Where Are You Heading?

Have you ever worked on a project that didn’t have a clear goal? By “clear goal” I mean one that is fully defined, stable, lacks any ambiguity and is shared among the relevant stakeholders.

Why is this so important? Can’t we just start with, say, “The goal is to deliver machine X”?

Unfortunately, such vaguely defined goals leave a lot of room for interpretation and chances are different people will come up with different interpretations to fill their perceived void. Others get lost and lose their motivation.

In our practice we often find that many problems in project planning and execution have to do with the lack of a clearly defined goal, turning a project to a plaything of change requests, complete “rescoping”, unclear priorities, demand management and similar things. How are you supposed to deliver in time, within budget and scope under such conditions?

To avoid these issues, start with a clear definition of the project’s goal that is consensus among stakeholders. You will find a simple tool to be helpful. It is called ODSC, for Objectives, Deliverables and Success Criteria for three goal dimensions. It is powerful for verbalizing and agreeing on a project’s target.

Before we go into that – who do I mean by “stakeholder”? You should go rather wide than narrow and involve project leaders, managers, members, senior management, even customers and suppliers.

Objectives – The first dimension states the purpose or objectives of the project. Why is it important to the stakeholders? What problem or demand is to be addressed by the project? Would the objective solve this problem or meet the demand? Always take the throughput (performance) of your organization into account.

A discussion will reveal many different facets, in New Product Development these may range from turning a technological breakthrough into a product, to increased profit margins, to opportunities for fostering the corporate image. To ensure a broad perspective and consensus from all stakeholders, you should look for six perspectives: financial, process, employees, customers, corporate culture/philosphy, and corporate social responsibility. So the objectives of our example may be:

  • Make profit
  • Show technical competence to the market
  • Give project members an opportunity to learn
  • Provide customer with a machine that matches his requirements
  • Improve project management capabilities to always deliver on time
  • Consume little energy in the process

Deliverables – This dimension defines what you need to produce as a project output in order to achieve the objectives. They are the tangible (product) and/or intangible (solution, service, change) outcomes to be created by the project. Consider quantitative, qualitative elements and scope. The deliverables bring the objectives to live, they are the necessary conditions, means or enablers of the objectives. It is important to not confuse objectives with deliverables.

Let’s look at some deliverables for our example:

  • Higher profit
  • Machine X
  • Manuals
  • Shipping material
  • Project members having better understanding and experience in the technology
  • A Project plan than can be reused

Success Criteria – The last dimension defines the relevant and non-trivial, measurable criteria for success. When would the project be considered successful? What must it not violate or affect negatively? Is a time commitment involved (only for the final delivery, challenge any internal milestones)? What evidence-based measurement criteria can be used?

Let’s again look at some example success criteria:

  • Machine X is delivered to customer according to specifications by agreed date
  • Use no overtime
  • Profit of 40%
  • Machine X produces 50% more than competitor’s model
  • Submitted 5 patent applications
  • Produce 10% less CO2
  • Customer has no change requests
  • CEO says: “I am very proud of this team.”

To sum it up, ODSC act as your guiding star across the project ocean. They define the end state to be attained. Everything you do (all tasks) support creating this end state. If this is true, then missing, faulty or incomplete ODSC are a cause for rework, scope creep, missed due dates, and budget overruns. In the same way that you easily lose your way in the fog

Why don’t you to start using ODSC right away to:

  • Clearly distinguish between means and objectives
  • Clarify success criteria and measure success based on evidence that the objectives have actually been reached
  • Align ODSC elements amongst project stakeholders
  • Increase success, fun and learning on your projects

Don’t forget to share the ODSC in prominent places in your project environment, maybe on large wall papers and on every project document and plan.

And, please share your thoughts and experience on our Visual Project Management LinkedIn group.

Christoph Lenhartz is General Manager Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) for Pinnacle Strategies. He oversees all EMEA business operations, including business development, resource management, and project delivery as well as leads a team of international experts who assist Pinnacle’s clients in making substantial and sustainable improvements in operations and performance. He has more than 20 years of industry and consulting experience helping clients significantly improve their bottom lines. Additionally, he serves on the boards of TOCICO, the Theory of Constraints International Certification Organization and the Eliyahu M. Goldratt Foundation.

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