You most likely wouldn't begin a road trip without first identifying where you want to go, mapping out your route and making a budget. The same logic applies when you're planning a project. 

A lack of direction and unclear goals are among the largest reasons why projects fail. While it may be impossible to predict every outcome, taking time early on to define and communicate objectives and goals can radically increase the chance your team successfully completes a project.

Here are some tips to help you reach project planning nirvana:

Understand the difference between goals and objectives

Although "goals" and "objectives" can be used interchangeably, it's important to point out some key differences.

According to a Forbes article, a goal is a broad primary outcome, or the "destination." An objective, on the other hand, is a measurable step you take to achieve a strategy. Think of objectives as the project's "road map" with specific tasks that need to be completed to reach the goal.

Ask the right questions

Asking the right questions will help you identify those project goals and objectives.

  • Why? Why are we considering this project? Why is this project important to the organization?
  • What? What problems is the project expected to solve? What are the real issues at the core of the project? What deliverables do stakeholders expect from this project?
  • Who? Who will be involved in this project? Who has a stake in the outcome?
  • How? How do various stakeholders goals differ? How are we going to measure success? How are these business objectives aligned to our organization’s overall business strategy?

Clearly define project requirements with all stakeholders

Remove assumptions about a project by communicating objectives early on. This means having those difficult discussions to address differences in goals among management and stakeholders. Yes; including more team members in these discussions takes time, but it helps with engagement and accountability during each stage of the project.

Map out a chain of communication

Create a communication system that team members can use to update stakeholders and management on where a project is heading and when changes are made. Avoid surprises by developing a system that creates accountability at every step of the project.

Establish clear deadlines and roles

Set up a timetable for when specific objectives are due and display it a place where everyone in the project can easily see it. Also, ensure that each member is aware of his or her deadlines, budget and scope of responsibility.

Final thoughts...

You may be eager to hit the ground running in a new project, but taking time to establish project objectives, goals and team members' roles will ensure it's successfully completed under budget and within deadline.

This is part of an ongoing series about overcoming common reasons behind project failure. Read more project management tips and best practices here.

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