Setting aims and objectives

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‘If you don't know where you're going, you might end up somewhere else.’ (Casey Stengel, New York Yankees, quoted in Beckhard and Harris, 1987)

Aims are broad goals and can encompass an organisation's mission and values, whereas objectives define more precisely what a project is trying to achieve and how success will be recognised. The SMART principle is often applied to objectives.

They should be:

  • Specific – clearly defined with completion criteria
  • Measurable – you will know when they have been achieved
  • Achievable – within the current environment and with the skills that are available
  • Realistic – not trying to achieve the impossible
  • Timebound – limited by a delivery date based on real need.

This provides a useful checklist, but it is not always possible to achieve objectives with all of these details established at the outset and it may be necessary to revisit them as the project progresses. It is also possible to develop groups of objectives to deal with different aspects of the project. For example, there may be process objectives that identify ways in which the work will be carried out as well as the more usual outcome objectives to identify the details of outcomes required.

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