Setting achievable project goals has always been a problem. Industry studies prove this, with data showing that 37 per cent of projects fail due to poor goal setting and 49 per cent of ‘successful’ projects don’t actually hit their original goals.
If you’re still working through your 2022 planning, you’ll have project goals at the front of your mind. To avoid some of the common goal-setting mistakes, I’d like to offer up some things to think about this time around.
And don’t worry, this isn’t going to be another re-hash of the SMART goal-setting principles. Instead, let’s review your wider business environment to help you understand if your project goals are actually achievable.
Assess what you’ve learnt
When you’re thinking about setting new goals, remember to look back at what’s gone before. As project professionals, we’re good at capturing lessons learned at the end of projects but not very good at referring to them when we start afresh.
Don’t just seek out closure documents, broaden your data points by reviewing old business cases, requirements documents or project initiation documents (PIDs). These give you the truest sense of previous project goals before work even began.
Of course, data can be qualitative too. Seek out the experiences of other project professionals and business sponsors to understand how and where project goals failed and succeeded in the past.
How does this help you with setting your project goals? Learning from the experiences of others provides an excellent temperature check on what is and isn’t achievable in your organisation.
Understand your portfolio
Your project doesn’t exist in a vacuum. There will be many other changes happening all around you, so make sure you know where you sit in the wider ecosystem.
How does this help you with setting your project goals? Well, when looking at your portfolio, ask yourself:
- Where is this project in the priority order?
- Who else is vying for the same resources, budget and sponsorship?
- Which other projects are you dependent on, and which other projects rely on you?
If you’re the top priority, with a large budget and a team of highly skilled individuals, you can feel confident setting ambitious project goals. If you’re not, take the time to assess what’s achievable and set your stakeholders’ expectations accordingly.
Align with business strategy
For those project professionals working in P3O functions, it’s worth making sure that project goals synchronise nicely with the broader business objectives. Now, this should happen by default, of course, but with business leaders kicking off their year-long roadmaps in Q1, things can and do change quickly.
Delivering your project goal is always easier when it aligns with other strategic organisational objectives. Put simply, that’s because the project world and BAU are pulling in the same direction, minimising the chances of change resistance, scope creep and re-work.
How does this help you with setting your project goals? If your goals don’t align with the strategic business direction, you’re going to have a hard time delivering your project objectives, if you even deliver them at all.
Survey your industry and the profession
Finally, take a look outside your organisation to see what other companies are doing. Are your competitors making similar changes to you? If so, what are their targets, timescales and challenges?
Granted, you’re unlikely to get detailed insight from a competitor. But hearing how others are approaching similar challenges may help you assess whether you’re over or under-cooking your project’s ambitions.
And of course, the project profession is large, diverse and full of knowledge. Network with other project professionals and draw upon their previous goal-setting successes and failures.
How does this help you with setting your project goals? It never hurts to get an outside perspective on what is and isn’t achievable. In a profession that’s so collaborative and full of knowledge, don’t set poor project goals by refusing to get an outside perspective.
Research suggests that we aren’t always great at setting project goals. Often, this isn’t because we don’t have the right expertise, it’s because we fail to step back and assess the external project environment.
When setting your 2022 project goals, take the time to look at past learnings, understand your place in the wider portfolio and re-confirm your strategic alignment to ensure the objectives you set are achievable.
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