Goals vs Objectives
November 10, 2020

What’s the Difference between Goals vs. Objectives? And How to Use Them Correctly?

By Brian McHale

If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.

The old adage still stands, and it’s nowhere as applicable as it is in project management.

No matter if you’re an occasional or a first-time project manager, you can probably gauge the importance of identifying your goals when you first set out to work on a project.

But while we’re on the topic of goals, there’s also something called objectives.

Often, the two are used interchangeably, but they’re not interchangeable at all.

So today, we’re going to show you everything you need to know about project goals and objectives, and how to use them to make your project a resounding success.

Let’s dive in!


What Are Project Goals?

Let’s say your project is a marketing campaign.

Your goal is to create a marketing campaign, execute it, and make sure it’s successful.

This doesn’t tell you a lot about how to actually do it. Instead, it’s a vague idea of what you want to achieve.

Similarly, we can define project goals as visions for what you want to achieve with your project.

If you’re building an app for your client, your goal is to create a functional app for the purpose you’ve initially outlined.

Your goals give you direction.

What they do not give you is a roadmap to success. That’s something our other friend, project objectives, takes care of…


What Are Project Objectives?

On the other side of the equation, we have project objectives.

Once you’ve outlined your vision and purpose with goals, it’s time to get to work.

In that sense, goals are your destination. Objectives are the maps you need to get there.

For example, if you’re working on a marketing campaign, your objectives would be all those necessary tasks that push you toward achieving your goal:

  • Perform audience research
  • Come up with ads
  • Pick the right channels
  • Start the campaign
  • Monitor the campaign.

And so on.

According to the definition, project goals are all the tasks, strategies, and tactics that you need to implement in order to reach your goals.

Your objectives are your roadmap to success.


Why Do You Need Project Objectives?

Aren’t goals enough?

Well, not really.

As the team at HubSpot explains, it’s much easier to achieve your goals if you and your team know what needs to be done in order to do so.

And when you’re working on a project, your team needs to know what you expect from them.


Goals vs. Objectives: What’s the Difference?

Goals give you long-term vision and mission, but objectives help you take the necessary steps in the short term.

Goals are also normally short statements such as: “We want to build an online banking app.”

On the other hand, objectives create a to-do list that answers the question: “What do we need to do to build that app?”

  • We need to build the back-end infrastructure
  • We have to create a good user experience
  • Must test the app.

And so on.

Depending on your project scope, objectives can also be related to a part of that project.

For example, if you’re completely digitalizing your company, your goal would be digitalizing it to improve efficiency.

But your objectives could be specific for different departments and processes that need to be digitalized.


Source: Fit Small Business

And most importantly, objectives have to follow the SMART goal-setting method.

Every objective has to be:

  • S – Specific
  • M – Measurable
  • A – Attainable
  • R – Relevant
  • T – Timely

This is where specification comes into play.

If your objectives are too broad, your team might get lost.

Best case scenario, no one will feel like those objectives are specific to their work, and they’ll just ignore them or perceive them as vague suggestions.

Going back to our digitalization example, let’s say you’re modernizing both the accounting and the legal departments.

But instead of vaguely saying that both have to digitalize their departments, you can say:

Legal should upload documents and improve digital processes by 10% by the end of the month.

Accounting should improve accounting software user adoption by 50% by the end of the month.

This way, the objectives are specific to each department, and they acknowledge each department’s unique challenges and responsibilities.

Ultimately, they contribute to the same goal (digitalization), but create a roadmap for each department to follow.

So at the end of the day, you need both goals and objectives. But don’t worry – implementing them for your project doesn’t have to be hard!

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Best Practices: How to Use Project Goals and Objectives

When you make project goals and objectives play together nicely, you have a great shot at acing your project without the constant headaches.

Here’s what you have to do:


1. Identify Your Project Goals

Depending on who your stakeholders are, this process might be a little different from project to project.

If you have clients, you have to discuss project goals with them: what do they hope to achieve with this project? What deliverables do they expect?

For example, a client who wants to build an online banking app might expect their customers to be able to use it with ease.

If you’re working with top management, like in our digitalization example, your project goals will likely be aligned with your company’s strategic mission and vision.

For example, if your company’s vision is to become a leader in the sector, they’ll get there by modernizing their processes through digitalization – your project.

Your goals are your vision.

And once you’ve identified and jotted down your goals, it’s time to talk about…


2. SMART Project Objectives

Keeping your goals in mind, you have to identify what needs to be done in order to achieve them.

Let’s say your boss told you that your company needs to become more efficient – fast.

That can be the goal, but what do you need to do in order to improve your efficiency?

First, you take a look at every problem that’s keeping your company from being its most productive self.

Then, you start creating objectives:

  • Problem: Accounting needs new software, SMART objective: Identify and onboard accounting onto new software by May, track progress through the number of filed reports

It’s crucial that you have metrics to track progress with.

Otherwise, you could stay inefficient without ever realizing it. This is a huge, common problem for a lot of companies and projects: there are no metrics that are used to evaluate success, so all the “repairs” and all the work really turns out to be cosmetic.

And once you have both goals and objectives, it’s time to…


3. Create a Great Project Plan

By now, you’ve identified:

  • What you want to do and achieve (goals)
  • What you need to do to achieve your goals (SMART objectives)
  • How you’ll track progress
  • Timeline

With that in mind, it’s time to get your team together and create a plan of action.

How are you actually going to get new software for accounting?

You could have them research and shortlist 5 tools, and then try them to see which one has the highest user adoption rate.

Want to increase your sales? Your sales team might have to improve their sales funnel efficiency, and test new tactics and methods.

Building an app? Create a list of tasks, and maybe even a Gantt chart to make roles and responsibilities clear.

This step is all about getting to work, but let’s not forget…


4. You Still Need Project Progress Metrics

And again, they have to be specific. You need metrics that will immediately tell you if your team is doing as well as they should.

We like numbers best.

Improving sales efficiency? Track revenue generated from relevant channels.

Digitalizing your company? Track software usage, how many files were uploaded, how many transactions were processed, and so on.

Building an app? How many features is your team making, how common are problems, how many iterations do you need to make?

This is also the part where you can introduce your project management style metrics, such as sprint quality if you’re using the Agile framework, change requests, and so on.

But at the end of the day, it’s important for your metrics to be intuitive for your project and your team.

When you find the right approach to goals vs. objectives, making your project a resounding success will become a piece of cake!

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