3 tips for setting successful project outcomes
How many of you ask this question before starting a new project: “What are we actually trying to do here?” It’s a no-brainer, identifying what a project is trying to achieve, however I’m willing to bet that everyone can share a project failure story (or dozen) where the lesson learnt was: “The objectives weren’t clearly defined.” Here are my 3 easy tricks for successfully setting project objectives:
1) Focus on outcomes, not outputs
What’s the difference between these two objectives?
- We need to document a Change Management Strategy to support the merging of two departments.
- We want people to work together cohesively following the merger of two departments.
If you knew that the first one is an output and the second is an outcome, gold star! Many projects fail because they focus on deliverables (outputs) rather than the eventual outcomes. Sure, you’ve delivered a comprehensive document, but how come those people still can’t work together?
An outcome aims to address core problems or provide meaningful changes and benefits, thus focusing on outcomes helps ensure every component of a project is geared towards those result. Furthermore, being outcome-centric can often help identify alternative options and solutions.
So how do you know you’re identifying outcomes and not outputs?
2) Visualise the outcome
A simple exercise I like to do at the start of each project is to ask stakeholders: “What do you want to achieve at the end of this project? Can you visualise it for me?” I’ve found that asking people to visualise outcomes helps them describe the problems they experience or what changes they want to see. Going back to our two example objectives above, it’s rare for people to visualise a document as the outcome of a project.
There is a second benefit to this exercise – people are much more likely to describe what they want in simple terms. This is a powerful method for ensuring all stakeholders are working towards the same vision. Which brings us to the final tip…
3) Define everything (in plain language)
When is a 6 not a 6? When one person means centimetres and the other inches. Misunderstandings or assumptions about commonly used word or concepts are one of the easiest paths to project failure. Even NASA has its (see the Mars Orbiter accident due to a misunderstanding over imperial and metric units).
Avoid corporate jargon and use plain language to clearly define key project concepts. This greatly reduces misunderstandings and gets people on the same page. Don’t assume anything and make sure it is all written down.
What are your tips for setting successful project objectives clear project outcomes? Share with us your success (or horror) stories in the comments below.