How To Write Clear Project Goals

Occasionally, someone will ask me for risk management tips. I think my first answer surprises individuals—write clear goals. Yes, good risk management always starts with clear goals. In today's article, I will give you a simple method to write clear goals every time.

The Fable of the Crow and the Pitcher

The Crow and the Pitcher is one of Aesop’s Fables. In the story, a thirsty crow discovers a pitcher with water at the bottom, beyond the reach of its beak. The crow did not have sufficient strength to push the pitcher over. He took a different approach. The bird dropped pebbles one by one in the pitcher until the water level rose to the top of the pitcher, allowing the crow to drink.

The crow had a clear goal. Though there were obstacles, the crow creatively solved the problem and achieved his goal. In risk management, we ask ourselves—what may help or hinder our ability to achieve our goals.

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“A winner is someone who recognizes his God-given talents, works his tail off to develop them into skills, and uses those skills to accomplish his goals.” -Larry Byrd

Write Clear Goals Every Time

Allow me to provide a simple but powerful formula for writing goals. What I am about to share will work for personal goals, enterprise goals, department goals, team goals, or any goal. Furthermore, it works for long-term goals, intermediate-term goals, and short-term goals.

Using this goal formula, you will write specific, measurable goals every time. You will find writing goals easier. Let's start with the formula.

Verb -> Focus -> Target -> Deadline

Example: Increase new members 5% by December 31, 20xx.

  1. Verb. I typically start goals with a verb such as increase, decrease, maintain, or have. (I use verbs like implement, develop, establish, utilize, or revise for strategies, broad statements of direction.)
  2. Focus. What is the focus of the goal? The focus of the example above is "new members."
  3. Target. The target specifies the measure. The target may be a specific amount, range, or percentage.
  4. Deadline. The deadline makes the goal time-based. A goal without a deadline is simply a wish.

Personal Goal Examples

  • To maintain my exercise of 3 times per week for 45 minutes through the end of the year.
  • To increase my 401K contributions by 5% over the prior year by December 31, 20xx.
  • Business Goal Examples

  • To increase the net income by 10% by the end of the third quarter.
  • To decrease auto claims cycle time from an average of 12 days to 8 days by the March 31, 20xx.
  • To have 5 project managers achieve their Project Management Professional (PMP) designation between April 1 and June 30 of 20xx.
  • Writing goals is an iterative process. Zig Ziglar said, "Don't become a wandering generality. Be a meaningful specific." Write your goals again and again, each time refining and clarifying your thoughts. Revisit them regularly to monitor your progress.

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