You finished your project, now what?
If you don’t have a system in place to know what your project objectives are, you don’t have an easy way to know: Did your project succeed? Did you hit your goals? Or did you miss your target?
Crafting a project objective isn’t hard, but you have to make sure it’s a measurable, helpful way to evaluate project success. This guide will help you get started with project objectives and supercharge your project management skills.
Project objectives are what you plan to achieve by the end of your project. This might include deliverables and assets, or more intangible objectives like increasing productivity or motivation. Your project objectives should be attainable, time-bound, specific goals you can measure at the end of your project.
Project objectives are a critical element of project management—without them, you don’t have a succinct way to communicate your goals before and during the project, nor do you have a measurable way to evaluate your success after the project ends.
If you’re just getting started with project objectives, here’s how they differ from other project management elements:
Though some teams may use these interchangeably, there is a distinct difference between project objectives and project goals. In general, project goals are higher-level than project objectives. Your project goals should outline what happens once your project is successful, and how your project aligns with overall business objectives.
Project objectives, on the other hand, are more detailed and specific than project goals. Though many project objectives may impact business objectives, your project objectives are more focused on your actual, specific deliverables at the end of the project.
Example of a project objective: Add five new ways for customers to find the feedback form in-product within the next two months.
Example of a project goal: Make it easier for the engineering team to receive and respond to customer feedback.
Project objectives are just that—objectives and performance indicators for individual projects. Your project objectives should apply to the project they’re about, and they should be specific enough to guide your team in evaluating project success.
Business objectives are bigger than a single project. Unlike project objectives, your business objectives will fuel your business trajectory and velocity. Your business objectives should be long-term guidelines for your entire company or department. They will guide your company goals for a quarter or year, and they should be written in whatever goal-setting methodology your team uses, like objectives and key results (OKRs).
Example of a project objective: Increase our company Net Promoter Score (NPS) to 62 by the end of the quarter.
Example of a business objective: Become the premier service provider in our category.
Your project plan is a blueprint of the key elements your team needs to accomplish in order to successfully achieve your project goals and objectives. However, your project plan should include several additional key elements, like your project stakeholders, deliverables, timeline, and more.
Plan to create your project objectives before working on your project plan, since your objectives will likely drive other elements of your project plan, like deliverables and success metrics. But once your project objectives are written, you’ll likely share them with stakeholders by way of the project plan.
Example of a project objective: Increase click through rate (CTR) engagement on email by 10% by the end of Q3.
Example of a project plan: See an example plan in our guide to project planning.
At first glance, “objectives” and “milestones” sound like the same thing—they’re both targets within a project. But project milestones, in general, should be smaller in scope than project objectives.
A project milestone is a checkpoint that marks a specific achievement in your project timeline. Milestones themselves don’t represent work—rather, they record the accomplishment of a group of tasks or deliverables. While project milestones are important, your project objectives encompass your whole project.
Example of a project objective: Obtain 20,000 RSVPs to our virtual event before the closing date for signups (June 23rd).
Example of a project milestone: June 8th, 2021: Web page promotion upcoming virtual event goes live.
Project deliverables are the assets you want to have at the end of your project—in a marketing campaign, for example, a deliverable could be a new ad or a web page. In general, your project objectives will define what your deliverables are—but your objectives should also be broader than your deliverables.
In addition to capturing deliverables, your project objectives will also define the benefits and outcomes to come from those deliverables, especially as they relate to the grander scheme of your project goals and business objectives.
Example of a project objective: Reduce monthly customer churn to >1% before the end of the year.
Example of a deliverable: Launch winback campaign for all lapsed customers.
A clear project objective helps you know where you’re going with your project. Without a project objective, you don’t have an easy way to know if your project succeeded or failed—nor can you plan improvements for the next project you work on.
When team members don’t have a clear sense of how their work fits into the larger project and company goals, they’re less motivated and less engaged. According to the Asana Goals Report, only 26% of knowledge workers have a clear understanding of how their individual work contributes toward company goals. Granted, your project objectives aren’t company goals—but they’re the middle step that connects individual work to your project work to your company goals.
So when you have clearly-defined project objectives, your team members can consistently evaluate their work and refocus on the objectives if they’ve gotten misaligned. Think of your objectives as a compass to help your team continue moving in the right direction.
When we say SMART we mean intelligent, but we also mean the SMART system. SMART is an acronym to help you make sure your objectives are clear and achievable. SMART goals are used in various ways by all sorts of teams, especially within project management. SMART stands for:
By writing SMART project objectives, you can ensure your objectives are clearly written and helpful for your team. Here’s how to do it:
In order for your objectives to guide the results of the project, you need to set them at the beginning and use them to guide your project. As we mentioned earlier, your project objectives are a key element of your project plan, which you should also create at the beginning of your project.
The more buy-in you get, the more successful your project objectives will be. Your stakeholders need to have a clear understanding of the objectives of the project, so they can approach the rest of your project plan and the work that happens during the project most effectively.
If this is your first time writing a project objective, you may be tempted to outline every detail—but try to keep your project objective short if you can. Think of it as a statement to guide the results of your project—your project objective statement should be about one to two sentences long. The additional information, like your project budget or stakeholders, will be captured in your project plan.
This is where the SMART acronym comes in to play. In order to create clearly-defined project objectives, you want to follow the SMART framework. This ensures your projects are realistic and controllable, with a specific success guide. In particular, your project objectives should be:
Specific. Make sure your objective statement clearly covers the project your team is currently working on. Avoid writing overly broad project objectives that don’t directly connect to the result of the project.
Measurable. At the end of your project, you need a way to clearly look back and determine if your project was a success. Make sure your project objectives are clearly measurable things—like percentage change or a specific number of assets.
Achievable. Are your project objectives something you can reasonably hope to achieve within your project? The “A” in SMART project objectives ties in to your project scope—if your project scope is unrealistic, your project objectives likely will be, too. Without Achievable project goals, your project may suffer from scope creep, delays, or overwork.
Realistic. When you’re creating your project objectives, you should have a general sense of your project resources. Make sure your objectives are something you can achieve within the time frame and with the resources you have available for this project.
Time-bound. Your project objectives should take into account how long your project timeline is. As part of your SMART objectives, make sure you factor in the time you have available to work on your project.
Employees who understand how their individual work adds value to their organization are 2X as motivated. In order to keep your team aligned and motivated, make sure to check in and update them on your project objectives frequently. In your project status reports, include a section that connects back to your project objectives. Share whether your current project is on track, at risk, or off track. That way, your project team can recalibrate if necessary and move forward in a way that best contributes to your project objectives.
It’s not easy to write a project objective, and it’ll take time for you to get in the groove of writing these for your projects. That’s ok! Check out these three examples of good and bad objectives to help you write your own:
This project objective is missing many of the SMART characteristics. Though this objective is measurable, achievable, and realistic, it’s not specific or time-bound. When should the home page be live? What should the redesign focus on?
This project objective is SMART. It’s specific (create net-new home page assets and copy), measurable (launch refreshed, customer-centric home page), achievable and realistic (focusing on four customer stories and use cases), and time bound (by the end of Q2).
Though this project objective is more specific than the previous bad example, it’s still lacking several SMART characteristics. This objective is measurable (by 5%), but it’s not specific or time-bound, since we don’t specify what “sustainability” means or by when the production process should improve. As a result, we don’t really know if it’s achievable or realistic.
This project objective is much SMART-er (see what we did there?). We now have a specific objective. This SMART project objective also includes a way to measure the goal (by 5%... by 20%). The objective is a little ambitious, but the fact that it’s time-bound (in the next 12 weeks) makes it both achievable and realistic.
Believe it or not, most personal project objectives aren’t SMART. That’s because we have a hard time turning success metrics inwards, onto ourselves. But in order to know if we improved and achieved our personal goals, we need to create a clearer project objective.
Here, we have a project objective that checks all of the SMART boxes: it’s specific (get at least a 4/5), measurable (4/5), achievable and realistic (4/5 gives us room for any unanticipated difficulties), and time-bound (in 2021).
Setting a project objective can help your team gain clarity, align on work, and get more work done. But remember: project objectives are just one part of your overall project plan. To learn more about how you can increase clarity and alignment during the project planning stage, read our guide to writing project plans.
How to create a project plan that actually keeps you on track
A good project plan is a blueprint of the key elements your team needs to accomplish in order to successfully achieve your project goals. Learn how to plan, track, and report on your work—all in the same place.