Objectives are the concrete statements that describe the
things a project is trying to achieve. A project objective should be written so
that it can be evaluated at the conclusion of a project to see whether it was
achieved. One technique for writing an objective is to make sure that it is
SMART – Specific, Measurable, Attainable/Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound.
(Note that an objective does not have to use the SMART technique to still be
valid.)

An example of an objective statement might be to
“upgrade the helpdesk telephone system by December 31 to achieve average
client wait times of no more than two minutes”.

  • The
    objective seems fairly specific in its statement about upgrading the phone
    system.
  • The
    objective is measurable in terms of the average client wait times the new
    phone system is trying to achieve.
  • You
    can assume that the objective is achievable and realistic by this project
    team.
  • The
    objective is time-bound and should be completed by December 31.

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Objectives are deliverable based

Objectives should make reference to the deliverables of the
project. In the example above, the objective refers to the upgrade of the
telephone system. If you can’t get a sense for the deliverables that are needed
to fulfill the objective, the objective may be written at too high a level. On
the other hand, if an objective describes the characteristics of the
deliverables, it’s probably written at too low a level. If the statements
describe the features and functions, for instance, they are requirements, not
objectives.

Why objectives are important

Objectives are important for three major reasons.

  1. They
    are in business terms. Once they are approved, they represent an agreement
    between the project manager and the project sponsor (and other major stakeholders)
    on the main purpose of the project. The specific deliverables of an IT
    project, for instance, may or may not make sense to the project sponsor.
    However, the objectives should be written in a way that they are
    understandable by all of the project stakeholders.
  2. They
    help frame the project. If you know the project objectives, you can
    determine the deliverables needed to achieve the objectives. This in turn
    helps nail down the overall project scope, helps you identify risks and
    allows you to provide estimates on effort, duration and cost. Once the
    project starts, you can validate that all of the work that you are
    performing will ultimately help you achieve one or more project
    objectives.
  3. They
    help you declare success. At the end of the project, you should be able to
    talk to your sponsor to determine whether everything expected in the
    project objectives has, in fact, been achieved. If all of the objectives
    were not fully met, you may still be able to declare partial success.

The project objectives should be defined and agreed upon
before the project starts. The deliverables of the project are created based on
the objectives – not the other way around. That is, you don’t agree on the
deliverables first and then establish objectives to match. You must understand
the objectives of a project and then determine the deliverables that are needed
to achieve them. You would then structure the entire project to meet the
project objectives.