Achieving Successful Projects: Goals and Objectives

Duncan Ross Russell
The vision of the Association for Project Management (APM) is ‘a world in which all projects succeed with project management as a life skill for all’, but how do we ensure that our projects succeed?

With over 30 years of experience in delivering projects in a wide range of environments, I have seen projects both succeed and fail, but all too often the entrepreneurial idea good enough to draw the investors interest underdelivers.

Research undertaken by the APM identified 12 project success factors of which five were described as a formula for success; to quote their conclusion: “get these right and the rest should follow”. 

In this article series, I review each of these five key project success factors to establish what they mean for project delivery and how they can be implemented. In this piece, I will look at the goals and objectives.

Goals and objectives

If a project is to succeed, we must start with an understanding of success.  This may sound obvious, but you will be shocked how often this is missed. 

Time spent defining success is vital if we are to put ourselves in the best position to achieve it.  This is most easily done by asking ourselves three questions:

1. What are the benefits the business is looking for from the project and why?

The answer should fall out of the business case, generating a set of project objectives.  However, we often fail to ask why we need to achieve an objective.  It is rare for a project to be able to deliver all its objectives as originally envisaged.  When considering options for project delivery, if we understand why an objective has been included, it may be possible to achieve the effect required by different means that fits better with the wider project.  This is most easily done by ensuring your objectives include an ‘in order to…’ statement. 

For example, if a project for a new build is required to deliver a large meeting room and two small meeting rooms but other constraints limit the space, could we provide two small meeting rooms with a soundproof movable patrician wall?  If the requirement for the large meeting room is to accommodate a monthly all-employee meeting, then the two smaller rooms will not be required at the same time. Capturing both the benefits required of a project and why, will allow the project team to think outside the box in considering the optimal solution, especially where objectives are conflicting.

2. What are the wider implications of this project on the business?

If the project is to deliver the benefits. every project - no matter how small - will result in a change in the way the business operates.  Delivering success includes managing the wider change implications resulting from the project. 

For example, a new office build may include some agile working spaces, increasing the capacity of the new asset.  For many businesses the introduction of agile working is a significant cultural change that must be considered alongside the physical designs with specific project workstreams to promote agile working and encourage adoption as well as those to design the new building.

3. What are the stakeholder’s expectations of the project?

It is rare for all project stakeholders to have the same expectations of a project as those of the Board that has given the project the go ahead.  These expectations, if not planned for and managed, can lead to a perception of project failure even when all the objectives are met! 

For example, a manager who is particular about the temperature of their working environment and currently has their own office may be expecting our new office build to provide them with a shiny new office with a view and the latest in adjustable environmental controls.  They may be sorely disappointed when they move in to find they are hot desking alongside everyone else in an open plan space where the environment is set by the computer and cannot be adjusted to meet their needs.  For the project to be recognised as successful, we need to capture all stakeholder expectations in a shared definition of success and manage those expectations that cannot or will not be met.

Though this may sound like a complex process, it is actually a simple matter of considering these three questions and capturing your conclusions.  The work involved is proportionate to the scale of the project.  But a failure to consider these questions is guaranteed to set the conditions for failure in the eyes of some stakeholders.

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