What’s in a word – do objective and deliverable mean different things?

What’s in a word – do objective and deliverable mean different things?

In projects and when we build our business plans we use a lot of similar words. Goals, targets, deliverables, KPIs, benefits. And, of course, objectives. But aren’t they all the same thing? Are we splitting hairs when we use them differently?

I believe not. But I am a project manager with a strong background in process and product improvements. So, the question is

Can I show you the value of giving these terms distinct definitions?


It’s all about planning and communication

Let’s say you run a business. You have a mission and a vision. Your business plan makes assumptions about revenue and expenditure. You need to tell your people what they have to do this year. You will set sales targets. And you will budget for operating expenses and capital investments. Believe it or not, you have set an objective.

Objective – the desired benefit or outcome of an activity.

In this case, you want to be profitable.

Unless, of course, you budget to spend more than you earn, but that isn’t the normal state of affairs...

You have also declared a few KPIs.

Key Performance Indicator (KPI) – a numeric measure of performance.

In this case, you are focusing on revenue and expenditure. From these KPIs, an accountant will calculate profitability.

You have also set targets.

Target – a specified level of performance within a KPI.

In this case, you have said exactly how many pounds you want to receive and how many you are willing to spend.

When you deploy this objective to a team or person you use all three and add a date.

Deployed objective – a timebound definition of objective, KPI and Target.

If you give your team an objective but miss out KPIs, targets or a date, you are giving them a blank cheque.

Congratulations, you now planned and communicated your objectives.


But your organisation operates in a competitive market. It is dog eat dog out there. You need to invest to stay ahead of the pack. So you set an objective to change.

Objective – the desired benefit or outcome of an activity.

Now you want ‘to increase profitability’.

TOP TIP: When writing a change objective include the motivator for change. In this example, our objective could be ‘To increase profitability to generate cash for investment’.

Before you get to your KPIs, you need a goal that relates to the Objective

Goal – a SMART version of the Objective.

In this case, you will ‘Increase profitability by 30% over last year by year-end’. Your goal is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timebound. (It is not dissimilar to the deployed objectives we met earlier.) Now we can move onto our KPIs.

Key Performance Indicator (KPI) – a numeric measure of performance.

In this case, your KPIs match your operational KPIs: revenue, expenditure and profitability. You have also set targets.

TOP TIP: Matching project KPIs to operational KPIs makes measuring and demonstrating success easier and more understandable.

Target – a specified level of performance within a KPI.

But in this case, your targets are the difference between a baseline and this year’s performance. Say, ‘Increase revenue by 25%’ and ‘Decrease operating costs by 20%’. You now need to think about deliverables.

Deliverable – the direct outcome of a project.

Another way of putting this is that deliverables are the means to the end. The end being your objective.

In our example:

  • You might introduce a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system to increase revenue.
  • You might invest in a new type of widget-maker to cut costs.

A project manager will help you realise these deliverables. AND deliver the benefits in order to achieve your objectives.

Benefit – measurable outcomes of the project that contribute to the Objective.

If you have several deliverables, then you may seek the help of a Programme Manager to make sure your projects work together, minimise costs and maximise benefits.

Featured Image by: Glen Carrie