Project Goals and Objectives

Projects start with a goal, an aim, a reason for doing, changing or making something.

Your first stage in building a project is defining what that project is and, at the heart of that definition are three concepts: Goals, Objectives and Scope.  I will talk about Scope in my next blog, but here, I want to focus on Goals and Objectives.

Although dictionaries are not clear on the distinction, I think that these are two different concepts and that the distinction is important to us as project managers.  Whether you buy my definitions of the terms or not, the two questions that they evoke are crucial to a proper definition of a project and are therefore vital to its success.

Here is a video (of just under 4 minutes) of me speaking on this subject to an audience in London.  This was at one of my standard three-hour seminars, which I delivered here to an open audience, for Bite Size Seminars.

This extract from my popular Practical Project Management seminar shows me talking about the distinction between project goals and objectives – both vitally important in defining your project from the outset. These are fully described in my books, “Brilliant Project Leader” and, from a perspective of pre-empting project risks, “Risk Happens!

More about this and my other project management seminars at


3 thoughts on “Project Goals and Objectives

  1. Richard Quinn

    Interesting take on the subject, thank you.

    For this meaning, using Merriam-Webster, the goal is defined as “the end toward which effort is directed” and objective is defined as “a : something toward which effort is directed : an aim, goal, or end of action”.

    This fits with my use of objectives and goals. For me, the goal is (one of) the end states of the project, objectives are waypoints to achieve during the project. For example: the goal might be to move all employees from building A (being demolished) to new building B (being built). An objective might be to first move all employees into temporary offices in building C. This objective is not the goal of the project, but it is one of the things to enable along the path to completion.

    The unifying language is that: Vision states what is to be achieved, and why. The goals are define how the vision will be implemented, allowing concrete results to be measured. Objectives are tactical deliverables implemented along the path of meeting goals.


    1. Mike Clayton Post author

      Your use of the phrase “tactical deliverables” shows clearly the difference in the way we each use the term “objectives”. When you say “An objective might be to first move all employees into temporary offices in building C” I take that to be a method statement. This sets up your project approach, or strategy. I long ago gave up trying to justify my distinction between goals and objectives with dictionaries (one even defined a goal as an objective and, yes, an objective as a goal. The definitions I offer are a useful distinction and I choose to label the two concepts:

      – what do you want?
      – how do you want it

      … with the words “goal” and “objective”.

      I don’t suggest they are any more right than any other definitions, but lots of people do find them very useful in defining their projects.

  2. Richard Quinn

    Thanks for the discussion, Mike!

    Neither PRINCE2 nor PMBOK define the terms goal and objective in their glossaries. PRINCE2 is cheeky enough to claim that project management is about delivering objectives, without bothering to define what an objective is. PMBOK only talks about requirements – fair enough but not helpful for this discussion.

    Perhaps these terms are layman’s terms, and are thus resistant to having a unified meaning amongst practitioners.


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