Academic journal article Research-Technology Management

Writing Useful Technical/business Objectives

Academic journal article Research-Technology Management

Writing Useful Technical/business Objectives

Article excerpt

Recently I helped write a proposal to a state government for a feasibility study of costly and potentially high-risk information system investment. One team member, widely respected for his clear, precise use of language, wrote the study objectives. They described the outcome of the project, which he identified as "satisfaction of the customer's project manager and other employees." Unfortunately, his objectives had no content specific to this project a reader could not discern from them whether the intended outcome would be an information system feasibility study or a new coffee shop!

Situations like this are not uncommon. As technology managers, we repeatedly write and receive written objectives for projects, products and performance of other kinds. We have been taught criteria for "good" objectives, such as: "Objectives must describe outcomes (not actions)," or that, "Objectives must be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-based (SMART)." Yet we still encounter irreconcilable differences about the form, as well as the content, of an objective.

Consequently, this article will offer managers a simpler way to decide whether an objective is written to get best results. Instead of providing rules, I shall examine the effect of the form on the potential benefits. A particular objective provides those benefits more or less well, and that enables customer and provider, employer and employee (and Fellow proposal writers), to agree on the form, if not the exact content, of a written objective.

The first section, below, explains how written objectives and the process of writing them help us by:

1. Expressing our intentions in a way that creates a beacon to help us choose from among many possible actions and spend our energy on only those that support the objective.

2. Clarifying and reaching agreement with others on what they can expect from us.

3. Enabling us to balance more accurately what's important to us with what we are able to do, and thereby to achieve as much as possible of the former.

With that as background, the second section includes examples to illustrate how forms of expression and various well-known rules do or do not provide the benefits.

Benefits of Writing Objectives Properly

We write an objective, first, to help us subsequently choose from among the many alternative ways to spend our time only those that move us closer to the objective. Without a specific choice of direction, actions tend to move randomly in first one direction and then another, with little progress in any direction. The direction can be set orally or implicitly, but written objectives are less subject to misunderstanding and memory drift. With the choice, the manager has the opportunity to focus organizational resources to achieve something that would not happen accidentally. The objective is a beacon.

Second, written objectives help us to communicate clearly and durably to another person what she can expect from us. An employer or customer may ask for written objectives so that she can evaluate whether the results are likely to meet her needs and so that she can make plans based on them.

The third benefit arises simply from the processes of writing and choosing. Identifying possibilities explicitly enables us to clarify them, and to assess their feasibility and their relative value to us before committing to the set. For example:

"The RF handhelds might become a second market for our high-density tunable capacitors."

"Manufacturing might increase yield to 20 percent by the end of the quarter."

"We can hire an additional half-dozen process engineers in the next six weeks."

An objective won't be achieved if the resources of talent, time, material, and equipment are not available. Even if the members of a set of objectives are individually feasible, they may not be feasible in combination. …

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