Are you sure you have clear project objectives ?

Unclear objectives? Here is what to think about ...

Have you ever been trapped with an objective defined by your hierarchy or customer which is unclear or impossible to demonstrate achieved ?
This is a common bias that I have sometime observed with colleagues or even with customers that are following unclear objectives.
I remember also two times meeting different customers to help them fixing their internal process and asking them the following two questions :
1.    Do you have any performance measurement of your current internal process ?
2.    What is the expected performance of your process after we fix it ?

To the first question I had twice the same reply : we do not know how to measure the process performance. We just know that it is not working well and producing the expected outcome.
« Good » I had to say in both cases. « So let’s talk about the second question as the current process is not measured but not satisfactory . What do you expect as an outcome? »
I had again in both cases the same reply : « we do not know ».

So here is the conclusion : If you do not know where you are precisely starting from - It is going to be difficult to know where to go and measure the improvement.
Defining a clear objectif is a must for project execution and success.
Without a clear project charter identifying the following parameters, the project completion will waste time and resources and end-up probably nowhere :
·     What is the project definition ?
·     What are the team members and their roles into the project ?
·     What is the time frame of the different milestones and deliverables ?
·     What are the critical success factors ? (also called CTQs – critical to Quality)
·     What is the measurable performance of the current process ?
·     What the desired measurable outcome of the project ?
·     Define a high level process map of what you are trying to improve

Beside this structured approach of a project Definition, it is always necessary to clearly define the objective. This objective should be clearly measurable and project customers should agree of the way to measure success.
This is a must to prevent misunderstanding leading to project failure and frustration.
Let me give you a few examples to illustrate my puropose :
We need to improve the quality of these invoices could be translated by:  we need to ensure that
> 99.5% of invoices are mistake free
We need to improve the phone response time could be translated by : we need to ensure in 98% that the Response time is no more than 10 seconds after phone rings for the first time
We need to improve the customer satisfaction to generate fidelity could be translated by : we need to impove the customer satisfaction and ensure that >85% have a satisfaction score above 4 (with a satisfaction rating from 1 to 5).
As you can imagine there is some data crunching behind the scene but in these cases you give your customer (who can be your manager) a clear measurement of the objective success.
Just remember that in many cases your hierarchy or your customer will not define a clear objective to reach but this is up to you to define it and propose it as the target to reach.
There should be an agreement on that objective with your customer in order to ensure consensus on the success of the project.
Feel free to get in touch in you want to get more advices on how to set up the right objective for your project