This blog will investigate project objectives. What is the aim of a project? Are project objectives clear? What are SMART objectives?
Starting with the overall project aims, backed by a business case, we will examine the overall project Time, Cost, and Functionality objectives. Then look at lower level SMART objectives.
Here is a short video clip on the subject.
The Business Case
Any project should be of benefit to the organisation. This benefit or benefits should be made clear in the business case document. This is the overall objective of the project:
“To provide Business Benefit”
A good business case will cover ‘Why the project is required’. The problem or issue to be solved and what the project is going to do.
I like to see an AIM as the overall project objective. This should be linked to the company’s strategic objectives. The AIM is rather like a mission statement for the project, aligning the team to the common purpose. It covers why the project is required, and overviews the main requirements including the cost and time. As an example:
In order to replace the aging Meteor22 product, this project seeks to redevelop and launch Meteor23 by April next year for a budget of £100,000.
The Iron Triangle of Project Management
Once it is clear that the project should deliver benefits, all projects have 3 objectives, Time, Cost and Quality (often called functionality or specification).
- Deliver on time
- Deliver on budget and
- Meet the required functionality
Any failure on these may mean missing the overall business benefits.
However, some projects may not sit neatly in the middle of this diagram. They may be dominated by just one of these objectives. You will need to understand which one dominates for your project.
Which Objective can be Sacrificed?
It is therefore important to talk to the Project Champion, or Project Sponsor to understand why these overall Time, Cost and Quality objectives have been objectives set. Hopefully they were not set arbitrarily. Then you need to find out which one is the most critical.
A decision might then be made on which one to sacrifice, in order to meet the other two objectives. (Of course, meeting all three objectives is the overall aim. Concentrating on the critical one may require some flexibility in the other 2.
Interdependencies of Objectives
These three (Time, Cost, Quality) are all interlinked:
- A project dominated by budget restrictions will take longer to complete, probably with less functionality.
- Any project with a set deadline will cost more and may be delivered with reduced functionality.
- A project with set functionality will take longer and cost more to ensure that the functionality is delivered.
There is always a balancing act to be performed by the project manager as the project progresses.
Objectives to Cover all Phases of the Project
Projects follow a life-cycle. Typical engineering projects have concept, definition, development, hand-over type cycle.
Whichever life cycle your project follows, the project needs objectives to be set for each of the phases.
What are SMART Objectives
Good objectives are SMART. There are several definitions of SMART (meaning clever) objectives:
Please ensure that you don’t mix these up because ‘Achievable’ really means the same as ‘Realistic’, and ‘Relevant’ the same as ‘Agreed’!
Outcomes not Outputs
Make sure that your objectives focus on the outcomes that you desire, and not just a delivery of outputs:
- The output may be a revised product, however the outcome desired is increased sales or profits.
- The output may be a document, but the outcome may be that people read, and adopt whatever is in the document.
An outcome is what we want to achieve overall – the end result of the outputs.
SMART Objective Examples
- Within 6 months we will have installed, commissioned and tested a new CNC lathe.
- By 6 months we will have trained 6 operators and 3 maintenance staff to operate/maintain the machine.
- Within 12 months we will have increased production capacity for components produced on the new machines by 20%
It is not easy to get the project objectives correct at first attempt. The objectives need to match the business case, and be at a high level for a common vision, yet also be broken down for each phase of the project as SMART objectives.