Project management header
products page

Objectives – Reasons for setting


The overall project has a single goal which is to produce the final product.

The project can then be broken down to ever smaller goals.
These smaller goals are often called objectives.

Make sure that when you describe an objective, for the purpose of the project, that is accurate and unambiguous.
The description of each objective should have two basic components a ‘verb’ (carrying out action) and a ‘noun’ (what you carry the action out on).

For example, if you had a simple project of getting a child to school one objective might be:
‘Make my son’s sandwiches’. It would not be ‘Sandwiches’.

The fact that you know exactly what is meant by ‘Sandwiches’ is irrelevant. Others may not.
Could it be:

  • Buy sandwiches
  • Get them from the refrigerator
  • Put the sandwiches in the child’s bag etc.

If you are not explicit others, in more complex situations, will misinterpret your meaning and that means errors and possible failures and delays.

In addition, the objective should refer to a duration or time. So, we could have:
‘Make my son’s sandwiches by 7:45 am.’

Provide direction

There are many reasons for setting objectives.
One of these is that without objectives (goals at a higher levels) individuals will have no sense of direction in what they are supposed to do.
Clearly defined objectives are very important for motivation [see 'The Complete Motivation package‘] and hence in providing good leadership [see 'The Complete Leadership package‘].

Most people like to know exactly what is being asked of them and then to get on with it without unnecessary interruption from management.
They can only do this if they know their objectives.

This reflected in the excellent extract from Alice in Wonderland (by Lewis Carroll):

Alice: “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
Cat: “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”
Alice: “I don’t know where.”
Cat: “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”

Focus on results

If the project team doesn’t know what it wants to achieve then it won’t know if it’s successful or not.
Without well defined objectives you won’t be able to generate criteria that show you have completed the tasks needed to reach the objective.

Enable plans to be made

Unless the work breakdown structure is converted to well defined objectives it will be hard to derive the final schedule.
A good description of an objective leads to a more accurate assessment of the tasks required to get there.
Hence, production of the necessary work breakdown structure will aid in the formation of the schedule.

Prioritise and organise work

Without good direction and objectives it will be impossible to plan your own activities.
This is all part of good time management [see 'The Complete Time Management package‘].

Motivation staff

All of the elements above will improve team motivation [see 'The Complete Motivation package‘].
Without providing good motivation you cannot lead well [see 'The Complete Leadership package‘].
The better the motivation the far greater are the chances of project management success.

Communicate the purpose of the project

With well defined goals and objectives the purpose of the project becomes clear.
When this is the case individuals find it easier to take ownership of their part of the project.
Increased motivation is a natural result.

Enables success to be recognised

With well defined objectives and criteria it becomes easier to measure success.
If this is the case it becomes much easier to give credit to personnel for their success.

Within these areas good leadership and time management skills are essential, for example, exercising good delegation.
This allows personnel, with the necessary skills, to get on with the job.
Control is attained by regular review, which looks at progress against these objectives.
All of these aspects improve motivation.

Under PRINCE2® the focus is on products. These are the equivalent of the objectives as described here.

PRINCE2 2009 projects focus on the definition and delivery of products, in particular their quality requirements.
A successful project is output-oriented not activity-oriented.
An output-oriented project is one that agrees and defines the project’s products prior to undertaking the activities required to produce them.
The set of agreed products defines the scope of a project and provides the basis for planning and control.
[see Principles - Focus on products]

PRINCE2 [see ‘The Complete Project Management plus PRINCE2’] uses a technique known as product-based planning to identify, define and analyse the plan’s products.
[see Plans - The PRINCE2 approach - Define and analyse the products]

The plan is broken down into its major products, which are then further broken down until an appropriate level of detail for the plan is reached.
A lower-level product can be a component of only one higher-level product.
The resultant hierarchy of products is known as a product breakdown structure.
[see Plans - The PRINCE2 approach - Prerequisites for planning – design the plan - Create the product breakdown structure]

PRINCE2® is a Registered Trade Mark of the Office of Government Commerce in the United Kingdom and other countries.