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Projects in business today business can be very challenging endeavors for a project manager, not least of which is ensuring that all stakeholders are kept in perfect alignment and on the same page. Good communication stands as the foundation of the project, holding this complex system upright and solid. To that end, making sure that everyone can identify the terminology and understand the meaning of the terms concerning work goals and objectives is of primary importance.

Thus, it is essential to establish a good understanding regarding two of the most common terms appearing in the glossary of each and every project, namely work goals and objectives. What is the meaning of each term and what are the differences with goal versus objective?

The terms Goal and Objective, often appear from the very beginning of a project, at the initial inception of the idea or during the configuration of the project scope statement. This essential phase defines the project’s outcome and the steps needed be taken to deliver the main scope of the project. Work goals and objectives commonly clearly describe the main purpose of a project.

Breaking down the terms

A Goal is generally described as an effort directed towards an end. The application of the term in project management is related to three different target values such as performance, time and resources. To be more specific, the project goal specifies the desired outcome (performance), the specific end date (time) and the assigned amount of resources (resources). Generally, a goal answers to “What” is the main aim of the project and on many occasions projects may set more than one goal.  

The words of Aristotle, “First, have a definite, clear practical ideal; Second, have the necessary means to achieve your ends; Third, adjust all your means to that end.”, might help setting things out clearly.

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An Objective defines the tangible and measurable results of a project that support the agreed goal and must meet the planned end time, budget and quality restrictions. It commonly answers to “How” something is to be done and the most effective way to set them is by using the S.M.A.R.T. method. So, make sure to design SMART performance objectives: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time bound.

Goal versus Objective

  • Goals are the agreed outcomes of a project whilst SMART performance objectives are the set of operations that need to take place for achieving the project goal
  • Goals are usually broad and long-term outcomes whereas Objectives are the tangible results of short term activities that address the project goals
  • Goals outline the outcome of the project’s Big Picture, while the objectives illustrate the body of singular activities that deliver distinctive results and line up with the project’s goal
  • Objectives should be S.M.A.R.T. and must meet the limits of time, budget and quality, where goals might be described in a broader manner

The purpose of determining the work Goals and Objectives is fundamental and correspond to the core definition of project management. Setting them allows one to plan, organize and control the sequence, time duration, resources and cost of activities required to ensure project success. The clearer the goal and the more feasible the objective, the higher the chances are of the project’s successful implementation, ensuring the smooth operation of the project’s life cycle.