Project sponsors send a message to their project teams and other stakeholders through the goals contained in their project charters. The focus of the goals — either business results or project activities — will drive the project team. As Steven Covey said, “Begin with the end in mind.”
Project managers are often asked to undertake projects to transform the business operations or to respond to an operational risk. There is often a disconnect. The project manager may not understand — since the sponsor may not have shared — how the project connects to the business strategy.
When writing project goals, the author — typically the project sponsor — should determine whether to state their goals as business results or as project activities necessary to drive the business results.
“If you tell people where to go, but not how to get there, you’ll be amazed at the results.” — George S. Patton
With this in mind, allow me to illustrate the difference and why it’s super important. Get this right and project teams will start to run in the right direction.
How to Write Results-Based Goals
When writing goals, consider the desired business results, not the actions or activities required to get the results.
- Increase revenue by 10% over the prior year by 12/31/20XX.
- Achieve a customer service measure of 95% or higher by the end of the third quarter, 20XX.
These SMART business goals specify the desired operational results and clearly communicate why the projects are important.
How to Write Activity-Based Goals
I often see a different type of goal, that is, an activity-based goal. Here are examples of an activity-based goal:
- Implement a new call center software solution by the end of the third quarter, 20XX.
- Train the customer service managers on the call center software by the end of the third quarter, 20XX.
Project activities are distinct parts of work that the project team plans and executes within a project. Yes, these activities are essential, but the activities are not the ultimate goal. Do you see the difference?
Why You Should Write Results-Based Goals
Is it wrong to write activity-based goals? Not necessarily. However, the project manager should always think about their projects from the perspective of the sponsor and understand how the project relates to the strategy of the organization.
If the sponsor requests a project to implement a call center software solution. The project manager may ask, “Why do you need the call center software?”
The sponsor might reply, “Our customer service measure has dropped from 95% to 87% over the last six months. We need better tools to monitor our call volume and wait time. I want the Call Center Manager to periodically review and evaluate the recorded calls and wait times and then provide coaching and training to the Call Center Team.”
Now the project manager has a deeper understanding of the sponsor’s needs and the project team can take more appropriate steps to ensure the sponsor achieves the strategic business goals. Furthermore, writing results-based goals helps in defining the project’s success criteria.
Operational Risk Management
If the organization has an enterprise risk management (ERM) program, the ERM Director could work with the Customer Service Manager to define a contingency plan to be executed if the customer service measure target is not being met. This risk response plan might include the additional customer service reps and training, for example.