written by
Sean Thomas

An In-Depth Guide to Writing Project Objectives

Project Management 4 min read

Writing clear and measurable project objectives is one of the most crucial elements that impact a project’s success or failure. For project managers, project objectives can act as an instruction manual for their team.

Project management experts suggest that project objectives should follow the SMART, i.e., specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound formula.

While writing SMART project objectives can sound overwhelming, it is easier once one understands the purpose of project objectives. Before we dive into the guide for writing the SMART objectives, let’s take a look at why writing project objectives is so important and what separates them from project goals, milestones, and deliverables:

What Makes Project Objectives So Important?

Project objectives also allow project managers to evaluate success at every milestone. Moreover, they also validate the project’s success in easy-to-understand stats, allowing stakeholders and clients to see the work put into the project by the manager and their team.

What Separates Project Objectives from Project Goals, Milestones, and Deliverables?

Project objectives are often confused with project milestones, goals, or deliverables. However, understanding the difference between these terms and how they impact a project can help managers define each of these before they begin working on the project.

Project Objectives vs. Project Goals

Clients define project goals as per their business needs. Before defining a project goal, clients and stakeholders research how beneficial this goal can prove for their business if achieved. They allocate a budget and only then develop the project goals. Project managers understand the project goals provided by clients and stakeholders and prepare an outline to achieve them. This outline is the project objective.

Photographer: Austin Distel | Source: UnsplashPhotographer: Austin Distel | Source: Unsplash

Project Objectives vs. Project Milestones

Project milestones define when one project phase is over, and another phase begins. Therefore, they may not be a part of every project. Moreover, different projects can have different numbers of project milestones. On the other hand, project objectives define how to reach the project milestones for successful completion.

Project Objectives vs. Project Deliverables

Project managers define project deliverables to help their team understand what is required from them. Project deliverables are also called project outputs. Every step and phase of the project required different outputs to successfully proceed with the project objectives.

How to Write SMART Project Objectives?

Writing SMART project objectives becomes easier with the step-by-step guide below:

Define What, Where, When, Who, and Why for Objectives

Defining the objective in a way that answers the five Ws will ensure that it is clear and specific. This means that every project objective must have a purpose, an action that helps achieve it, a person responsible for carrying out that action, a time associated with it, and a reason for it. The reason for achieving a certain project objective can be it contributed to the project's success.

Decide How the Objective Will be Tracked

Tracking a project objective makes it measurable. Measurable project objectives are easier to understand, follow-through, and communicate to team members.

Identify Steps Needed to Achieve Each Objective

It isn’t uncommon for project managers to aim high and set unachievable goals. Resources and budget restrictions can make it difficult for project managers and their team members to achieve such project objectives. However, identifying what is required to achieve a project objective ensures its achievability. The requirements for an objective can further help break down the project tasks into small steps and ensure that it is achievable for the manager and their team.

Photographer: airfocus | Source: Unsplash

Ensure the Resources Required for Each Objective

When analyzing the achievability of a project objective, managers may find that the objective is unrealistic. Unrealistic projects require time, resources, skills, and budgets that the project doesn’t have. External factors such as government impositions and restrictions can also make project objectives unrealistic. At this step, project managers must tweak the project objectives to make them as realistic as possible to further ensure their achievability. Realistic project goals also maintain clients’ expectations.

Set a Time for Each Objective

Making the objectives time-bound helps managers and their team members prioritize the right tasks at the right time. If the objective timelines are not defined, tracking them and ensuring their success can be difficult. It can also create obstacles in communication within the team and the delivery of updates to clients and stakeholders.

Some Practical Tips that Help Writing SMART Project Objectives

The following bonus tips can assist any novice, or even expert project manager write refined SMART project objectives. Combine the tips above with the ones below to ensure fool-proof and easy-to-communicate project objectives:

Define Project Objectives Before the Project Begins

Defining project objectives before the project begins allows managers to make them time-bound. Initially, managers have a clear idea of the available time for the project. Setting up project objectives in the beginning also allows managers to create the workflow and define milestones throughout the project.

Analyze Project Problems

Analyzing project problems allows managers to foresee and identify the project steps that will require the most attention. While new project problems can arise anytime, identifying as many as possible in advance allow project managers to seek solutions for them in advance, too, allowing them to further keep project objectives realistic.

Shortlist Objectives with Team Members

Project managers are responsible for ensuring that each project step is completed accurately and efficiently. However, the team members are responsible for completing the tasks. Therefore, managers need to consult their team members and ensure they are achievable, measurable, and possible to execute in the available time and resources.

Finally, ensuring that project objectives directly contribute towards achieving project goals can significantly help. Moreover, writing project objectives using simple words as one-liners ensures they are understandable for everyone associated with the project.