The Ultimate Guide to Setting SMART Project Objectives
Objectives can simply be referred to as the ‘why’ in a definite plan of action. They are the specific targets behind the tasks, plans, and to-dos carried out in the project management process. In fact, fulfilling objectives is the reason why projects are carried and serve as a yardstick for measuring whether a project has been successful or not.
But within the wider context of project management, project objectives are far more complicated and nuanced than the dictionary meaning suggests.
What are project objectives?
Project objectives are the step-by-step goals that add up to the big picture target of the project. In essence, objectives are the results that are to be delivered at each of the stages of work the project has been broken into.
Why are project objectives important?
Project objectives create a simple and straightforward process for a team to track their progress.
- For a project to be executed successfully, it must first be broken into manageable bits so it can be done one step at a time.
- Next, milestones must be defined for each of those bits of the bigger project, so that at every stage of the project, the team can confidently agree on when a block of work has been completed. Otherwise, no one will be able to confidently say exactly how far the project has come, or if it is behind or ahead of the project schedule.
- Those milestones defined at every point where a stage of the project is completed are the objectives, the gradual steps that add up to the big picture — the goals of the project.
And that’s why project objectives are so important; project objectives help create a realistic process for telling where a project is at and tracking how complete it is.
Goal vs. objectives vs. deliverables
It can be easy to confuse terms related to project objectives if we define them strictly by their grammatical meanings. As such, in order to get to the depth of project objectives and other related terms, it’s necessary to break them down to their very essence.
Some of the project tracking technicalities that are easy to mix up are project goals, objectives, and project deliverables. While they all sound grammatically alike, there are distinct differences that define each of them, such as:
Project goals are the long-term targets of any project. A goal is the bigger picture–‘the why’–that a project is supposed to answer.
Goals are clearly defined at the planning stage since, for an entire team to stay focused on the targets of a project, it’s imperative that everyone is aware of what’s on the line before anything kicks off. Goals are often monolithic, complicated visions of what the team wants to achieve, defined with as much clarity as possible so it can actually be achieved.
While they seem quite alike, project objectives are quite different from goals within the project management context. While goals are the big picture targets behind the execution of a project, an objective is a short-term goal, albeit, on a smaller scale, that adds up step by step to the big picture goal.
Like we have above, the project objectives by the right are gradual steps that add up to the goals on the left side, and make it easy to track how far and well work is progressing on the project.
Within the context of project management, project deliverables are the tangible ‘what’ that gets produced in the project execution process.
Take the case of a team trying to increase their website traffic.
- The project goal is increasing organic visits to their website to 10k visitors per month
- The project objectives include publishing two blog posts per week and promoting them
- And lastly, the project deliverables are the two articles, the creatives, and social promotion
Types of objectives in project management
Objectives can be grouped into various divisions or types that make it easy to define and track them during the project planning and execution process. These include:
- Financial objectives that typically center on how a project is going to affect an organization financially. Financial objectives are targets to make the money that’s available go a long way,
- Quality objectives which are focused on improving the overall quality of work or products delivered in order to guarantee bigger and better long-term opportunities, and,
- Technical objectives which are project management targets that are designed around improving technical efficiency or using better tech to generate better results, easier and faster.
Defining where an objective falls under makes it easier to: (a). prioritize for more pressing concerns, and, (b). clearly visualize and track objectives based on their grouping.
How to define project objectives
In order to keep project objectives as reasonable and understandable as possible, they must be defined to mirror reality. Simple, yet defined enough to cover all aspects of the project.
The SMART framework helps define project objectives so team members are not left wondering where exactly to direct their efforts and therefore, it’s easier to eventually achieve them.
What exactly are we looking to get done? Can we define it in terms of action? Instead of “publish a lot of blog posts”, how about, “create four search-optimized blogs per month?” Only a specific objective can be achieved since it’s defined in terms of the action needed to deliver it.
How far? How much? How big should our delivered results be? These questions help define objectives in terms of what it’ll take to say, “okay, we’ve done it.”
Can it be done? Even if it can, can it be done with our resources and within this timeframe? The achievability question helps to keep objectives in perspective so the team doesn’t get burnt out, wasting time, energy, and resources on a wild goose chase.
How does it tie into the big picture? Does this objective draw us closer, in any way, to the big picture? It doesn’t make much sense investing time, energy, and resources into an objective that doesn’t bring you closer to your desired targets.
How long do we have to deliver this objective? And, is our time frame realistic? Admittedly, you don’t have forever to achieve any objective, so every project objective must also be measured by the amount of time it takes to achieve it.
For an easy-to-track platform that helps you coordinate objectives without wrangling through numerous Google docs, we’ve built out Kissflow Project for just that.
Clear objectives are the stepping stones to successful projects
The SMART framework offers an ideal basis for creating and measuring objectives. Once approved, they represent the agreement between all project stakeholders on the purpose of the project. They help frame the success measures and declare the success of the project.
Kissflow Project simplifies the process of creating, tracking, and marking off completed objectives so your agile team can have a single source of truth for managing your project objectives. This way, your team can focus on actually getting work done.