How to Set Business Objectives in a Project

At some level, every business has goals and business objectives; even if they haven’t been spelled out, they are somewhere in the back of someone’s mind. Successful organizations often have clearly defined and consistent goal-and-objective setting processes that are a regular part of their operations.

Business skills are important for project managers. Organizations that don’t have an established goal-setting process often find themselves lurching from project to project with no clear direction, taking what the market offers and always facing a certain frustration that their business isn’t moving in a way that they want it to.

This difference has always existed. But our business metabolism is more rapid, causing change to come more rapidly. And the competition for attention and sales is more difficult. This makes setting better goals and objectives an imperative.

These goals and objectives can’t be pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking either. To be successful, our objectives have to be tied to our long-term strategy with an emphasis on short-term results. Most importantly these objectives are built around creating real value for our customers.

For a lot of us that have struggled with goals and objectives, we know it is something we are supposed to do. But the path forward can often feel a little confusing. By asking the right questions and emphasizing the right things, you and your organization can create a goal setting environment that pushes you towards your goals.

Objectives Start with Value

Management consultant Peter Drucker said, “The only goal of a business is to create a customer.” You do that by creating value that your prospects are willing to pay for. For many organizations in the modern economy, defining their value has become incredibly difficult as new business models attack our business models, pressuring our pricing, and challenging us to figure out what we do well. This ends up causing us to leave our businesses open to the whims and fancy of a market that is fickle and wants everything for free or less.

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Everything starts with value.

Here’s a question to ask to help figure out what value means to you: “How do we change the organizations we work with?” This question is simple and can be powerful. It also tends to create a lot of angst. Because dealing with value directly has become uncomfortable for many. Simply, the question forces a choice about the direction of your enterprise.

In a nutshell, that’s the question at the center of setting goals and objectives. What is the value we want to deliver? How do we want our business to grow? This simple but complex question has many layers, because we don’t exist in a one-dimensional world, there are layers that we need to think about when we think about value. As you think about the value you are trying to build upon and deliver, and how to state it in a way that allows you to organize your thinking, you want to consider how this value impacts the human, the economic and the society or community that you exist in.

You need to think about value not only as something to be delivered to your customers but as a holistic part of your business, and make decisions about how you will deliver upon each of these in your own way. To clarify what this will look like, think about a startup: they are going to have goals that are likely to include speed to market, and those kinds of goals will mean that some of the human aspects of your projects will impact certain potential team members differently than others. Which means that if you are a startup with a lot of people with families, you are likely to have to scale back on something or build a different team.

The same situation applies if you happen to be involved with a large-scale government project. In this situation, the economic issues are likely to be much different because you are going to be dealing with a lot of money and, more importantly, a lot of taxpayer money. These situations will make your economic and societal concerns more pressing because the watchdogs and reporting requirements are l different than in the startup.

In both circumstances, you start with value. But the path that you take to get there is going to change depending on the nature of the project. This is all about making decisions and choices. Because there aren’t any one-size-fits-all projects that exist in today’s business environment. How do you begin to uncover value? By asking the questions. They will differ depending on your organization, but here are a few to get you started:

  • Where have we been successful in the past?
  • What do we do that none of our competitors do?
  • Why do people pick us over other similar businesses?
  • If we didn’t exist, what would our clients miss the most?

Understanding value is the basis and the jumping off point for better business objectives. Next comes goals that are built off of this value.

Without Goals, You Can’t Set Objectives

You need to learn about business strategies. Value is the foundation of your business. You have to know where you are going in order to take the proper steps to get there. After value, you need good goals. Goals are simply a desired result that you want to achieve. In the context of setting better objectives, they are essential because without clear goals you will be unable to set better objectives.


I’ll explain it like this. Goals tell the story of where you are going. Objectives are steps you take to get there. So you need to make your goals clear, measurable, and relevant. There are many ways to set goals. We’ve probably all heard about SMART goals, which are specific, measurable, achievable, results focused, and time bound. You could do worse than that to set your goals. The model I often us goes by the acronym ACES. As it applies to you, ACES will look like this:

  • Achieve: What do you want to do?
  • Conserve: What do you need to hang onto?
  • Eliminate: What can you get rid of?
  • Steer Clear: What do you want to avoid?

The big key here is to make sure that you take your value and create goals that are in line with that value. Maybe you want to grow your business in a specific vertical. Knowing this, you can set specific goals about where you want to see the business in a quarter or a year. It is these specific goals that a tool like ACES allows you to set that enable objectives to be a weapon to drive your business forward.

Objectives Are The Actions

If you’ve followed along so far, you realize that we are trying to get you to a point where you are setting better business objectives. Not just so you are more efficient at setting goals and objectives, or aligning your project to business strategy, but so you are in a position to take better action and be more effective as an organization.

goals and objectives in project management

Another way of putting it, we don’t want to just do stuff, we want to do the right stuff.

Think of this like training for a marathon. Value is the idea that you want to run the thing. Goals are the race you want to run. Objectives are the plan you put in place to make sure you get to your goal, like a training plan for your business.

To set the best objectives possible, you need to take these steps:

  1. Make sure every action is consistent with your value and your goals. You don’t want to get sidetracked by a bunch of busywork that doesn’t get you closer to your goals.
  2. Build a schedule. Schedules are powerful because they give you a sense of urgency. You don’t want to get into a situation where nothing has urgency or where your entire team is waiting for one piece of the project to be completed.
  3. Map out as many actions as possible. I like to think of the planning and implementation process as a learning experience. You are highly unlikely to be able to imagine and account for everything at the start, but you don’t want to allow that to keep you from doing anything at all. So, map out as many of the steps as you can think of and create a schedule to revisit your action plan so that you can update it based off the information you’ve learned throughout the implementation stages. (Try our free action plan template for help)
  4. The idea of setting better business objectives needs to be tied tightly to your organization’s willingness to act. The great thing about setting better objectives is that when you do act, you should be taking actions that are in alignment with where you want to see your organization moving.

Setting business objectives is about setting the stage for taking more effective action. This is a process that should be at the top of mind for you at every step of the process because many businesses take actions, but the real winners take the right actions.

A project is about fulfilling business objectives. It’s about action. But without a tool to control that action, it can get out of hand quickly. ProjectManager is a cloud-based software that has all the features you need to plan, monitor and report on your project in real-time. See how it can help you meet those business objectives by taking this free 30-day trial.

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