South East Training - The Project Management Toolkit

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Setting Objectives

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It is important during the early stages of the Definition Phase to establish and agree a set of objectives for the project. The objectives should describe the desired outcome for the project and will be the benchmark against which the project’s success will be measured. It is essential the objectives describe the ‘end state’ rather than list the actions that will be taken to arrive there. It is also important that the objectives are measurable.

Setting the objectives at an early stage has many benefits. The objectives provide the foundation for a number of subsequent tasks during the Definition Phase, e.g. establishing the scope, selecting the project team, determining some of the risks, as well as providing you with a means of explaining your purpose to your stakeholders.

However, care need to be taken to ensure you do not confuse objectives with benefits. As stated above, the objectives describe the ‘end state’ of the project. Many of the benefits of the project may not accrue until well after the project has been completed. For example, your organisation might approach the task of establishing a foothold in the Malaysian domestic market by opening an office in Kuala Lumpur. The project objective might be to have the office open and fully functioning by a certain date and within the agreed budget. The benefits, on the other hand, might be measured in terms of the degree of market penetration over the first 12 months. The project team will be evaluated on setting up the office on time and within budget. It will be down to operations, or business-as-usual, to deliver the benefits. 

Linking to Higher Objectives

Project objectives should contribute to the achievement of one or more higher objectives set by the organisation. These may be found in:

  • The organisation's mission statement
  • The strategic plan
  • Local or departmental business plans.

SMART Objectives

In addition, objectives should be SMART, as defined below:

S pecific: Each objective must be limited to a single topic. It must answer the question which or what?

easurable: Each objective must describe the result to be achieved, and should not include the activities to be taken to accomplish it. It must be observable, something that can be assessed. It must answer the questions: how much, how many, or how well?

A chievable: Each objective should be challenging to existing resources or skills, yet it must be attainable.

R ealistic: Each objective must support and directly relate back to an organisational/ operational goal.

T ime-bound: Each objective must have a target date for completion. It must answer the question: by when?

Realistic is often replaced by relevant. In general terms, this means the project objectives should be relevant to the overall business aim.

Time-bound is sometimes incorrectly replaced by timely, meaning ‘at the right time’ rather than at a specified time.

Two Part Objective Setting

Many people have found that writing objectives in two parts has aided their thought process and clarified the expression of the objective.

Statement of Intent

This describes the overall goal of the project or activity. (Answer the question, "Where do you want to go?")

Measures of Success

This describes the standards against which achievement will be measured. (Answer the question, "How will you know when you have got there?")


Statement of Intent

  • By the end of the project we will have moved in to our new office.

Measures of Success

  • This will be successful if:
    • It is completed by 15:00 hrs on Sunday
    • It costs less than £12,000
    • Staff can start work at 9:00 hrs on Monday with no disruption to our service
    • Staff report that they are happy with the new environment
    • No furniture or fittings are damaged.

The types of measures used include:

  • Time
  • Money
  • Quality
  • Quantity
  • Observable human behaviour.