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Examples of Goals vs. Objectives in Project Management

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The dreaded phrase "project management" is often invoked whenever a large-scale project, whether it's constructing a new building or restructuring IT services, becomes necessary. There's a reason for that. Approaching organizational change from a project-management standpoint can help streamline a process, outlining the steps necessary to the end result. Understanding the difference between goals and objectives in project management can make the process easier to undertake and visualize.

Project Management Explained

Project management boils down to, well, boiling down – reducing what can seem like a large, unwieldy undertaking into more easily digested bites. Managing a project means identifying the objective of the project, the goals that need to be attained to reach the objective, what is necessary for project completion, who is involved, and when and where actions need to happen in order for the project to be completed.

The Chicken or the Egg

Ask ten different project-management experts which is the bigger of the two, goals or objectives, and you'll likely get ten different answers. The fact is, the terms can be interchangeable, as far as project management is concerned – what you need to focus on is which you'll make the final product of the project. For our purposes, the objective is the final result, while the goals are the smaller chunks of the project that must be completed in order to reach that final goal, better known as the project objective.

Objective: The Big Picture

The overriding objective in this example is a new office for your company. Within that objective, there may be nested objectives, as well: larger work spaces for the accounts payable department, dedicated space for IT, more parking for customers, a gym for employees. To winnow it down further, there may be objectives within those objectives, too, such as multiple server rooms in the IT office space, or parking spaces near enough to the building to provide charging for electric vehicles.

Goals: Making It Happen

Goals are the markers or guideposts you'll reach as you achieve your objective. You know, for instance, that you'll need to be in the larger office before your company merges with another in two years. Locating suitable office space within the next six months, then, is your first goal. The next goal is making any improvements to the office space that will make it adequate for your needs. Like objectives have their own objectives, so do goals have their own goals. If the goal is to make improvements to the office space and have them completed by June 30th 20XX, then underneath that goal might be tearing down partitions or walls, adding additional restrooms or installing ventilation fans in the server rooms.