Did you know that your construction project and your next family vacation have several things in common?
You can’t start a trip without knowing its destination. The same principle applies to projects. You need to determine what the project is seeking to accomplish and how its success will be evaluated (1). Defining these objectives properly is essential to the success of a project (2).
Additionally, as with a vacation, you need to take everyone’s needs into account. What type of holiday do you need? Rest? Discovery? Family reunion? You also need to make sure that activities are available for children, that facilities are accessible to grandparents, and that everyone returns home healthy.
Let’s continue with our analogy. Would you be willing to say that your vacation was a success simply because you stayed within your budget and the two weeks you allotted? Of course not. There are many more factors to consider.
So let’s look at how to define specific goals for your project to maximize the benefits and concretely measure its success.
The process of defining the objectives of a construction project
Construction projects are often (but wrongly) deemed a success if they stay on schedule and under budget. That comes from the wants or needs of the organization or its stakeholders.
In the construction industry, compliance with the triple objective of cost/time/quality is generally considered to be the criterion for project success (3). From this perspective, on average, budget compliance accounts for 30% of perceived success, schedule compliance for 21%, and quality for 17%.
Factors like safety, stakeholder satisfaction, or environmental impact make up only one third of the criteria for success… even though they often motivate or initiate the project!
The budget is only a project resource. Respecting it must be considered a constraint rather than an objective in and of itself.
The real objectives of a major project must be aligned with the needs of stakeholders, especially the client and end users. It’s important to reach a consensus on these objectives from the beginning of the project in order to achieve satisfaction and benefits for all (2). Taking everyone’s interests into account also ensures unity and increases cooperation.
By basing your project on the stakeholders’ needs and the organization’s policies, it is possible to:
- Create the project’s goals;
- Define objectives for each goal; and
- Develop key performance indicators (KPIs) to monitor progress towards achieving these objectives.
This process is illustrated in Figure 1 below.
From there, it’s possible to determine how the project will proceed by setting a deliverable that best meets the objectives, taking into account the available resources, constraints (environmental, urban planning, standards, etc.) and risks throughout the entire project life cycle (1).
The goals of the project, that is, its purpose, must be detailed:
- What problems do we want to solve?
- Which needs must be met (2)?
This essentially makes your project a powerful instrument for achieving the organization’s goals (3).
The project’s objectives specify the criteria that will be used to evaluate its success. In our experience, the most effective way to do this is to involve all parties and use a proven method. We generally recommend that our clients define SMART objectives.
These objectives track the progress (or advances) made during the project using the criteria presented in the table below.
Table 1 Criteria for a SMART objective
|Specific||A specific objective leads to a specific result (5); the objective must therefore be clear (3), without jargon or acronyms, and present as much information as necessary (6). |
The target value levels must be precise; avoid giving only a range of acceptable values.
|Data must be measurable through easily updated key performance indicators, both qualitative and quantitative (6).|
|An objective must be realistic and achievable by the project team.|
|Relevant||An objective must be aligned with the interests of the organization (1).|
|Time-bound||Schedules should be incorporated independently into each objective through a deadline, adding interim objectives if necessary (5). The resulting schedule must be clear, sensible, and widely shared with the project team (6).|
Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
Finally, KPIs must be developed for each objective. Inputs, outputs, and outcomes of management processes need to be monitored so that the project can better respond to change. Efforts should be made to create both qualitative and quantitative KPIs; the former will reflect the progress of the project, and the latter will identify subjective feelings and provide feedback from stakeholders.
Different types of communication may be needed to monitor KPIs and must be adapted to the parties providing this data.
The data collected must then be organized into databases (2), where it can be interpreted to make good decisions during the project.
At the objective-setting stage, it’s important to involve stakeholders properly to maximize their active and positive participation in the project. This ensures that the project’s objectives are aligned with those of the organization without ignoring the realities of the field, sociocultural factors, and the environment. For that reason, it’s important to schedule consultation meetings that promote dialogue (4).
Once the project’s system of objectives has been established, the “destination” of the project is revealed.
At this point, it’s necessary to look for the best roadmap (13), i.e. the solution that meets the objectives while taking resources, constraints, and risks into account. Decisions made during the project are then backed by knowledge, avoiding the need to rely on experience or intuition (2).
Major categories of objectives and best practices
There are an infinite number of objectives for construction projects. They depend on factors like the construction field, the target profits, the company’s positioning strategy on a market, and more.
However, some broad categories of objectives are recurrent, unifying, and accepted as best practices.
This first category covers the principles of sustainable development (SD). This concept of social, economic, and environmental balance (15) is generally agreed upon, since it affects all stakeholders. It is the prerequisite for the sustainability of construction projects over their life cycles (8).
The construction industry is responsible for 40% of the world’s annual energy consumption (3). It must find a compromise between achieving its traditional objectives and SD considerations (8).
Although it’s difficult to objectively assess the quality of an engineering design, quality objectives remain essential to projects, as they are the main expression of stakeholders’ common expectations.
Reliability, that is, quality that meets stakeholders’ identified needs over the entire life of the structure, is an extension of the concept of quality over time and is therefore linked to SD. In this regard, implementing total quality management processes has definite advantages for achieving project objectives (5).
Health and safety
Finally, occupational health and safety objectives are a key part of any construction project. While often measured in terms of safety failures (accident rates, for example), it’s preferable to create KPIs that address the safety culture in the organization, such as:
- Consideration of risks;
- Security training for managers;
- Monitoring of risk groups;
- Reporting of near misses and management’s commitment to following up on them; and more.
In conclusion, each construction project is unique, but one thing is certain: Project managers for major construction projects are faced with many decisions, from the planning phase to project delivery. To make sure that each of these decisions aligns with the project’s objectives, it’s essential to define them properly.
Clearly defining objectives is crucial to satisfying all stakeholders as much as possible and evaluating the success of the project before and after completion (2). This is necessary to see success beyond respecting the budget or schedule. Implementing, and even institutionalizing, these practices in companies’ practices ensures that their works provide maximum value for money invested.
- Kloosterman, Vivian. 2014. “How setting goals and objectives for projects leads to successful outcomes”. In Continuing Professional Development. Online. <http://continuingprofessionaldevelopment.org/setting-goals-and-objectives-for-projects-leads-to-successful-outcomes/>. Accessed July 10, 2015.
- Cha, Hee Sung and Chan Kyu Kim. 2011. “Quantitative approach for project performance measurement on building construction in South Korea”. In KSCE Journal of Civil Engineering, vol. 15, no 8, p. 1319–1328.
- Yaoxing, Wu and Chen Whenghui. 2010. “Implementing environmental management as construction project management objective”. In 2010 International Conference on Management and Service Science (MASS 2010). (Wuhan, August 24–26, 2010). Piscataway (NJ): IEEE.
- Gluch, Pernilla and Christine Räisänen. 2012. “What tensions obstruct an alignment between project and environmental management practices?”. In Engineering, Construction and Architectural Management, vol. 19, no. 2, p. 127–140.
- Miller, Brian. 2011. “The purpose of project management and setting objectives”. In Project Smart. Online. Accessed April 4, 2019.
- Mathis, Keith. 2011. “Setting measurable project objectives”. In Project Smart. Online. http://www.projectsmart.co.uk/ setting-measurable-project-objectives.php. Accessed April 4, 2019.
- Tao, Ran and Chi-Ming Tam. 2013. “System reliability theory based multiple-objective optimization model for construction projects”. In Automation in Construction, vol. 31, p. 54–64.
- Zimmermann, Mark, Hans-Jörg Althaus and Anne Haas. 2005. “Benchmarks for sustainable construction: A contribution to develop a standard”. In Energy and Buildings, vol. 37, p. 1147–1157.