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Setting Objectives

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An operations manager at an insurance company once told me that his company's computer system was ancient, at full capacity, and that the incumbent systems integrator was charging a fortune just to add a new field to a form. He wanted me to replace the system with something new. He had funding, the CEO supported it, and everyone was set to start.

On the face of it this reads like a great opportunity, but is it really?

An objective is a description of something that somebody wants to achieve. A good first step is understanding who it is that wants to achive it. After that try to determine what needs to be achieved and, just as importantly, why and by when.

The Client

Before setting an objective, you need to be clear about who the client is. You can identify the client by asking the following questions:

The Objective

A good objective is specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-boxed (SMART.). When an objective is SMART, all stakeholders will know when the objective has been achieved. When the objective isn’t SMART, it is unclear whether you’ve achieved what you set out to do, so success will be ambiguous. Setting a SMART objective has the following benefits:


Bad examples of objectives include:

Good examples include:

In closing, while setting specific, challenging goals can drive positive behavior and boost performance, goals that are too narrow and neglect non-goal areas can cause real harm. It can result in unethical behavior, distorted risk preferences, corrosion of organizational culture, and/or reduced motivation.

Rather than dispensing goal setting as a remedy for motivation, setting objectives should be done in consideration of harmful effects, and be subject to review.

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