DPM Podcast

DPM Podcast: SMART Project Objectives (with Mackenzie Dysart)

By 01/07/2019 November 7th, 2019 No Comments

This podcast is part of an article published on The Digital Project Manager.
You can read the article here.

This podcast is brought to you by Clarizen, the leader in enterprise projects and project management software.

Learn more at clarizen.com

Ben Aston:

Welcome to the DPM podcast. Where we go beyond the theory to give advice that works, for leading better digital projects. Thanks for tuning in. I’m Ben Aston, founder of The Digital Project Manager.

So do your teams know why they’re doing what they’re doing? What about your client? I wonder, is it crystal clear? Is it specific? Is it measurable? Is it achievable? Is it realistic? Is it time-bound? Is everyone on the same page with what success for the project looks like?

Would it change the course of the project if it was a bit more clear? Yes? Well, keep listening to this podcast on creating SMART project objectives. That’ll create alignment and provide clarity and direction for your projects.

Today, I’m joined by Mackenzie Dysart. She’s a senior PM at Reason One, and they’re a full-service digital marketing agency. She has all the letters. She’s a PMP, she’s a CSM, and she’s got experience on the agency and the client side, with everything from website builds, apps, to campaigns. So hi, Mackenzie.

Mackenzie Dysart:

Hello.

Ben Aston:

So thanks for joining us today, and thanks for writing your awesome post on project objectives. But what I’m curious to know first is what’s new for you this year? What kind of projects are you working on right now?

Mackenzie Dysart:

So, right now one of the neat things I’ve gotten to do that’s a bit different is I’m involved in our marketing projects for our company. So Reason One recently launched as a brand. It’s a merger of two previous agencies, ecentricarts and BlueKey and I’ve gotten to be involved in the act of the building of not only the Reason One website and brand but now I’m starting to do the marketing strategy and trying to herd the cats that are executives and it’s been quite the experience and it’s definitely been the learning opportunity just because it’s been a bit of a shift of from a standard website project. So that’s been neat.

Ben Aston:

So, what are your tips for… I mean this is a… it’s funny, isn’t it? How agencies are typically really bad at marketing themselves and being our own client is something that’s really tricky and it’s one of the things, I think, is always really funny. Agency websites tend to be typically really bad because they’re always bottom of the priority list and there’s competing stakeholders. It’s all the nightmares of a client but in your own agency and so how are you making this work? How are you making it happen?

Mackenzie Dysart:

Yeah, so I would completely agree that we are our own worst client. It’s been an experience. I think honestly, one of the hardest things to do was carving out time in resource schedules to work on something that wasn’t profitable or billable. So it’s really hard to say, “Well, we’re going to take this person off of project work and bring them in.”

So that was one of the big things was just being like, “No.” Having to have those fights and get deadlines set. I would say one big thing was making sure we said, “Okay. This is the deadline we have to work against” and sticking to it and being able to say no to the executives. Partners are great but sometimes you just have to be like, “No. Stop. Stop asking for this. Just no.”

So there’s a lot of me just kind of crunching down on some creativity to be like, “We need to be realistic. Let’s figure what we can do with this specific time and actually having a clear project objective for when you’re going to launch it.” What that looked like versus future state was huge in the success of that.

Ben Aston:

Yeah. And so, I mean you talk about there being the executives but have you kind of established… been able to establish some kind of a pecking order to the executive team? Because I… what I have found in the past is the creative director wants to call the final shots but so does the CEO and so does the head of UX and the technical director thinks something as well. So how have you established that kind of pecking order in terms of managing stakeholders and establishing some kind of hierarchy to decision making or what’s the matrix… the racing matrix that you’ve got going on there?

Mackenzie Dysart:

Yeah. So it involved really pushing a lot of people out of the inner circle because we do have… we have three partners, and they’re very busy people, and we didn’t have time to wait for all three to be available and have discussions and… they had a plan, they had a vision, and I just went, “Okay. One of you is our point of contact. We can only have one product owner.” And just started really implementing those weird best practices that you try and circumvent because it’s an internal project, it doesn’t matter so much but I think you almost have to be stricter on internal stuff because there’s so much push back to be like, “But it’s not a real project”, but it really is.

So I think one of the big things is just how to get down to… we only had one partner in any of our presentations. Trying to keep it to one… just the design director involved and just really hunkering down and creating a tight-knit, smaller group of people that were owning it and then running it like a small project. We had stand-ups twice a week, check-ins, that kind of thing and making sure that we were going through our regular processes with an internal review before we showed the “client”, just to make sure that we had those checks and balances that we would normally have on a client-facing project even though it’s internal it’s still just as big if not bigger because it’s our face, it’s our name, it’s our brand, and we should give it the respect it deserves.

Ben Aston:

Yeah. So and where are you at in the process right now then?

Mackenzie Dysart:

So we launched the brand officially April 16th, so we got a brand new website. Feel free to check it out. It’s reasononeinc.com, and we’re in the midst of just building out our marketing platform so more so the SEM pages and building out a more robust site, but we’ve definitely … MVP, we’ve got the brand out there. Working social media and just starting to work on the branding there, and you’ll probably start seeing us at some conferences but slowly but surely just trying to make sure that we don’t try and take on too much, too fast because we want to be able to do everything that we do well.

Ben Aston:

Yeah. Well, well done for getting something live. I think the number of agency re-design projects that I have started versus the number that I have finished. The numbers don’t entirely add up.

Mackenzie Dysart:

I won’t lie. The original launch date was December 31st of 2018. So, we were just a little bit behind.

Ben Aston:

Yeah. Four months late. You know, that’s pretty reasonable.

Mackenzie Dysart:

It’s not so bad.

Ben Aston:

Yeah. At least you got something live. What else? I mean what else at the moment, we’ve talked about dealing with executives and the challenges of people’s availability and internal projects but in your kind of role as a senior PM and wrangling the team, what are some of the challenges you’re dealing with right now?

Mackenzie Dysart:

So I think time zones are always a fun one. I’ve got remote teams and more interestingly now I’ve got someone who’s on west coast hours, and we’ve also got people who work out of Ireland. So there’s about a nine-hour time difference between everybody. So if there’s meetings that needs to happen, there’s an hour window or an hour and a half where they can… people can attend meetings. So I think that’s one thing. Also, as I mentioned it’s been a merger, so we’re changing all of our processes, overhauling a lot of things. So there’s been a lot of learn-ins, a lot of good things that have come out of it, hunkering down on just how different people do things. We’ve got a team kind of change that’s happening. We’re moving from the team model, it’s only about small teams with one PM and obviously, it’s resources to houses where you’ve got two PMs, about 10-12 resources and so they can be a little bit more self-sufficient. So we’re just working on putting together what that looks like, documenting some best practices. I’ve been on-boarding some new PMs. So that’s been a new and exciting for me getting to do a bit more training. But it’s been… it’s good. I’m learning a lot. I feel like I’ve learned a lot in the last couple months so it’s been good.

Ben Aston:

That’s cool. So tell me through the process of updating and kind of changing your process, how did that… how are you managing that? Because I think it’s always a tricky thing when you try and establish some kind of new best practice and then immediately you jump into the edge case where your new process or best practice doesn’t work and I know we always talk about the fact that each project is different and there’s not all one size fits all for process and it’s very hard to define a specific approach unless you’re doing the same exactly the same kind of projects again and again but can you talk to us a bit about how your process has evolved and how you kind of made that change?

Mackenzie Dysart:

So I think a big thing is trial and error. You can’t just say that a new process is going to be this, and that’s what it’s going to be forever, and you’re just going to stick with it. You won’t know until you try so there is some risk, and some kind of internal investment I guess that has to go along with it.

One prime example I’d say is our discovery phase. So we’re a big believer in selling just discovery as a project first. Really figuring out what should that estimate should be at the very end and really focusing first and foremost what the strategy is, what’s really needed to make the site better, and what does that look like before we put together a formal estimate for the entire project. But that’s something that we’ve been trying to tweak and finesse over the last six to eight months I would say.

So there’s about three projects that we started in October or November of last year with our “new process” and we wanted to try it out, and they were all going at about the same time and out of those three discovery processes we actually had to like, learn things, “Okay, we don’t need to do these pieces for every project, and we could… how could we build this that it adapts to budget sizes, or the types of clients that we have if we can’t actually do them in person.”

So it’s just retroactively coming back and learning. There’s lessons learned from a project, there’s lessons learned from process changes, and process isn’t stagnant. It’s always going to adapt to either the new people involved or the new types of clients or technologies. We’re in the process of trying to figure out what tools we’re going to be using for everything. So everything’s going to adapt … but it’s just, it is a bit of trial and error and it’s just understanding that you’ll do it once, tweak, pivot, do it again until you get to the best possible version of that process.

Ben Aston:

Yeah, and so tell me about that discovery process because it is so important and what are the specific ways that you have tried tweaking it to optimize it?

Mackenzie Dysart:

So one of the things is obviously still believing, going in person, if ever possible, for two half day working sessions depending on the size of the project and really working with the client. That’s standard across all of them now. We still think that those working sessions are super valuable just for getting the information from the client, what they’re looking for, what their goals are, objectives, that kind of thing. When it comes to the deliverables after that it’s that’s where we can pick and choose, and we’ve built more of a menu, if you will, so if it’s a smaller client where it’s not a robust project, okay, we’ll only do a strategy presentation and maybe some mood boards or a basic IA. But if it’s a large project and we want to make sure that we’re robust and really think things through then we’ll look at doing a really built out IA. Maybe a round of designs in the first discoveries just to make sure that we understand everything that’s involved in that overhaul. So it’s really been more, there’s a few key elements that we want to stick to no matter what the discovery workshop, strategy presentations, and any documentation IA especially coming out of that but how robust we get in those deliverables. Changes depending on the size of the project, and the size of the client, and… or budget I should say and just the timeline overall.

Ben Aston:

So in light of the kind of the new process that you’ve been implementing, are there any… I mean you mentioned tools, is there anything that’s new in your PM toolkit to go alongside that kind of updated process?

Mackenzie Dysart:

Not official tools, but I’ve been creating things to help myself out to get some things done. I made myself an invoice tracker now that I’ve been sharing with the other PM’s just to check how our payments are going through since our accounting is across two countries, and a little bit different in Canada versus our US team right now. So just for some consistency, I created little tools like that simple enough Google sheet but at least it’s something that’s… it just makes it a bit easier for everybody to do their jobs. I think it’s been, lately it’s been a lot of that since we haven’t finalized what our toolkit as a company looks like yet. It’s just been finding ways to work with all the tools and mitigate a little bit and make things easier instead of having to look across 12 different things and you need like, six.

Ben Aston:

Yeah. And I think that’s great advice in terms of… I think what can sometimes happen is there’s this appetite for change and people are like, “Okay, we need to revise our process and change. We need to… there must be a better way of doing this.” And then everyone tries changing everything rather than picking off one or two of the particular pain points around a process and optimizing them. I think the temptation can be, “Right. Let’s go. Start from scratch and change everything.” Actually, sometimes some just little optimizations around the edges can be really helpful.

Mackenzie Dysart:

Yeah. 100% agree.

Ben Aston:

So, Mackenzie’s written a killer post, and it gives you a crash course in all things about project objectives. Definitions, examples, how to write an objective, and dive into those pesky, as she describes them, pesky yet wonderful SMART objectives. But for those of you who haven’t read the post yet.

Mackenzie, can you just give a little sneak peek on what are project objectives? How are they different from goals?

Mackenzie Dysart:

So this is something I can honestly say I struggled with for a long time. Pesky is probably the right word for it. It’s something that gets thrown around… goals, objectives, KPIs, all that stuff. The metrics. And it’s starting to get thrown around here a lot when we talk about projects but there’s not a lot of clarity or general understanding of the difference or how they impact things. The way I look at is the goals are sometimes like the pie in the sky, target, maybe even KPIs. There’s something that’s really set by the client where they’re saying, “We want a better user experience.” It’s a general idea of where you’re trying to go with the project, but it’s not how you’re going to get there.

The objective is breaking that down into something that’s attainable. So the reason we use SMART because it’s specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-bound. We want to make sure that it’s got the specific items so that we’re set up for success and also how you can measure project success at the end.

A really easy personal life example of these things is like, “I want to get healthier” is your goal. Well, that’s great but how are you actually going to achieve that? So when setting the objective of either drinking two liters of water a day or going to the gym three days a week for three months. It’s setting those more clear, concise tangible elements really help you achieve the goal because otherwise, a goal can seem so far away that objective is really the ladder to help you get there.

Ben Aston:

Yeah. Cool. So project objectives are the things that help us reach our overall kind of overarching goals. So in terms of when we’re kind of thinking about this on our projects you start with your goals then and work back and create the objectives based on those goals. Which do you think is more important and how do you kind of go through that process?

Mackenzie Dysart:

So I like having the goals come from the client whenever possible so that’s how I … circling back to the discovery phase. Generally, we’ll try and get some sort of idea of what are the client’s goals? What are they really looking to achieve? Then from there we’ll take it as a project team and break it down into objectives that we can then use to measure success for the project. I think it’s really important that we have the goals because we want to achieve them but having objectives makes it tangible; it makes it realistic, it’s achievable, it’s something that the team can bite into and really measure themselves against and make sure that they’re making the right decisions to succeed and achieve that objective.

Ben Aston:

Yeah. And so I mean you mentioned previously your discovery part of the project and so I’m guessing this is something that you’re doing as part of those… you talked about two half-day discovery sessions. So talk me through how you elicit those objectives. So in these discovery sessions what are the actual exercises that you go through to take a goal and let’s take the idea of more form completes. The client comes to you and says, “Hey. We’ve got this lovely form but no one’s completing it. We need more form completes.”

How do you get, in your kind of discovery session with the client, how do you get from we need more form completes to the actual objective? What’s that kind of process that you go through to tease that out?

Mackenzie Dysart:

So I think the best way to work through that is kind of phrasing it backwards and being like, “Why aren’t you getting the form completes? What’s wrong with the form completes now? What numbers are you seeing? What do you think the issues are around it?”

Especially when it comes to stuff like forms where there’s a lot of interactions … people are required and it starts with questions like, “Are you getting the qualified leads or are the leads… why do you need more form completes? Is it because you’re not getting enough qualified leads or you’re not getting… is that the issue?”

Because at that point, you might be asking the wrong questions. So it’s really understanding where that goal comes from. Where does that goal base itself? Is it just we just need more in because sales says this is how we’re going to get the funding for the project if this has an uptake. That’s a different discussion than we need more qualified leads because we need to see ROI on the website and down the stream, this is how attribution works and XYZ we need this. So I think those conversations of understanding where and why they’re presenting that goal is really what comes out of that discovery workshop. So we start asking a lot of questions like, “Okay, what do you think your site should be? How do you want it to act? What are your pain points with it?”

How do we tease that information, pull it out and figure out what the actual issues are for us to resolve, I think is the big piece. It’s the understanding the why behind the goals, because it’s good to know the goal but understanding the ultimate driving factors will help better define the objectives.

Then from there we as a team will generally take that back outside of the working session and just start doing brainstorming as a team in terms of what were the key takeaways, what did we hear, how do we think we can resolve this, what did you think a major problem was, and how can we achieve it that way? So I think it’s something that takes a lot of thought. It’s not like oh I’m just going to sit down and be like, “Okay. Today I’m going to write my project objectives as a … PM and I will write it out.”

That’s not the case. You need to engage your entire team. They need to buy in on it and they might see things from a different perspective and build that out together and then we present those back to the client’s part of the strategy. These are the things we are going to try to achieve with this project and that’s where the objectives come back to and then you can map back to that whenever you are doing any presentations, deliverables, both to clients and internal just making sure that we’re mapping back to those objectives.

One of the easiest ones I can think of off the top of my head is user experience, and a lot of the times clients will say, “Oh. Our good content is buried.” Okay. So one of our objectives would be we want to make sure that these key pieces of information are available within two or three clicks to a user no matter where they are on their site. Knowing that we then make sure that we think about that when we’re presenting navigation, wireframes, how have we considered that they need to be able to always get to this and being able to measure back to those objectives and making sure what we’re presenting and recommending and moving forward within the project still aligns to that, and it’s so much easier once you’ve got the teams buy-in because then it’s there in their mind. They’ve already set that objective for themselves as well.

Ben Aston:

Yeah. So the process is you take the client’s project brief, or you take whatever the client gives you and then it’s a process of interrogation. So in that example, the first example we talked about, more form completes. We talked about, “Okay. So why do you need more form completes? Who do you need more form completes from? What’s the difference it’s going to make if you get more form completes?”

So we’re trying to understand the business goal behind it. That’s obviously what the client’s trying to achieve and then how do you kind of marry that with user needs and ultimately kind of turn that into user stories?

Mackenzie Dysart:

So especially with form completes. It’s okay maybe and one of my more recent examples would be that they just wanted more qualified leads. Something that they were finding was they were getting less valuable leads because they weren’t real submissions for whatever reason. So, how do we increase the qualified leads by whatever percentage we’d agreed to within the six months of deployment…six months of launch, for example. Okay, what are the deterrents for people filling out a form? Is it too many fields? Because sometimes that’s a huge one or is it overly specific form validation? Because that is something that we found in testing is especially with email addresses or phone numbers, if there’s overly specific form validation people are less inclined to fill it out because they’ll try and type in whatever they think it is. They get a form reject and just go, “I’m done. I’m not going to try.”

So how can we make improvements to the form experience that would make it more likely for someone to fill it out with tangible information but still weed out the fake. So it’s an interesting bounds but at that point, you know okay this is an experience I need to focus on. So instead of just having the objective of increasing qualified leads, you now have a user story strictly focused on the request prequel for and how you’re going to get those leads filled out. And it’s then building it out, thinking that through, doing research when possible, to figure out what best practices are and really digging into that one element that’s going to drive project success.

Ben Aston:

Yeah. So I think what I’m interested in is understanding as well, how you, throughout this process, I don’t know what your experience is like but often, a client might have this goal, more form completes, and then they have this goal, “Hey. We want to increase form completes by 100%. That’s the goal.” 500%. They just make up a number because they want more stuff and they want more leads. So how do you kind of manage that making sure the goal’s achievable and realistic? How do you manage that and something… how do you work out what’s achievable or realistic?

Because I think what can sometimes happen is at the beginning of the project in the client’s enthusiasm for improving something they might say, “Okay. Well, we need to improve the number of qualified leads by 500% because right now we’re getting, I don’t know, 100 and that’s just not sustainable for the business. So it needs to increase by 500% or we’re going to go under.” But actually what’s realistic is a 5% improvement and actually, the problem isn’t with the form, it’s with the SEO or it’s with the pay-per-click campaign or the problem’s somewhere else. So how do you kind of vet that and kind of I think when we have unrealistic goals it can be really demoralizing for the teams. So how do you manage that process of setting goals or KPIs that are realistic?

Mackenzie Dysart:

So good question. I think a big portion of it is understanding what is realistic, first and foremost. It’s one thing for us to agree to a goal and then determine it’s unrealistic later on, or an objective that’s a bigger issue. But if up front a client is asking like, “We want to increase form completes by 500%.” Well, that’s difficult and there could be like you said a lot of things that are attributing to this, and I don’t think any objective should be thought of as in vacuum. They all intertwine. A website is an ecosystem. So everything plays on everything. Your search engine marketing could have direct impacts on form completes because maybe you don’t have the same version of the form on your SEM pages for whatever reason. There’s a lot of things that need to be considered. So you can’t look at any one goal or objective in isolation. So I think that’s one big piece is figuring out how they all relate to each other because maybe form completes and SEO are something we’re going to work on together.

And then I think another big piece of that is reigning it back to a realistic goal for a specific timeframe. So something like a giant increase in form completes is highly unrealistic. Just it’s difficult, it’s impossible and how are you going to expect that and in what timeframe? So if you start breaking it down to saying like, “Okay. Understand that’s your end goal but how will we set the first objective as six months out or three months out, we want to see form completes increase by 5% because that is industry standard. After that we’ll revisit and continuous improvement.”

And that’s where there’s been opportunity to have those continuous improvement discussions, the longer-term relationships with your client, too, which is always good for the sales team but just being able to say let’s aim for something that’s realistic and this is a tough conversation to say but especially if you’ve got industry standards or research that can back you up and say like, “This is a reasonable number to see an increase for. Let’s go with that for three months and then we can look at it again.”

Iterate and improve and build on it and continuously improve it so that eventually there’s potential that you could see maybe 3 or 400% increase but it might not directly relate to the form. It could relate to everything else you’ve done on the site including even content being more conversion driven or SEO… all kinds of things that could impact form completion, but it’s really… it’s important to scale it back to be realistic. You don’t want it to be too low where it’s like, “Okay. Well, no matter anything we do we’re going to see that improvement and that’s just an easy win.”

You want it to be something that takes thought, that is an objective. It’s something that you have to strive for, but it’s still realistic, it’s still attainable and I find putting a shorter timeframe on it to say like, “We’re not going to just say to infinity, we’re going to see this improvement. Let’s just say small amount or more finite time framed and then you can build on it and build on it.”

And that way it just… I’ve found that’s a little bit more digestible for clients when you have conversations that way and again always having some sort of research to back you up and say like, “Hey. Industry standard is this.” Or “Because of this objective and the fact that we’re going to improve your SEO we think you’re going to see more but we won’t know until we see how your content flows in and you have to write that.”

So, that’s always a good one, too.

Ben Aston:

Yeah. So after you’ve defined the objectives and these KPIs, these metrics, these SMART project objectives are set. What do you do with them and how do you keep them… well how do you evangelize them with the team? How do you keep them kind of at the forefront of the work that’s being done as a kind of check and balance throughout your process? How do you keep the kind of team focused on them? Because we all know that we have these discovery sessions, we think we’re heading in the right direction and then it’s kind of team get started on the project and can sometimes get carried away with something else and lose track of those objectives. So how do you keep the team on track with them?

Mackenzie Dysart:

So I personally have made it an objective this year to include my project objectives in all of my internal meetings for the next six months to see if this works because I have not been the best, admittedly, at mapping back to them. But it’s something I am trying to do personally as a project manager because I am the shepherd a little bit for those kind of elements and making sure that I have those objectives with me at every internal presentation where we’re reviewing things. Just to make sure okay have we thought about this, have we thought about this and make sure we’re mapping back.

Another thing that I’ve recently started doing is leveraging the whole pinning functionality in Slack. As I mentioned before, we’ve got a lot of tools. We also have a shared drive where most of the folders are but sometimes it’s just helpful to have things pinned on projects in Slack or setting up a topic where you’ve got user… if you’ve only got one or two project objectives it’s super easy to set it up as a project topic in Slack and then that way it’s there. It’s always there to remind people what they need to be doing. What our objectives are. What we should be thinking. How we should be thinking about the project throughout the life of it and just trying to bring it back into conversation whenever I can. It’s always easier when it comes to deliverables and internal elements but when I can I try to circle back when possible.

Ben Aston:

Yeah. Yeah, I think that, I mean, pinning it on Slack is a great idea. I think visual control is a really powerful thing and if you can print it doesn’t work so well when you’re in different locations but printing out the objectives and putting them on the walls so everyone can see them every day and so that everyone’s really laser-focused on these objectives I think is really important and particularly if you can have it somehow if you’ve got any visual control. If you’ve got printouts of what’s in Jira or Trello or whatever you’re using, put in those objectives next to the backlog so that you’re kind of prioritizing things, if it’s your job to prioritize, that are going to hit those objectives I think are really important and in the sprint planning that you’re doing referring back to them as well.

So, okay, so let’s just do a quick check, is this story that we’re about to tackle is it going to help us meet that objective or not? Because if it’s not should we be prioritizing it? So I think it can be really helpful filter for a kind of backlog prioritization and also when we kind of… you talk about it when you’re in reviews as well, like when you’re reviewing the work. It’s great to be able to say, “Before we review this, let’s just recap on what the objectives are.” And so that we, we’re kind of viewing this work and kind of assessing it through the lens of success from the client’s perspective rather than just what the team have got excited about.

Which I think is often a thing we’re fighting against when we’re kind of churning kind of through a project. We want to get it done, that’s one kind of thing we’re fighting against, and we’re also fighting and so sometimes because we want to get it done we, we kind of accept sub-par work because we’re worried about our budget or timeline and then the second thing is when the team just gets kind of carried away and does what they want to do. And the other thing that can happen is that the client can change their mind as well, and they might assess the work and be like, “Well why have you done this? Why have you stripped out three-quarters of the fields on our form?”

And it’s because we’re trying to meet their objective of more qualified form submissions. And then they’re like, “Oh no. All that information is really important, that’s why we need it there.” So then you kind of go right the way back and then you have to start talking to the client again about the objectives and the KPIs and I think that’s why presenting those and recapping them before you present work and using it as a filter throughout the process can really help you in the decision making but also in persuading the client that the decisions that you have made creatively and technically throughout the whole process have been done from a valid, logical, rational perspective, and that you haven’t just made them on a whim.

So I think it gives you a really good opportunity to submit your case for the decisions you’ve made if throughout the whole project you’ve used that filter. It can give you a lot more solid ground to stand on rather than, “Well, our creative director suggested this is the best route.” He’s like, “Well, why?”

It’s going to move the needle where you want the needle to move. So I think that’s really solid advice. So, finally, I just want to kind of touch on where this all unravels and goes wrong. I mean and this is a tricky thing I think. We’re battling against budgets, timelines. We’re battling against our teams who want to do their own thing. We’re battling against clients who keep changing their mind but from your experience in this whole managing project objectives and KPIs, where does it and how do you kind of see it falling apart, where does it go wrong for you?

Mackenzie Dysart:

So I think it can honestly start of entirely wrong if people don’t understand the value of objectives. I’d say that’s one of the big things is sometimes people will more so like internal groups or personal goal setting, that kind of stuff. It’s really easy for people to say, “Okay. I’m going to do this one thing once by this time and then that’s my objective.”

Well, really that’s just a task that you’re saying is an objective because you know you can do it and that’s it and understanding the value and purpose of objectives I think is really important when setting the groundwork to write them. Just to make sure everybody is on the same page. And then when it comes to actually writing them, and this is something that I can say I struggled with for a while, there’s no template I use just to write out goals to make it a bit… or objectives to make it a bit easier to think things through but its really just about making sure they are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound. Those elements should be thought about for every single one of your objectives because then they are more likely to succeed.

Obviously there’s things that will happen that will derail them but phrasing it and organizing it in a way that meets those criteria really mitigates a lot of the risk associated with project objectives just because then you start thinking about okay, how are we going to do this? Is this timeline realistic? Can we even do that given the technology …. Example of changing forms. Can we actually scale down the number of form fields or does this … sales force and so many other departments you didn’t list that we can’t actually remove fields, we have to find another way to present the same amount of data. It’s those kind of elements that really get thought through at the beginning can help mitigate the risk. Stuff still does fall apart. I would say a lot of it can rely on the client not thinking things through or switching their thoughts or their objectives and changing their mind a little bit or not understanding how their pivot changes things.

One thing, an example I have is, one of my clients wants to improve their form completes which is great. So we’ve got a project that’s all about conversion rate optimization but when it comes to actually doing any tests on their forms they’re so risk averse that we can’t test anything drastic because they don’t want to risk any negative effect. So at that point what’s the objective here? Is the objective just to keep the needle the same or how do we actually improve on this? And that’s something that we’re currently revisiting actually because it’s a bit of a challenge.

Other opportunities for it to kind of unravel is if you’ve got any project team members who jump on. I always find that’s a little bit challenging if they weren’t a part of that process to begin with or ultimately also there’s a technical difficulty or you’re in development and there’s this thing that we need to do but it’s not that fun or there’s this really cool feature that we could build. Keeping everybody focused on the less fun but objective matching task versus this really cool feature that we could then write a case study about because we’re using new technology and then this is going to look so great is that’s always a challenge, too. It’s something that you just need to be cognitive of throughout the lifecycle of the project but really setting them up properly at the beginning is the best way to mitigate any risk associated with it and then just hopefully having clients that understand or can make sound decisions and stick to their decisions is always, always helpful.

Ben Aston:

Yeah. That’s all great. I think the one thing that really resonates with me is just that tip about the specificity, is that a word? Specificity? Yeah

Mackenzie Dysart:

Specificity. Yeah.

Ben Aston:

So like, and you talk about this in your art school and I love the way that in your post you kind of break this down to okay, is this specific? Is this measurable? It this achievable? Is this realistic? Is this time-bound? The more specific we can be in an objective and the more binary we can be about did we hit the mark on this or not? I think is really powerful because at the end of the day you want to be able to turn around to the client and say, “Look, we did it.” Or it should be clear that you didn’t do it then there can be a reason for it but I think eliminating the gray areas is really powerful when we kind of creating project objectives because it allows us to prove our value and prove our worth and so we can often be afraid of being too specific because we’re like we don’t want to set ourselves up for failure but actually, if we make them realistic goals to begin with we shouldn’t need to be afraid of that. And I love what you are talking about well let’s set a realistic goal and iterate on it rather than setting something that’s wholly unrealistic and that we’re never going to achieve.

So, check out the article if you want to find out more about setting SMART project objectives. There’s a whole lot of really useful advice in Mackenzie’s post. But thank you so much for joining us. It’s been great having you with us.

Mackenzie Dysart:

No problem. Thanks for having me.

Ben Aston:

So, what do you think? I wonder if you’ve tried writing project objectives. Whether or not you’ve used KPIs on your projects. Did it help the team stay on track? Tell us what you think. Comment on the post. Head to TheDigitalProjectManager.com to join our Slack team. You’ll find all kinds of interesting conversations going on about project delivery and tell us how you manage project objectives, your metrics, and KPIs on your projects.

If you like what you heard today, please subscribe and take a couple of minutes to leave an honest review for DPM podcast on Apple Podcast. We love ratings and reviews and it helps us tailor the show, so it’s very much appreciated. But until next time, thanks for listening.

Ben Aston

Ben Aston

I’m Ben Aston, a digital project manager and founder of thedigitalprojectmanager.com. I've been in the industry for more than 15 years working in the UK at London’s top digital agencies including Dare, Wunderman, Lowe and DDB. I’ve delivered everything from film to CMS', games to advertising and eCRM to eCommerce sites. I’ve been fortunate enough to work across a wide range of great clients; automotive brands including Land Rover, Volkswagen and Honda; Utility brands including BT, British Gas and Exxon, FMCG brands such as Unilever, and consumer electronics brands including Sony.

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