Managing projects – keeping a focus on goals

Sunday 3 March 2013

by Bob Dignen

Many professionals leading projects do so with a very strong goal focus. One of their core competences, as they see it, is to keep in mind at all times the budget, deadlines and scope which were specified in the original business case. This is what project controlling, the classical job of a project management office, is all about, ensuring that things stay on track.

It’s an approach which has its advantages, of course. Effective management is partly about planning effectively and then executing according to plan. In this way resources are effectively used, and a business can move forward in a structured and coherent way. However, those with a high goal focus often run into problems when working in international projects for a couple of reasons. Firstly, international projects bring with them a great deal of uncertainty and complexity which makes effective upfront planning quite difficult, if nigh impossible. One of the arts of managing complexity is actually the ability to plan and then replan according to shifting contingencies. It’s a philosophy and approach embodied in the emerging disciplines of Agile and SCRUM project management.

The other challenge to those with a preference for strong planning is that many business cultures – whether organisational or national – operate with a different set of values, favouring individual, ad hoc, creative and unsupervised entrepreneurial approaches to doing business. Less efficient in some ways, it may be true. But the freedom, innovation and proximity to specific customer needs offers greater rewards in terms of motivated staff and satisfied customers than the guarantee of meeting defined plans.

Those working internationally and across cultures, of course, need to strike a balance between these two differing philosophies and practices of doing business – high goal and low goal focus.

High goal focus

Low goal focus

Potential advantages

More likely to achieve goals on time

Establishes clear sense of direction in project

Clarity and simplicity


Potential advantages

Better able to adapt to customer priorities

Can explore alternative approaches

Quick to adapt to changing circumstaces

Potential disadvantages

May struggle to adapt to new situations

May generate conflict if unable to change

May be felt as inflexible by customers


Potential disadvantages

Lose sight of the main objective

May waste time and money

Can look like weak leadership if too changeable


Everyone in international projects works with goals. The problem is that people have very different values and approaches associated with the word. And very often, this is not discovered until too late. Take time when working in projects to clarify early the meanings and values which international colleagues attach to that very little word ‘goal’ – it may save a whole lot of heartache.


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