How To Set Realistic Project Goals (And Mistakes To Avoid)

In our modern productivity self-help world, it often seems that setting team project goals have been lost. The reason?

Many of the people peddling advice work for themselves as gurus, rather than team leaders and collaborators. That’s cynical sure, or maybe it’s a representative byproduct of our desire to credit success to a select few, rather than to teams.

Note: Start your ClickUp Goals right now for free!

Working towards a team goal can be done, but it’s not all rah-rah and pom-poms. Yes, there is celebration involved, but there are also tactical steps that you must take to get the work done.

First, a caveat. There’s a difference between goals and systems.

  • For coaches, the goal is to win your division.
    • How you do it (strategy, the right players) is the system.
  • For marketers, the goal is to get more customers.
    • How you do it (marketing tactics, sales outreach) is the system.
  • For project managers, your goal is to create products for your clients.
    • How you do it (Agile, Lean, Scrum) is the system (or methodology!).

1) Connect your project goals to the company objectives and a plan.

Goals and objectives shouldn’t exist only for the sake of existing. They should be part of a larger narrative.

If you’ve made a great project plan, then your project goals may be naturally embedded in your plan. The business goals for your client will determine your project plan, which will determine how your team meets those milestones.

Also, you don’t want to make any goals that may contradict your company’s objectives.

For instance, if your customer support team says they want to cut a quarter of their phone calls, but that’s the fastest way to solve your customer’s problems, then you may have difficulty making that happen. In fact, it may be counter to your company’s overall goal of customer retention.

Your team division goals and objectives should always work hand-in-hand with your company’s overall objectives.

Learn the difference between goals and objectives.

2) The project goal must require more effort than normal, but not be impossible to achieve.

Your timeline may be a little tight and ambitious. You want the goal to be achievable, not impossible.

This may be that your team commits a little bit more code than they did the week before. But if that’s always your goal, it’ll be tough to get faster and faster without more resources or a different workflow.

If you’re in a marketing agency, it may be submitting and developing a few more creative options than you normally do, or giving your design/creative teams more time to formulate a new campaign for better results.

As you can see, it really depends on the industry, but new project goals should be relative to what you’ve already achieved so it’s not impossible to make an improvement. In other words, don’t ask your Chief Financial Officer to lead your rocket launch team. That’s not a feasible goal.

3) The goal must be measurable.

Your goal is to get more visitors to your website or to get more sales next quarter.

That’s a great strategic objective, but they’re not measurable. Is one more visitor to your website enough? Probably not. Is one more sale next quarter enough? Probably not.

Setting measurable goals, like 1000 more website visits or 30 more sales next quarter, makes more sense. That way everyone knows what they’re aiming for and can start to formulate strategies and tactics for getting there.

Bad goal: Get more sales next quarter

Good goal: Get 30 more sales next quarter

How Can You Make Realistic Goals?

It could look like…

  • Create this feature by week 4
  • Review code in week 5
  • QA and test in week 6
  • Stage in week 7
  • Push to Production in week 8

In that framework, you may use Sprints to help you get there. Sprints break down your goals to more manageable chunks. You’re working on one section at a time, iterating and refining each Sprint cycle but eating away at your goal.

Sprints are easy to set up and manage and make a lot of sense. This is why Sprints have become a core part of not only software teams, but for also for sales. Breaking goals into smaller sections isn’t anything new, but lots of teams haven’t really thought of work that way.

Story points within Sprints help teams estimate how hard they expect the work to be. This gives everyone a fairly clear expectation for what the workload will be.

Tackling a task with 3 story points is about the same as tackling three different stories with one point. Of course, a more experienced engineer may be able to finish the 3 point story faster than a person tackling one-point stories. A good project manager will know their people, their workloads and what’s reasonable to be done.

What if you keep missing your team goals?

Missing your goals on a regular basis (especially with Sprint and weekly goals) can hurt your team’s reputation over time. It shows…

  1. You’re not learning from mistakes
  2. Your team doesn’t know their work very well
  3. You can’t be trusted

You should miss your goal sometimes.  But your progress should be reasonable and measurable. If you’re consistently missing the goals, then no one can take your word for when items will be done.

A pattern of this erodes trust in your ability to get the job done. Other teams will have to sacrifice for your team’s mistakes, or worst yet: plan to do the work themselves.

Nothing frustrates a team more than when they feel a person is not holding up their end of the work.

Be realistic. If management or another team is trying to scope out your work and set goals for you, it’s important to have a conversation about expectations. Teams shouldn’t be set up to fail, they should be able to produce at a reasonable pace and make improvements along the way.

Do you have the right resources? If you’re continually overestimating your goals and can’t accomplish them, think about your resources, tools, and workflow.

Consider your resources. If you lack the proper resources–meaning people and time–then you’ll fall short of your goals. This should be a consideration when your goals grow larger beyond gradual improvements, such as 50 new client projects this month instead of the usual 10. If you’re only resourced to handle 10, there is no way you can meet your goals.

Do you have the right metrics? Let’s take a look at OKRs. They teach how proper goals not only inspire teams to reach grand achievements but also how you’ll measure your success. The key here is measurement. Without being able to determine what success means, all you have is a desire.

As the name implies, OKRs are made of Objectives (Goals) and Key Results (Metrics for success). Objectives should be short, inspirational, engaging, or really anything that motivates your team. Key Results have to be quantitative and measurable.

Here are some OKR examples we’ve compiled.

As Marissa Mayer, a former Google Vice President and head of Yahoo said: “If it does not have a number, it is not a Key Result.”

So break goals down and determine what numbers will point your team to success.

Do you have the right tools?  Do you have the right tech stack, software or services to meet the goal? Do you need upgrades or new tools to help you do things faster? Lag time with tools and hardware can impact the viability of your goals, especially for automated processes or work that must be done repeatedly.

What’s your company culture like? How do you work? How does your team work? When is everyone arriving, leaving and how long for lunch? No one wants to micromanage (or they shouldn’t want to). How can you maintain flexibility while still meeting your goals? It could be a matter of motivation and the quality (or lack thereof) of the work environment.

How are your workflows? On the other hand, your team may have inefficient workflows that are holding them back or could be bottlenecks. This means the planning or review process could be taking too long. Or account management isn’t properly communicating a client’s needs. Improving workflow management could save your company lots of money each year. It’s an important area to consider.

Do you have the right project management system?

We asked this question at the beginning. Because setting and achieving your goals can be impacted by the systems you have in place. Your strategy may be correct, but your system can make or break it.

Let’s take a look at a few common project management system mistakes….

You’re using spreadsheets. This is a great modern workplace invention, but the tools have definitely evolved. Spreadsheets should be where you do the work (i.e. planning, estimating, creating reports) not where you organize the work. Spreadsheets aren’t great for task management and due dates. You can’t be as ambitious and you won’t get as much done.

You’re using an inflexible system. Many organizations use a project management system that fits their specific team, but not the organization or company as a whole. This, quite frankly, is inconsiderate. When you try to report and deliver on your goals, you don’t want your project management software to be inaccessible to everyone else. You want software that can show off what you’ve done, and accurately report on the progress you’ve made. A complex system like JIRA or Microsoft Project won’t help all of your teammates jump in.

You lack a central place for information. When your team has to search for the documents, decks, and files that you need to create and meet goals, then you’re in trouble. Why? Because it’s a small thing that can quickly escalate into a larger time suck.

In fact, a fifth of all employee time is wasted through inefficient communication.

That’s awful and it can be remedied with a project management solution.

Project management software like ClickUp gets your whole team on board and helps you set goals from the start. From there, you can see the progress you’ve made, make adjustments and then set new goals for the following week. ClickUp helps you track your work in a simple way that anyone on your team can use!

ClickUp is releasing its own proprietary goals feature very soon that provides a fundamentally new (and fun) way to track your initiatives.

You can create Goals for anything, such as profit, hiring, exercising – and use ClickUp as your central point of motivation.

You’ll even be able to share Goals with anyone you choose.

We’ve built the feature to work for pretty much any type of goal, including the standard OKR. You’ll even be able to attach tasks to Goals and track them automatically (and in real-time).

Our goal is to make your goals attainable 🙂

With project management software like ClickUp, your work will connect with the goals you set. They don’t have to be forgotten or ignored. Instead, they can be actionable, achievable and measurable.

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