In today’s fast-paced and complex business environment, teams need more and better ways to increase the speed of execution. The differences between goal management and project management as methodologies contributing to the speed of execution are often under-appreciated. At a high level, goal management is a method of setting and achieving strategic goals that is distinct from project management. While the two may seem similar, they each have their benefits and limitations.

differences between goal management and project management

While project management has been widely recognised and practised for decades, goal management hasn’t received the same amount of attention. In short, goal management involves breaking down long-term goals and plans (strategy) into medium-term ones before converting them into actionable steps (project management). Therefore, the main difference between goal management and project management lies in their focus and approach. But it all starts with strategy…

Strategy is a hypothesis; we set a strategy to explore the unknown, and it often requires experimentation to determine the right course of action. Project management, on the other hand, is based on predefined steps and actions used to deliver a specific outcome. So, in effect, you have to know where you’re going and how to get there before the benefits of project management kick in.

More recently, project management methodologies have emerged that allow for some of the unknowns. Agile is the most well-known and uses structures and processes to manage the unknowns. By working in two-week sprints and iterations, an agile team remains focused on going in a general direction while constantly asking what short-term value adds are being delivered in each sprint.

Even as project management methodologies have allowed for more iteration, it still often neglects the link to the organisation’s strategic direction and focuses solely on the contribution of individual tasks.

Goal management, on the other hand, is committed to creating this link between strategic direction and individual tasks. Focusing on results, it defines outcomes derived directly from the organisation’s strategy. A sound goal management methodology such as OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) will provide a clear framework for measuring progress and ensuring alignment with the organisation’s strategic direction, before jumping into project management mode.

why is defining outcomes through goal management important?

Firstly, it creates the crucial link between long-term plans and daily actions. But a goal management methodology like OKRs also has a host of other benefits – if applied correctly.

OKRs uses an outcomes-based management approach. This means teams are managed by defining outcomes, as opposed to defining the tasks they need to complete (the inputs or outputs). Have a look at our whitepaper on outcomes for all the details. In short, there are three benefits we can highlight:

1. scalability

  1. Telling a team what to do takes a lot of time. Telling a team what they need to accomplish doesn’t. By defining outcomes, different tiers in an organisation align faster, and managers and leaders aren’t required to oversee every task, thereby significantly increasing scalability.

2. innovation

  1. As teams start taking responsibility for the outcome, they will find easier, better and faster ways to do things. This pushes innovation to the edges of the organisation (which is where research shows innovation needs to originate).

3. agility

  1. As ownership transitions to the edges of the organisation, the teams and individuals at the “coal face” can react to changing conditions. Their every task isn’t managed, as long as they reach the same outcome, while acting in alignment with company values.

Goal management helps organisations to measure progress and track success towards achieving their strategy. It provides a clear understanding of what is working and what is not, allowing adjustments to be made as needed. This helps to increase efficiency and ensure that resources are used effectively.

Furthermore, goal management encourages collaboration and alignment across the organisation. By setting clear objectives and communicating them effectively, everyone is working towards the same goals, and everyone understands how their work contributes to the organisation’s overall success. This helps create a culture of accountability and ensures everyone is focused on delivering results.

combining project management and goal management

Both project management and goal management are essential for achieving organisational success. While project management provides a framework for delivering specific outcomes, goal management ensures that those outcomes align with the organisation’s strategy and drive the correct results. By combining these two methodologies, organisations can create a culture of accountability, alignment, and innovation essential for long-term success. As such, it is crucial for teams to understand the differences between these two approaches and to use them in tandem to achieve their strategic objectives.

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