Courses Project Management Techniques Lesson 2

How to Set Good Project Goals

Project Goals and Hypotheses

Every project should have a goal to achieve or a hypothesis to test. In case you want a reminder from your high school science class days:

Hypothesis: a working theory about what will happen, given a set of circumstances or actions. Under the scientific method, you test your hypothesis by trying things and gathering data on the outcome.

Goals and hypotheses are similar, but not identical. A goal is usually a number or outcome you want to hit. A hypothesis, on the other hand, generally includes an idea about how you’re going to reach a certain outcome.

For example, imagine you want to increase product usage. Your goal might be stated as “get 20% of people to draft a Tettra page within their first week of trying the product” while your hypothesis might be “if we suggest a topic for people to document, we can get 20% of people to draft a Tettra page within their first week of trying the product.”

How to Set Good Goals

When setting a goal or hypothesis, the most important thing is making sure you can measure the outcome later. Using the example from above, verify that you can actually measure the percentage of people who draft a Tettra page during week one. Furthermore, you should know what your baseline state is. Our 20% goal would be pretty meaningless if we were to discover that 25% of people already create a Tettra page during their first week.

Try to set goals that are neither too easy nor unattainable. Setting goals that are too easy, (sometimes called “sandbagging”,) can negatively impact people’s motivation. Setting goals that are too hard can have the same result. Select a goal that will get everyone motivated but not impossible.

How to Document Goals and Outcomes

Document your goals in a widely-accessible place like your team wiki. Make sure everyone can review these goals before anyone begins work on the project. Seek teamwide buy-in on the goal, so that everyone feels invested in reaching it together.

Oftentimes, teams schedule a “kickoff meeting” before people officially begin working. This can be a good time to make sure everyone is on the same page. Make sure to clarify the goals, the project scope and the directly responsible individuals. (There’s more on project scope and DRIs in the next two lessons.)

Once your project is complete, document the outcome. Clarify whether you reached the goal, and if not, include detail on why not. This kind of documentation will help your team later on, should someone embark on a similar project.