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Goal vs Objective: 3 Key Differences You Need to Know

Goal vs Objective: 3 Key Differences You Need to Know

5 minutes

December 7, 2021

Goal vs objective: 3 key differences you need to know.

You might think you’re pretty familiar with goal setting — you think about what you want to achieve and decide how you’re going to do it. You might even be familiar with SMART goals, which help you set goals that you’re more likely to reach. 

But when it comes to project planning and management, goals take on a new level of importance and meaning. And even though the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, they’re different from objectives. In this article, we’ll dive deep into the differences between a goal and an objective. We’ll also walk you through setting SMART goals and objectives to set you up for project success. 

Goal vs Objective: The Basics

We’ll start with simple definitions for a goal and objective in project planning and management. 

  • A goal is a high-level, far-reaching view of what a project will accomplish or what a business will do in a year. 
  • An objective outlines the specific actions a team must take to reach a goal. 
pyramid showing how goals guide objectives, which guide strategies

You should also understand the definition of strategy. A strategy outlines the approach you’ll take to accomplish your objectives. Although goals and objectives serve different purposes, they still share a lot of similarities. For instance, you can and should use the SMART methodology to set both goals and objectives. (In a later section, we’ll detail how to do just that.) 

Both goals and objectives also serve an important purpose in project management. Since 71% of project managers believe demand for project management-related skills is increasing, it’s smart to understand a goal vs objective. You never know when you might need that knowledge. 

3 Differences Between Goals and Objectives

Let’s take a closer look at the difference between a goal and an objective.In the following sections, we’ll dive into how goals and objectives differ in specificity, time, and measurability. Before we dive in, take a look at this chart to see a quick breakdown of these differences: 

chart showing difference between goals and objectives in terms of scope, time and measurability

Level of Specificity

When you set goals for a project or for your team or business, you’ll typically focus on achievements that will contribute to the overall success of your business. Think revenue increases, customer gains, or units sold. Your objectives are tied specifically to meeting a business goal. They’re narrower in scope than company goals. 

For example, if your goal is to increase revenue, you might set some of these objectives: 

  • Launch a new product
  • Develop an omnichannel marketing strategy
  • Offer new service tiers

You can then drill down further to decide on the right strategies for meeting your objectives. 

Length of Time to Complete

Because goals set the high-level direction for a company or project, they also dictate the timeframe. In a business setting, you’ll typically set goals on a yearly, quarterly, or project basis. Occasionally, monthly goals might come in handy, but any shorter than that likely isn’t long enough to fully meet an effective goal. Since objectives are how you meet your goals, they’ll require a shorter time frame. For instance, if your goal is to increase the number of units sold in a year, you’ll need to meet marketing objectives and other steps prior to the end of the year. 

Objectives can vary widely in the length of time they take to complete, even for objectives working toward the same goal. Launching a new product might take you the better part of a year, but planning the associated marketing campaign might take just a few months. 

How They’re measured

By now, you’ve probably noticed a pattern. Goals provide a high-level view of the direction of a company or project. Objectives specify how that goal is being met. When you’re measuring goals, you’ll typically use high-level key performance indicators (KPIs). You might measure increases in sales or revenue or monitor other metrics like employee turnover. 

pie chart dashboard in smartsuite

Objectives rely on more detailed KPIs. Marketing goals could lead to specific objectives that measure things like acquired leads or conversion rate.

How to Set Smart Goals and Objectives for Your Project

If you know anything about goal setting, you’ve probably heard of a SMART goal. This methodology has helped managers and businesses set team goals, project goals, and more for years. Here’s a quick refresher on the SMART methodology if you’re not familiar. A SMART goal or objective is: 

  • Specific: The goal or objective details exactly what will be accomplished and by whom.
  • Measurable: You’ve identified the KPIs or metrics you’ll use to know if you’ve fulfilled your goal or objective.
  • Achievable: The goal or objective can reasonably be completed with the resources you have.
  • Relevant: The goal or objective helps you meet larger business goals.
  • Time-bound: You’ve set a time frame in which you’ll accomplish the goal or objective.

A good way to think about a goal vs objective is that while goals are SMART, objectives are SMART-er. (Not to be confused with the SMARTER goals approach, which helps you evaluate and adjust your goals.) If a goal is specific, an objective needs to focus on an even more specific aspect. If a goal is measured by a high-level KPI, an objective should be measured by a handful of specific KPIs. We know — this sounds like a lot. But consider the benefits you’ll reap by setting a clear goal or objective: 

Project success rates according to the Project Management Institute

According to a recent survey of project leaders, only 73% of their projects met their goals, just 62% of projects were completed within budget, and just 55% were completed on time. When you get better at setting goals and identifying precise actions and targets to hit, you’ll see more success across these metrics for your business. In the next few sections, we’ll go step-by-step into how to set SMART goals and objectives as you plan your next project. 

1. Make a List of What You Need to Accomplish

As you begin project planning, start by making a list of what you believe are your project goals. If you come up with action items that work better as objectives than goals, write those down in a separate list. You can use online platforms like SmartSuite to keep track of your potential goals. Templates like the idea box let you keep all your notes in one place before you finalize them into your project management views. 

series of square tasks cards sosrted into columns on a board titled "all ideas"

With the built-in collaboration features, you can immediately get feedback on your list of potential business goals from your team. 

2. Decide What’s a Goal and What’s an Objective

Take your list of potential project goals, and make a final decision on what’s a goal and what’s a project objective. Use the criteria we covered above to help you decide. Consider how specific each task is, how long it will take, and how you expect to measure it. Organize your goals and objectives in your project management tool. Use tags or labels to easily identify each type. As you continue developing your project goals, you can add more detail to your project management workspace. 

3. Fill Out the SMART Criteria for Each Goal and Objective

Next, work methodically through each goal and objective to fill out your SMART criteria. 

You might already have some of this information written down. For instance, if you’re coming up with annual company goals, you’ll already know that all of your goals need to be completed at the end of the next fiscal or calendar year. 

chart breakdown of the SMART goal methodology

Make sure you understand the following for each goal and objective: 

  • Specific: What exactly will you accomplish? 
  • Measurable: How will you know you’ve accomplished it? 
  • Achievable: Can you reasonably get this done?  
  • Relevant: Does this help you meet other goals? 
  • Time-bound: What is the deadline for your goal or objective? 

If you can’t answer one or more of these questions for a particular goal or objective, it’s time to refine it. Meeting all of these criteria is essential for setting goals and objectives that lead to clear plans of action for you and your team. 

4. Share Your Goal and Objectives With Your Team

With your project goals and objectives finalized, share them with your entire team. Even if team members are involved in other parts of the project planning process, it’s still key to give everyone the latest information. With everyone on the same page, you can work more effectively on your project deliverables as a team. With the project management features on SmartSuite, you can create shared docs to display this information, use dashboards to track goal progress, and assign tasks to team members. By investing in a tool like this, you join the 53% of organizations prioritizing making work easier through using collaboration tools. 

5. Turn Objectives Into Tasks for Your Team

With your project goals and objectives set, turn them into tasks and action items for your team. Use the project management methodology of your choice to help you structure tasks, roles, and deadlines. 

SmartSuite task manager board with status bars in different colors at the top

With everything tracked in a single tool, it’s much easier to see how the project is coming along. You’ll be able to communicate important information about deadlines or task priorities to your team instantly. 

Goal vs Objective Examples

Let’s dive a little deeper into goals vs objectives by looking at some examples. For each example, we’ll list the overall goal, its objectives, and the SMART criteria that make them effective. 

Example 1: Increase Sales

Let’s say as a business owner you want to increase sales this year. Last year, your sales grew by 18% from the previous year. This year, you think you can increase by 25%. That way, you’ll have more profits to further expand your business. To increase sales, you plan to release a new product feature, run a seasonal marketing campaign, and improve your customer service. 

Now, let’s break down this example based on the SMART criteria and goal vs objective definitions we’ve covered in this article. 

What is the goal? To increase sales by 25% by the end of next year

How is this goal SMART? 

  • It’s specific because it defines the amount of sale increase you’re aiming for
  • It’s measurable because it states how you’ll compare this year’s sales to last year’s
  • It’s achievable because it is a reasonable stretch from previously accomplished goals
  • It’s relevant to other plans for growing the business
  • It’s time-bound by the calendar year

What are the objectives? 

  • Release a new product feature
  • Run a new marketing campaign
  • Improve customer service

Example 2: Launch a New Product

For our next example, let’s look at project management. 

You’ve been assigned to manage a project to launch a new product. The CEO wants the product launched in 18 months, just ahead of the holiday rush. The product needs to meet the needs of a niche market that’s currently underserved by your company, according to marketing data. There are a few product mockups you can choose from, so you’re not starting from scratch. But you’ll need to do some serious research on this niche market, create a product demo, and beta test it. 

What is the goal? To launch a brand-new product in 18 months that attracts 10,000 new customers

How is this goal SMART? 

  • It’s specific because it states what the new product needs to do for the business
  • It’s measurable by how the product attracts new customers according to marketing data
  • It’s achievable based on the available product mockups
  • It’s relevant to expanding the business’s reach in a new market
  • It’s time-bound by the CEO’s request to launch pre-holiday

What are the objectives? 

  • Research the target market
  • Create a product demo
  • Beta test the product

Use Goals and Objectives Correctly in Your Projects

Goals work as a sort of vision statement, setting a far-reaching marker for where you want to end up. Objectives are specific milestones that help you reach your goals. You can use the SMART methodology to create effective goals and objectives. Track them in a project management tool, and assign tasks to collaborate with your team and track project progress more effectively. Try SmartSuite today to set your goals and objectives. 

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