Goals? Objectives? What’s the difference?
In every project, certain results are desired. Project managers may become confused about how to express the results they are getting. The single reason projects work out as planned or otherwise rests directly on how well goals and objectives are understood. What are they? How do they relate? I will discuss what goals and objectives are and how they are expressed. Goals and objectives relate information about what a project is all about. We shall also consider the concept of SMART and how they can improve your project management skills. Let’s start…
What are goals?
The goal says exactly what you want to achieve. A goal is a written expression of the finished product or result after all proposed interventions are executed. Goals are often long-term results. It can also be referred to as the overall objective. It is usually written in one statement. In a nutshell, a goal is a very general, high-level and long-term objective of the project.
A goal is broad and cannot be achieved by a project on its own. Other factors such as activities of Government and other agencies contribute to achieving goals. For instance; a project proposing speedy delivery of farm produce to storage facilities through provision of vehicles will only succeed if access roads exist. Another example is a project proposing to improve health status by increasing meat protein intake in a population where socio-religious principles prohibit slaughtering or consumption of animals.
Usually there is one project goal only and it is always reflected in the title of the project. It should ideally support the overall policy of the government or the donor agency.
A good way to think of a goal is to consider the problem identified in the background; examples include: no access to quality education or lack of potable water. Then restate it as if the problem when already solved.
“To increase access to quality education in rural communities in West Africa”
What are Objectives?
Objectives are very specific and are a direct consequence of executing project interventions. They are intended solutions to problems identified in the background of the proposal. Objectives describe what you want to do. Note the difference between a goal and an objective. The goal describes what a proposed project intends to achieve (results) but objectives describe what the proposed projects intends to do (actions). The relationship is direct; objectives (actions) lead to goals (results). Unlike goals which are generalist, objectives are expected to be SMART.
SMART is a concept commonly used in the development sector to describe objectives and activities that clearly relate purpose. This principle ensures parity between the intention of the writer and the understanding of the reader. SMART is an acronym and stands for:
- S – Specific
- M – measurable
- A – Achievable
- R – Realistic
- T – Time bound
The writer must be able to describe exactly what the proposed project plans to do. For instance, to grow okro seedlings daily or to feed school children daily or to create free access library for elderly people. Being specific should answer the following questions: what exactly do you want to do? How are you doing it? To whom are you doing it? An Example of a specific objective is: “To improve health status of childbearing mothers through provision of free counselling sessions”.
Now let’s look at our example again:
When writing SMART objectives or activities using the order described above, there is no correct order of arrangement. If the various components are represented appropriately and it is grammatically correct, that would be just fine.
SMART Activities and objectives should be measurable. There can be either qualitative or quantitative measures.
Quantitative measures are easier to work with because they deal with countable variables especially numbers. Using numbers are effective and is a quick way to determine if a project is achieving the desired objective or not. For instance, I want to grow 100 okro seedlings daily or to feed 5000 school children daily or to create 1 free access library for elderly people. Quantitative measures are useful in describing Specific objective and activities. However, outcome objectives always require qualitative measures.
Qualitative measures are more abstract and can be positive or negative increase or improvement measure in percentages etc. Examples of objectives using qualitative measures include the following: “to improve safe food production for African communities” and “to increase health status of female prisoners in Accra”.
SMART objectives and activities are achievable. They should be easy to understand and executable. Many proposal writer have very great powers of imagination which is often an asset till they try to become creative in describing idealistic interventions that have never been tried and without any evidence that they are achievable. Activities and objectives should be achievable within an organization’s capacity and individual personnel skill level. Here are some examples of bad objectives because they are primarily not achievable: “I want to ensure that no child goes to bed with an empty stomach” or “to make every southeastern Nigerian speak IBO language only”. These may seem like good political promises but are really not achievable.
Now let us consider a few achievable objectives below:
“To build soup kitchens where children can have free meals once a day in community XZ”
“To facilitate improved Ibo language learning in schools in community XZ”
This is similar to the former but is distinct. Here a bit of common sense is required. Someone might say; “I want to hold weekly classes for the presidents of Africa on…” Unrealistic objectives and activities are not always bad intentioned but may not make much sense. Another example is: “To build hospitals where all women can have free breast implants whenever they want to”. While this is not such a terrible thing, it is important to remember that all projects must provide solutions to existing problems facing vulnerable people. In the scale of needs, it might not seem reasonable or a realistic change agenda to give free implants. When a potential donor reads activities or objectives that are unrealistic, they get bored and feel they are wasting their time.
Objectives and Activities should be able to state in clear terms when you will deliver the project results. Time is usually stated in days, weeks, months or years. A simple example is: “To achieve xyz in community A by December 2017”.
The SMART concept is important in designing programs and projects because they leave no doubts regarding what the project plans to achieve. Above all, it creates a standard for writing objectives and activities which is universal.
Types of Objectives
There are two main types of objectives: outcome objectives and specific objectives. Outcome objectives refer to higher objectives that result in qualitative change in the situation a proposed project targets. A qualitative change infers any variance in levels of behavior, knowledge, skills, status and level of functioning as a result of project interventions.
Outcome objectives are midterm goals and can be observed by the end of project life. For instance; “To improve capacity of primary school teachers in rural communities in Enugu State to deliver impacting lessons by 2017“. Another example is: “To increase primary school enrollment in rural communities in Nigeria”.
Specific Objectives are direct and short-termed. They are quantitative and can be easily measured. Examples of specific objectives can include developing effective weekly health talks for health workers in community XYZ or campaign for exclusive breastfeeding among rural women using radio stations.
Objectives whether they are outcome- or specific- must always refer to how the project intends to solve the problems identified in the background of the proposal.
I hope you have a better understanding of what goals and objectives are and how they relate. Share any questions you might have in the comments section. Is there a topic you would love us to write about. Let us know in the comments section and we shall gladly oblige.
Have a great day. Cheers!!!
by : Michael Ukwuma