How Setting Goals and Objectives for Projects Leads to Successful Outcomes

setting goals and objectives for projectsHow often do you start a journey without knowing your destination?  Not very often I expect.  Projects are the same.

Setting goals and objectives for projects is an essential step because they identify your destination and also provide a road map for getting there.

Projects will only succeed if they have clear goals and objectives.  Setting these is a key project management responsibility

Asking the right questions will help you identify meaningful project goals and objectives

Why? Why are we doing this project? Why is it important to the organization? Why is it important to me and the team?

What?  What problems is the project expected to solve? What are the real issues at the core of the project? What deliverables do management or the client expect from this project? What criteria will be used to judge success or failure? If we produce deliverables on time and on budget what else represents success?

Who? Who has a stake in the outcome?

How? How do various stakeholders goals differ?

The terms “goals” and “objectives” are often used interchangeably.  But it’s important to avoid confusion and sort out the difference between goals and objectives.

 Goals are the project “Destination. . . “ They relate to the broader project aspirations and identify the project “destination”.  In other words what will the project accomplish? What is the desired final outcome? Projects may have more than one goal, and there may be many objectives for each goal.

Objectives are the project “Road Map . . . “  Objectives define a set of supporting actions to ensure the broader goals are accomplished. Objectives are your action plan or high level road map.  They are specific steps or tasks that must be completed to reach the goal.

Let’s consider the example of a  Website re-development project with the goal of “increasing sales on our e-commerce site.” What could some supporting objectives look like?


  • Survey customers
  • Compare products and pricing with competitors offerings.
  • Use the 80/20 rule to identify our most profitable products
  • Identify our unique selling proposition.
  • Carry out search engine optimisation to increase the page ranking for customers searching for our products.

These goals and objectives are a starting point – but they are general and need to be refined further into SMART goals and objectives.  Goals and objectives that are SMART are more likely to be achieved.  When broad goals and objectives get the SMART treatment, they emerge as focused targets that can be acted on by the project team.

When we talk about setting goals and objectives for projects, what does SMART stand for?

S is for Specific – well defined and clearly understood.

M is for measureable – you can measure the result of your goal or objective and know when it has been accomplished.

A is for Achievable – you have the resources and time to accomplish the project goals and objectives.

R is for realistic – goals and objectives must fit within the broad project and be a reasonable way of proceeding. For instance a project goal may be achievable, but not realistic, if it is not aligned with business or organizational goals.

T is for Time bound – Goals and objectives must have a deadline, otherwise they will be continually deferred, delayed or denied – and perhaps all three!

Reaching project goals equates to project success. But to achieve your goals you first have to define them clearly and then support them with an action plan of well written objectives. So establish SMART goals that identify your project destination and support them with SMART objectives that set out your high level road map. If you do this, you are much more likely to achieve successful project outcomes.

Continuing Professional Development offers a series of online project management courses to advance your project management skills and your career while adding to the intellectual wealth of individuals and organizations. Click here to find out more about online courses on Setting Goals and Objectives for Projects

About the Author

Vivian’s career in professional engineering spanned 35 years of technical, business, management and governance experience. She draws on her industry experience to write articles that are practical and relevant to a wide range of readers. Her aim is to get you thinking and help you meet your continuing professional development requirements.


  1. Hamze says:

    great job on how goals/objective are set

  2. […] to try and generate a new level of thought in you about your business. You will be required to set clear goals with definable outcomes. This is a highly challenging process and will require you to check you have thought about all […]

  3. Hilda says:

    I am preparing a staff training and the teachings are very helpful.
    Questions: Given that goals are long term results (impact) which may not only depend on a single project or intervention or a single actor, I think that a goal should not be time bound. I understand that in setting a goal, a phrase like “to contribute to” is used because impact is long term and depends on many. Is it therefore correct to set a goal for a specific time period?

    • Hi Hilda,

      That’s an interesting question. Yes, sometimes goals can be very long-term and they may depend on many different projects or steps before they can be achieved. In these cases it’s tempting not to set a specific time period for them.

      But the key is, even though goals might be long-term, they still have a term. Sometimes that term might be 5 years or 10 years, or even more. But if you don’t set a term, you have nothing to aim for. And if you don’t have a time to aim for, then things drift, and you are much less likely to accomplish your goal.

      So, yes, even long-term goals that rely on lots of complicated steps still need to be time bound if you want to achieve them.

      PS. Your organisation may be interested in being a Partner in our Giving Back programme. You can find out more here

  4. imam says:

    great job on how goals/objective are set

  5. Fahad says:

    Great job of explaining the difference between the goals and objectives.

  6. candy says:

    I just wanted to let you know that I am writing an essay on the continuing of academic success, and your teachings on goal setting on this page were a great help to me.

    Thank you so much!!


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