Finding the right project goal

A project usually has a specific goal. Do you want to build a hotel? Do you want to launch a product that performs a specific task? Do you want to develop a programme that performs a certain function? In all these cases, you have a project - a project with a goal. But there are also many projects where the goal is not so clearly defined, as is often the case with restructuring projects. Imagine a project to optimise a company. There is a vision: our company should become better, faster, more future-oriented, more successful and more competitive. Is that a goal? Somehow it is, but somehow it is also not a goal that can be achieved by a clear path. Many roads lead to Rome, but even the client is not always sure whether it should be Rome or perhaps Naples.
The Colloseum of Rome.


A vision is not a goal

Your client may have a vision or goal in mind. But it is an abstract goal, a goal that can be achieved in many ways. If the project goal is unknown or less clear, there are three options. These are interpretation, blind flight or asking questions. As a project manager, you need to define a clear project goal one way or another. Let's stay with the example that a company is to be optimised. This could mean that it should become more attractive for employees. In this case, an employee survey would be a good idea. But it could also mean that structures and hierarchies should be reorganised or that productivity should be increased. Three (and with a little imagination many more) different project goals can easily be derived from a vision. What should you do now?


You interpret the client's vision and try to derive a concrete project goal from the information you have. You can work with this and realise a project. This option is often chosen and also suits many clients, especially those who find it difficult to make decisions and do not know themselves exactly what would actually be best. Companies can turn to you with a vague goal, because you have the expertise and know what needs to be done to optimise the company. You can carry out a SWOT analysis, identify the strengths and weaknesses of the company, work out opportunities and threats and analyse the current situation. You formulate success criteria, sub-goals and a strong project goal, which you make measurable with figures. You present all this to the management and if your proposal is convincing, the project is sure to be a great success. However, if you interpret the client's vision, there is a risk that your idea of optimisation will not match that of the client. You have to do a lot of preliminary work without being sure that it is even desired. If the goals you interpret do not match the ideas of the individual members of the decision-making body, your image as an expert can be damaged. In addition, misunderstandings cause a lot of extra work.

Blind flight

The second option is the variant for risk-takers. You may be happy about the imprecise target because you now have a virtually free hand to realise your dream project and implement your own ideas. You have exactly one chance to set up and present a great project. The risk is enormous, because the shot in the dark all too often backfires. Only rarely do you succeed in convincing everyone of your idea. In the end, you are often rightly blamed by the clients for creating something completely different from what you wanted. Lack of communication and perhaps also a portion of overconfidence and daring lead in many cases to a small disaster (perhaps also for your career).

Ask questions

Obvious, but not always chosen: Inquire. The goal is not clearly formulated, so try to define the goal as precisely as possible by asking specific questions. Depending on the goal and the client, this can be very tedious. You keep asking, pepper the client with questions until everything is clear and you know exactly what the client wants. It can help to analyse together or to conduct interviews at different levels in the company. You may spend a few hours discussing principles at the beginning, but soon you have the right people around the table and you're making progress. The time you put into researching and finding the target can be very well spent, because the time you invest in the actual project afterwards is certainly time well spent and you know that what you are implementing is what your client really wants.


In order to carry out a project successfully, a clearly defined goal is essential. Often clients have a vision of the end state of the project, but no concrete goals. Visions are undoubtedly important, but only those who work towards goals can also check at the end whether they have been achieved. A vision is usually abstract and difficult to grasp. There are various ways to get from vision to goal, with inquire being the most skilful, albeit time-consuming, method. By actively asking questions and exchanging ideas with the client, the vision can be translated into tangible goals and thus a clear path to realising the project can be defined.

Finding the right project goal - The IAPM logo
Author: IAPM internal
Keywords: Project management, Project goal

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