Goal Setting: Key to Project Success

The real purpose of project work is to effectively implement a change that improves an organization. To manage a project to success, the project should have a specific goal to reach. It almost seems elementary to discuss goal setting, but in reality, too many projects fail before they even get started because the goal is not clear or it's subject to interpretation.

Without question, there should be a defined end state so the entire organization is aware when a project has achieved the goal. Having a defined goal is also integral to the project teams approach and how they intend to achieve it. If the team is not clear on the goal, there will be miscommunication and misdirection throughout the entire project. Thus, clearly defined goals are a must to ensure projects stay on task and deliver the results that leadership expect.

Successful Goal Setting

When it’s time for goal setting on a project, there are five critical components that must be met to be considered a properly defined goal.

1. The goal must be in line with business objectives

If a desired project does not align to business objectives, it will result in a solution that does not fit the overall strategy of the business (if the project even gets to completion). When a project fails to align to business objectives, it will inevitably lose support within an organization because leadership will not understand how it will help the bottom line. “Project goals must be aligned to business objectives”.

2. The goal must be quantifiable

Having a goal that is quantifiable forces the project to be specific in its scope. Quantifiable goals also provide measurable visibility to the progress and success of the work. A focus on quantifying project goals will also translate to the project team, giving them clarity and the ability to understand how their activities and actions help the project reach its intended end state.

3. The goal must be measurable

A project with a goal that is unable to be measured has no way of signaling that the desired results have been met. When goal setting, define a specific measure that will show team members and leadership that the project has provided the desired results. Having a measure by which the team shows success keeps the project deliberately focused on getting closer to the goal and allows the team to evaluate variables that they are managing to affect change along the way.

4. The goal must be time-bound

A common mistake in goal setting is to not specify a time frame for the goal to be met. By creating a time-bound goal, an expectation for project completion is created and team members have another measure of success for the project. The timeline provided will again, focus work done by the team, as well as communicate leadership’s expectations to the organization.

5. The goal must be achievable

While all of the criteria above help to properly set a project goal, ensuring that it’s achievable is probably the most important. If the goal is not achievable within the time-frame expected and with the resources available to the project team, the project will only serve to drain resources and eventually die. Leadership, project managers, and subject matter experts must all agree on an achievable goal before the project begins.

Goal setting, when done properly, can create a clear vision for a project’s work. It takes dedication and time from all levels of the team to produce a properly defined goal that will prove success to an organization. Although there will be time spent defining a proper goal for a project, once it has been identified, the project will be on firm ground and will actually have a chance to succeed.

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About Michael Parker

Michael Parker is the founder and president of Lean Sigma Corporation, a leading Lean Six Sigma certification provider, and licensor of premium training content to universities and corporations world wide. Michael has over 25 years of experience leading and executing Lean Six Sigma programs and projects. As a Fortune 50 senior executive, Michael led oversight of project portfolios as large as 150 concurrent projects exceeding $100 million in annual capital expenditures. Michael has also managed multi-site operations with the accountability of over 250 quality assurance managers, analysts, and consultants. He is an economist by education, earning his Bachelor of Science degree from Radford University while also lettering four years as an NCAA Division I scholarship athlete. Michael earned his Six Sigma Master Black Belt certification from Bank of America and his Black Belt certification from R.R. Donnelley & Sons. He holds nine U.S. Copyrights for his "Learn Six Sigma" publications, and a U.S. Patent.