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Should project goals be achievable or aspirational?

Adeline Teoh ed.
February 16, 2015

If you see something that can be done, are you more likely to do it, or would you consider it not ambitious or challenging enough for your efforts?

The United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals, those targets we set ourselves in the year 2000 for 2015, have largely been achieved or will be by the deadline at this year’s end. The strength of those eight goals, encompassing 18 targets, was that they were sufficiently clear to be a basis for action, according to a recent report in The Economist.

By contrast the UN’s latest initiative, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to be agreed upon at the UN General Assembly in September, is said to comprise 17 goals with 169 targets, a proposal many economists fear will be too broad and ambitious to attain. Economists such as Jeffrey Sachs and Bjorn Lomborg have already criticised the scale of the UN’s goals as impractical.

Project managers, on the other hand, are not economists. Economists may look at the ‘bang for buck’ certain projects or initiatives will have and judge them on a practical level, but it’s the project managers that have to deliver.

Projects are (or at least should be) defined by their end benefits. And, apart from research and development projects, projects by their very nature are designed to produce specific outputs connected to desirable outcomes.

Taking into account this aspect of projects, are ambitious goals such as the wide-ranging SDGs ripe for project management? Or will those goals need to be trimmed in order to bring about more concrete outputs to achieve the proposed outcomes?

As a project manager, which do you find a better project: an achievable goal or an aspirational one?

Adeline Teoh ed.
Adeline Teoh is the editor of She has more than a decade of publishing experience in the fields of business and education, and has specialised in writing about project management since 2007.
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