project goals

Are Your Project Goals Realistic?

Projects can run off course – hardly front page news to those working within project management. Even worse, if things haven’t been rectified projects can fail, very quickly.

  • Only 64% of projects meet their goals
  • 70% of companies report having at least one project failed in the last year
  • Companies lose over $100 million for every billion they spend on projects

These are shocking statistics about project failure reported in recent years, drawing attention to the fact that no project is guaranteed. However, although it is a fact projects will fail, it is important to always look at past mistakes to ensure a higher amount of projects succeed in the future.

The mistakes that lead to project failures can be completely varied in nature, however, in a lot of cases setting unrealistic project goals can be a very early cause that essentially sets a project up for failure from the very beginning. However, hanging on to projects even when they are only going to fail in the end can be just as damaging.

Let’s examine the damage that can be done by hanging on to unrealistic project goals:

Money Is Wasted

A failed project wastes a huge amount of time, especially if project failure is definite but the PM keeps trying to keep it going despite all signs pointing to STOP. Travel, training, conversion, tools, freelancer hire, manufacturing, design – there are so many ways money can be wasted if a project fails and is kept going unnecessarily.

Time Is Wasted

Your team, stakeholders, customers and anybody else involved in the project will be wasting their time trying to keep the project going when it is doomed to fail.

Low Quality Product

A good end product requires a good process to get it to that point. If resources are spread thinly, processes aren’t executed well and other usual design and operation systems fail, the product you get in the end will be inferior which could damage your reputation.

Damaged Trust

If you have pushed forward with a project that is doomed to fail and you know it cannot succeed, you will have a lot of people asking you why you never said anything sooner. This could sorely damage their trust in you as a PM.

Damaged Morale

Your morale, your teams morale and anyone else involved with the projects morale will be affected by this failure. With so many people seeing the team as incapable, eventually that negative thinking will seep into the overall group positivity, and wear it down.

If a project clearly is set up for failure and you have examined all possible routes through and all lead to a failure, you must be brave and speak up. Pulling the plug in these instances will save a lot of money, time, emotions and other damage being done.

project goals

Stop Unrealistic Goals From Being Set In The First Place

If possible, unrealistic goals should be avoided at all costs in the first place, so you never have to even contemplate the above issues. It is a delicate art and one which requires balance. Setting unrealistic goals can not only damage a project, but an entire company so, this starting point really, really matters. The problem is, how can you know if the goals are realistic without looking into the future and seeing how things pan out?

The best thing to do is set yourself up a process where you ask yourself enough questions and analyse things enough to go forward because you have carefully measured the goals as much as you possibly can. Unsure what to ask yourself about the project? Try out these questions to see if your project goals seem unrealistic:

Are you well in tune with the project requirements?

Your customer might think that certain stages of the project can be scrapped, or they might think they understand the project process and want certain stages changing. However, they don’t understand the end products like you do. That means it is your job to ensure you know what they actually require, not just what they want. This avoids scope creep and ensures when you’re mapping out what you need to do and ensuring your lean management process is streamlined, you can have an even more precise financing system and timeline.

Could your customer define what they wanted?

Unfortunately within project managements, customers can expect you to be a mind reader. They might not want to define what they want, instead expecting you to define it. This cannot work because you might create something at which point they will say ‘this isn’t what I had in mind’ even though they never told you what they had in mind anyway. You must get them to commit to certain goals and product specifications to protect your project. You can do this during the project specifications stage of your planning. Check out this useful YouTube video on creating a project specification plan.

Are you experienced in this kind of project?

Every project is unique yes, but, if there are variables you have never dealt with before, you must allow room for that in the timeline.

Can you manage scope creep?

Expect some scope creep on the project because, it happens. Just make sure there are project allowances and processes to allow for it, and make sure you communicate about it effectively so there are no nasty surprises for your customer.

Does everybody know what to expect?

If you speak about your project goals to nobody, then nobody can point out issues you haven’t noticed. You’re a project manager, but you’re not superhuman. Speak to your team about the project goals and seek advice from trusted colleagues if you need to. Getting an insight early on is invaluable because it means adjustments can be made without negative consequences.

Have you timed it right?

Timelines are very intricate and it isn’t always easy to estimate them well. The best project managers will take each and every milestone, even the smallest ones, and estimate exactly how long they will take. Timelines should be as accurate as possible and there are handy apps and tools to help you map out all your milestones and goals. However, you do need to make accurate estimations first. Check out this useful YouTube video on estimating when you will be done on the project and consider using something like online Kanban software to aid time management.

Do you have the right team?

As much as you might be comfortable with your team, you might not have the right team. Think carefully about the skills you need and the manpower you need. Are there any mixes of people who have had conflict before? Is the project too advanced for certain team members? You may have planned your project beautifully but, the work comes from the whole team not just your delegation so you must check they are the best team for the job.

“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” – Henry Ford

Project goals should always be ambitious, but they have to be realistic in order to succeed. Learn from the past, be as analytical and specific as you can in the early stages, and create project goals that can be achieved. Your reputation, the company’s reputation, team morale, and the projects success all depend on it.


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