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How to Set and Achieve Goals as a Project Manager

Becoming a project manager can be a rewarding career opportunity. It is your task to ensure projects come to fruition while ensuring meaningful communication, work, and strategic goals can take place between all team members. Unfortunately, a lot of companies do not develop actionable project management practices for their team members to succeed. Roughly 70 percent of projects fail and roughly 55 percent of project managers blame budget overrun as a driving factor. When implementing and achieving project management goals and practices, you can improve the success of projects by roughly 2.5 times.

Understanding Project Management Goals

Project management goals can be both personal goals and professional goals. Personal goals are designed to help you focus on your strengths to make yourself a better team member on the project. Professional goals can involve goals shared with other team members that focus on the success of the project.

Why Set Project Goals

Setting project goals allows you to focus on achievable milestones to keep on the right track toward completing the project. These goals can ensure that everyone understands their role in the project, the time frame and what is going to be achieved. Project goals are also created to keep work tasks within budgetary constraints. These goals can also show the progress of the project to higher management, such as to a CEO or other stakeholder.

Benefits of Setting Clear Goals

Setting clear goals can help you keep on track as the project progresses. You can review your set goals, measure how close you are to achieving those goals, and redirect your actions if you are not on the right track or have veered from the goals. Project goals can provide the right amount of motivation to reach your tasks, building aa sense of pride and accomplishment. You also can develop good work practices while focusing on the project which can carry over to other work that you perform for the company as well as goals you may set in your personal life.

Setting SMART Goals for Project Managers

If you are a project manager who wants to make improvements to how you work on projects, you can create short-term and long-term goals by following the SMART approach. SMART is an acronym that stands for “specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.” Each aspect is part of a goal-setting framework that allows you to make clear, actionable, and attainable goals. By instituting SMART goals into your project management practices, you can use these goals as a baseline for every project and perform measurements to register your progress. Let's look at each aspect of SMART goals.

Specific Goals

Specific project management goals focus on the nitty-gritty of what you want to accomplish. They can involve a range of milestones so long as the goal is not overly broad. You want to answer the basic questions of what the project is about, what you need to do to accomplish the end goal, and what resources you have for the work. You should also establish if there are any limitations that may be encountered.

You may have a goal to stay within a certain budget or have a timeline to complete certain tasks. You want to thoroughly define the goal and list details so there is no confusion on what to do throughout the project. Keep in mind that one of the issues that companies face is when a project goal doesn't align with the needs of the business. About 44 percent of projects fail due to a lack of alignment. Establish project goals that revolve around your business work, services, and products.

Measurable Goals

So you have a goal, but how do you know whether you have made any forward progress? SMART goals focus on tracking and measuring the progress that is made toward the end goal. Knowing how far you have progressed. By measuring your progress, you know how much farther you need to go to complete the project and can use this information to adjust your work tasks or your available budget.

To measure progress, you need to define a metric. A metric can be anything that is related to and achievable to the goal. For example, if you work in sales, you may set a metric to make a certain percentage of sales within a specific timeframe: such as 25 percent more sales. Another metric may involve bringing in new customers through cold calling. You may set a goal of making 20 cold calls a day or bringing in 30 new clients for the month.

A goal should always have a way to be measured. If your work involves building a structure, a metric would be to complete specific aspects of that structure within a week or month. If you cannot develop any type of metrics to track progress, then you may have to redefine the goal.

Achievable Goals

Another problem facing project managers is creating unrealistic goals. If you are performing tasks and your progress measurements have shown that your efforts are not going anywhere, then you may think that you aren't working hard enough. You may put more time, effort, and money toward the unrealistic goal. In the end, you may feel demoralized, defeated, and burnt out.

When developing goals, you want to evaluate whether the goal is feasible to achieve. You may do this by evaluating certain aspects of operations, such as past sales, budget availability, available resources, or the knowledge and experience of team members. You want to identify that you have the money, assets, expertise, historical profitability, and team collaboration that can go toward reaching your realistic goal.

Relevant Goals

You made a goal that’s achievable and measurable. You have the resources, budget, and eager employees that will place their positive teamwork toward completing the goal.  You can nail every part of the SMART goal framework, but if the goal does not align with the project or the business, it could result in an irrelevant effort.

When creating the goal, you should figure out what benefits will be gained in achieving it. Then you want to take those benefits and see if they align with the project, operations, business mission, stakeholder expectations, and other factors. Use open communication with team members to gain feedback regarding the relevance of the goal, as they may offer additional insight on whether it is feasible and will allow for success.

Time-Bound Goals

The last part of the SMART project management framework is time-bound goals. This strategy involves setting realistic timelines and milestones for your goals. Let's say you have a goal with a short time frame. Since the timeline is short, you find yourself working overtime to complete it. You may end up running out of time with a half-finished project.

If you have too much time placed toward the project, then you may end up using more resources, time, and money toward a project that could have been completed in half the time. Instead of moving on to the next project, you are still stuck trying to complete the first one.

You want to establish a meaningful timeline for your goals. Create milestones to reach certain points in the project at specific time periods to mark progress. This strategy keeps you motivated while avoiding distractions. To determine a reasonable timeline, you can evaluate previous projects that are similar in nature and how timelines were structured for that work.

Strategies for Achieving Project Management Goals

Once you understand how to make SMART goals, you want to take actionable steps to achieve them. Use the following strategies to maintain productivity.

Break Goals Into Smaller Tasks

Big projects can feel daunting and overwhelming to complete. Consider breaking large projects into smaller, more manageable tasks. With smaller tasks, you have a better way of managing your time and reaching milestones.

Prioritize and Delegate

When you have a lot of smaller project tasks before you, it can be confusing what to start on first. Prioritize tasks based on need, and delegate tasks to those team members who have the skills and resources to complete the work efficiently. When you delegate, you can reach milestones more quickly. Also, identify tasks and projects that have a higher chance of being successful.

Track Progress and Adjust as Needed

Not every task will go as planned, even when you break the goals into more manageable segments. Tracking progress allows you to ask questions and evaluate the reasons why a project may take longer than usual. You can determine if there is some type of roadblock that is slowing or preventing the team member from reaching a milestone. Then you can make the necessary adjustments to keep the project moving forward. 

This strategy may involve moving projects to other team members or investing in other resources. Never be afraid to adjust expectations when required. Revisit the objectives of the project and the benefits it will provide to the company to determine if the project scope should be changed. 

Celebrate Achievements and Learn From Challenges

SMART goals are designed to challenge workers to redefine how they complete projects and overcome weaknesses in their productivity. You can develop important skill sets that can offer value for future projects, and even personal goals in your own life. Celebrate milestones and these new skills as accomplishments. Leverage these challenges to turn them into growth opportunities, and take the time to reinforce your newly learned skills with positive rewards.

Continuous Improvement and Adaptation

Once the project is over, don't simply push away everything that you learned to start the next project. Reflect on the goals you achieved and what you learned. Figure out if the roadblocks you faced with the current project were ones that you faced before, and what you did to overcome each one. Pick out the strategies that worked best for you and write them down to remember them the next time you experience the same roadblock. Strive for continuous improvement and be open to adapting your strategies.

Reflecting on Goals and Lessons Learned

It can be easy to just mentally move to the next project without thinking about everything you accomplished previously. Take time to reflect on your goals and the lessons you learned. By doing this, you may identify personal roadblocks that may have interfered with your work tasks and strive to overcome the issues so the next project runs more smoothly.

Embracing Change and Evolving Goals

Never be afraid of change. Positive change can help you improve yourself both professionally and personally. Stay flexible when working in a dynamic project environment so you are prepared for the next set of challenges that come your way.

Advance Your Project Management Skills with a Credential

As a project manager, you want to be flexible with any roadblocks faced in taking on a new project and collaborating with team members. Adopting SMART goals allows you to develop better time management skills and brings more visibility to challenges that will need to be overcome to reach project success. 

Spelman College offers a Project Management certificate for people who are interested in this exciting career. The project management certificate program can be obtained fully online through eSpelman. Request more information today about this certificate program.