Your clear, specific and measurable 'desired business outcomes' should exist and drive every aspect of your project. But few projects every even identify them.

More than 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 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 that was intended?

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

It is a process with specific rules

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 desired. This process is the like taking someone who says, “I want to lose weight” through a process to define their real desired outcome, such as, “I want to look great at my daughter’s wedding”. That’s their real desired outcome and, importantly, to ‘look good’ requires more than just dieting—identifying these additional activities is critical to success.

Once each true outcome has been agreed it has to be made measurable so that its achievement can be confirmed. This measure needs to be 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?

On hearing that outcomes need to be measurable, some project managers just re-work their project’s objectives into measurable statements and think they’ve defined their project’s ‘desired business outcomes’.

Each outcome has to be word-smithed to be exactly correct and comply with all of the 11 outcomes definition rules.

One such rule is that each outcome must be stated in the present tense as if it already exists. This is both a discipline of language (does it make sense as a present-tense statement?) and an Engineered Thinking™ requirement.

Leveraging your brainpower

Neuroscience research has found that the non-conscious part of the brain (which is 5/6ths of it)[2] takes in messages stated in the present tense. Statements in the future tense, for example, are only understood by the conscious brain (the other 1/6th). When outcomes are stated in the present tense they penetrate into the non-conscious of those involved and allow their brain to move them towards the desired outcome without them even knowing it.

This is why is it so important to get the definition of the outcomes exactly right. The rules and process steps are easily 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 easily.

Clear, specific and measurable

The result of the outcomes definition process is outcome statements that are:

  • stated in clear, meaningful business terms — even ‘back-office’ or ‘infrastructure’ projects can be and are 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.

Get the definition of the desired business outcomes exact and all else will follow. As we say, Outcomes is everything!

Translating objectives into outcomes

In the monitoring system project example above, the goal of were 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 such as:

1. Business service has been measured as improved through a reduction in incident call volumes and an increase in the speed of incident resolution due to the early detection of potential problems and the progressive elimination of repeat problems through the use of improved diagnostic tools and improved staff skills to deal with alerts


Have they been measured as improving or not?

2. Repeat problems are designed out of the relevant processes with the replaced processes fully documented and introduced through a thorough process to prevent slippage into old ways of doing things and 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 to ensure they are fully documented and tested before being introduced in a controlled manner resulting in less post-implementation problems or incidents


Are changes centrally managed and controlled or not?

These carefully crafted outcome statements (which you can probably understand without any knowledge of the organization or area) 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.

Do your projects have clear, specific, measurable "Desired Business Outcome" statements driving every element? You'll be the exception if you can say 'yes' to this question.

 Explore how to generate a TOP Value Equation



[1]    SLAs = Service Level Agreements

[2] Think of the brain as having three elements — conscious, non-conscious and unconscious elements. The conscious is how we deal with everyday events and thoughts. The non-conscious is where we store our knowledge. The unconscious keeps our vital organs working without any other brain involvement.

[3]    This general “goals to defined outcomes” process can be used for any initiative envisaged — marketing campaigns, mergers, re-organizations, new policies, business plans and so on. For each, the real question is, “What are we really trying to achieve and how will we measure that we have achieved it?”

Topics: Project Success, Value Equation

Further Reading



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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