true.

Smart project objective example:

“By the end of Q4, we will reduce product churn by 5% by providing users in a control group with educational material – eBook, video tutorial, and a new knowledge base.”

How does this example fall into the SMART practice?

  • Specific: One issue – churn, tackled by specified solutions – eBook, tutorial, new knowledge base.
  • Measurable: As the reason for churn is not easily measured, it is important to insert a control group here to ensure that it is the reason for the reduction.
  • Attainable:  It’s important to consider if 5% with the given time and resources is overly ambitious. It can be based on past experience and tests.
  • Relevant: In this case, the relevant company goal would be to reduce churn.
  • Time-bound: Note that the deadline is for the results. It’s up to the project manager to build a timeline that will allow for this to happen.

Need a place to organize your project objectives and categories? We got you covered.

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It’s also important to remember that defining project objectives cannot be done by the project manager alone. With goals set at the company level, there is also a need to consult with everyone involved to make sure that the objectives are doable.

Remember – objectives come first

At the risk of repeating ourselves, we’ll wrap this up by reminding you that an objective is the very reason you run a project and should be the first thing defined during your kick-off meeting.

Clear project objectives serve as the foundation for any project, no matter what the size. Once an objective is written and approved, it represents the agreement between the project manager, company management, and project stakeholders on the purpose of the project.