Your clear, specific, and measurable 'desired business outcomes' should be drafted at the very start and should then drive every aspect of your project. But sadly, few projects identify them...

Successful projects need Desired Outcomes, not objectives.

When we tell Sponsors that they haven’t defined their project’s ‘Desired Business Outcomes,’ they often get quite agitated.

“We know exactly what we are delivering!” they exclaim.

“We are” (for example) “installing a new monitoring system to allow us to take faster action to resolve problems, identify recurrent problems for preventive action and improve service levels.”

But is this really a “desired business outcome”? Does anyone in the front-line business or any of your customers care about this? What is the true end-state that you are trying to achieve? Equally, how will you know when you’ve got there?

In this example, if the new monitoring system is running and there are any improvements at all to problem resolution, prevention, and the SLAs,[1] then the project is a “success”. But if this multi-million dollar project delivered a 0.1% performance improvement across these three areas — is this really “success”; is this the level of improvement intended?

Most projects are focused on the wrong “outcomes” and what they are focused on can often be un-measurable.

Drafting Outcomes is a simple process with precise principles.

Defining outcomes is a simple process that moves the project’s focus from the project’s usual starting point (un-measurable goals and objectives) to the real, measurable business outcomes that are what is desired.

You can do a good draft in a morning with the right people in the room, and then the outcome statements will evolve over around 2-3 weeks as they are circulated and commented on.

One example that TOP uses a lot when we teach people how to do it:

Someone may say, “I want to lose weight,” as the starting point, but then as you take them through the questioning process, they may end up crafting an outcome statement that better describes (to them and others) that their real intentions might be, “I want to look great at my daughter’s wedding”.

That is their real desired outcome and, importantly, to ‘look good’ requires more than just dieting—it requires other activities. Identifying these additional activities is critical to successfully achieving the individual’s Desired Outcomes.

Once each Desired Outcome statement has been crafted, it needs to be checked that it is measurable so that its achievement can be confirmed. We measure the achievement of outcomes in the form of a “true/false” question.

  • Can we or can’t we?
  • Do we or don’t we?
  • Have we or haven’t we?

When they hear that outcomes need to be measurable, some business and project managers think, “Well, we’ll just re-work the project’s objectives into measurable statements, so they sound more like outcome statements”. They then think they’ve defined their project’s ‘desired business outcomes’.

That is not enough. Each outcome must be crafted and word-smithed to be precisely clear and correct. It should also comply with all 11 Principles for defining Outcomes.

One of the Principles is that each outcome statement must be written in the present tense as if it already exists. The reason for this relates to how the brain ‘prospects’ the future (described in more detail in The Value Equation Handbook).

The non-conscious part of the brain (which is 5/6ths of it) [2] sees things in pictures as if they already exist. When outcomes are clearly stated to create a vivid picture in the mind, the brain automatically starts to move towards the desired outcome without the person even being consciously aware that they are taking action.

This is why it is so essential to invest the effort to craft the outcome statements. The principles and process steps are quickly learned and have been successfully applied by people at all levels of organizations — from the shop floor up.

When the outcomes are stated correctly, every other aspect of the Value Equation flows smoothly.

Clear, specific, and measurable

Using the process to craft them creates outcome statements that are:

  • stated in clear, meaningful business terms — even a ‘back-office’ or ‘infrastructure’ project can be stated in “What this will do for the business?” terms
  • clear, specific, and measurable — their realization can be confirmed by a ‘true/false’ question
  • easily and consistently understood by all staff wherever they fit in the organization
  • unambiguous as to the purpose and end states to be delivered by the project
  • understood by both the brain’s conscious and non-conscious levels allowing the brain to (non-consciously) work towards their achievement.

When you get the definition of the desired business outcomes right, all else will follow. As TOP says, “Outcomes are everything!”

Translating objectives into outcomes

In our monitoring system project example above, the goal of:

‘we’re installing a new monitoring system to allow us to take faster action to resolve problems, identify recurrent problems for preventive action and improve service levels’

can become a series of clear, specific, desired business outcomes. They might look a bit like these:

1. We can track service quality that is improving with a range of critical indicators: Incident call volumes are falling, speed of Incident resolution is increasing because we are detecting potential problems earlier, repeated problems are reducing because of improved diagnostic tools and improved skills od staff who deal with alerts.


Are we seeing these measures improving or not?

2. Repeat problems are designed-out of the relevant processes. The new processes are fully documented and introduced through a thorough process that prevents slippage into old ways of doing things and old behavioral patterns.


Have repeat problems being designed out and well introduced or not?

3. Changes to any processes and/or systems are centrally managed and assessed. This ensures changes are fully documented and tested before they are introduced in a controlled manner, resulting in fewer post-implementation problems or incidents.


Are changes centrally managed and controlled or not?

Carefully crafted outcome statements, which even those who do not know the organization or area can understand, give a different level of understanding and focus and control over the project.

Measurable “desired business outcomes” [3] are the foundation of every project’s Value Equation.

Q. Do your projects have clear, specific, measurable “Desired Business Outcome” statements driving every element?

If you do, then well done. But you are the exception if you can say ‘yes’ to this question.

Topics: Project Success, Value Equation


[1] SLAs = Service Level Agreements

[2] Think of the brain as having three levels — the conscious, the non-conscious and the unconscious. The conscious brain is how we deal with everyday events and thoughts. The non-conscious brain runs 24 hours-a-day and is where we store the vast repository of our knowledge. The unconscious brain is what keeps our body and vital organs working.

[3] This process used for shifting goals/objectives to Desired Outcomes—can be used for any type of initiative: marketing campaigns, mergers, re-organizations, new policies, business plans and so on.
The real question you are seeking to answer is: “What are we really trying to achieve and how will we measure that we have achieved it?”

Revision History

First published: Simms, J. (Dec 2015) as "Project Success Starts With Defining Your 'Desired Business Outcomes'"

Updated: Chapman, A. (March 2020), Revisions and Corrections