The difference between goals and objectives

There is clearly a difference, in good project management, between goals and objectives. Goals are which we hope to attain by undertaking the project; however, they are not always attained by project end because there may be other external influences that factor in the their achievement or lack thereof. Objectives are, well, objective, in that they can clearly be checked off as having been attained by project end.

For example, “increase sales by 10%” would be a goal of the project not an objective. An objective would be the “installation of the system.” The acid test question to distinguish one versus the other is, “Can this (goal or objective) be clearly accomplished when we consider the project to be completed?”

I am not saying that we should not continue to track project goals post completion; I am just saying that they need not be accomplished in order for us (and the customer) to consider the project done.

Lastly, if a customer wants you to guarantee the attainment of goals than I would have you consider contingency pricing. For example, if they do increase sales by 10%, you should be paid 50% of that number. In a sense, a customer asking you to guarantee goals, is like that customer asking a lawyer to guarantee winning a case and therefore subject to a contengency arrangement. I would, however, guarantee meeting all objectives.


  1. Ed has got this entirely correct and yet business people, consultants and ‘experts’ are frequently and continually confused on this very point.
    The ‘goal’ is answered by the question: “What do we want?”
    The identification of objectives is answered by the question: “What are we now doing, or what do we now have to do, to get what we want?”
    I would add a third component to this thinking that Ed has provided; and that is the resource question. The ‘resource analysis’ will provide a meaningful and clear understanding of what may actually be achievable, becuase sometimes the objectives are not always so.
    The resource question is: “What do we have the capacity to do?”
    The goal: To attain a 10% increase in business revenues
    The objective: Attract clients who are seeking to implement X, Y, 2 and 4 into their operations.
    Resource capability: Our firm has the capacity to market and then achieve X, Y and 4 for organisations but not 2.

    My personal opinion only, you do not necessarily need to agree with me.
    Best wishes
    Ric Willmot

  2. Thanks, Ric. I would agree that resource capability is another key to project management. However, I would take it into account when setting the project objectives in the first place. In other words, if we don’t have the resources, don’t put it in the project’s objectives to begin with.

    See me previous posts on scope –> and the Triangle of Truth –>

    I think this is minor difference in semantics.

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