Project Design and Management – Fourth in a series: Objectives and Conditions of Satisfaction


The Objective is a short, straight-forward statement of the intent of the project. Let’s return to the billing example. The vision of the project was inspiring to the staff but it wasn’t useful for telling other people what they were doing. The objective they came up with was, “Rebuilding the entire billing system so the same resources can be three times as effective.”

This is short and concise and tells the whole story in a nutshell. It gives the listener the general idea, and it provides a basis from which to ask more questions. Most people will refer to the project in terms of the objective. The billing project was referred to as the “Rebuilding Billing” project.

Conditions of Satisfaction

Conditions of Satisfaction (COS) are specific, measurable results that described the successful end point of a project — a snapshot of the necessary conditions at that moment. In other words, if the conditions are achieved, the project will have succeeded, and if not, it will have failed.

It is important that all essential elements be considered. This includes deliverables that are easy to describe or measure and those that are less tangible. One project I worked with had a condition that there would be “no skeletons in their closet.” This was further defined as “following each and every company policy and ethical practice.” The project participants knew that they could probably achieve the result if they overspent or cheated in some way, and they were not willing to do that.

Other examples of actual COS are:

  • Achieved a 72% good or excellent rating on the customer satisfaction index in the Spring survey.
  • The manufacturing Cost of Goods Sold(COGS) is $0.26 for the third quarter.
  • The monthly finance reports are delivered by the 8th of the month.
  • Only one item number is used to refer to any given product no matter where it is in the manufacturing cycle.

You are creating a future. Not just any future, but the one in which your project is a success and on behalf of which you will be acting.

Imagine yourself on the day of the project’s completion. You have succeed. How do you know? Keep asking that question until there is nothing missing. Periodically, read the list of conditions (you should end up with 4-7 of them) out loud and ask “Have we (state the objective) or is something missing?” This exercise will clear heads, quiet arguments and crystallize the end point of the project.

Be careful about scope creep. These are minimum Conditions of Satisfaction. Only include what must happen for the project to be successful.

How? vs. What?

The entire framework of a project design is based on “What?” questions. “What?” questions focus completely on results, not on process or methodology. “How?” questions focus on process, method or means. Creating the objective, conditions and milestones is almost exclusively results oriented. You are defining the results, the end point, the deliverables.

There is a time to ask “How?”

Each part of the project design must be measurable, but it is not always evident what measure to use. For example if you have a customer satisfaction-related COS, it is not enough to say “We will have 100% customer satisfaction.” You must further clarify how you will know. Does the company have a customer survey it uses every year? Are you going to phone a sample number of customers and survey them? Are you going to count complaint calls? Numbers of abandoned calls? In the guise of a how question, you are further defining what you will measure.

Allow these conversations until you have clarified the measurement issue and then STOP!

Another reason for briefly engaging in ‘How?” questions is to allow people to satisfy themselves that a result is achievable but this is not the time to nail everything down.

Aside from these exceptions “How?” questions should be held until after the milestones are complete and the team members accountable for the milestones are discussing their strategies and plans.

The next posting will discuss Milestones; the last of the four components of Strategic Project Design


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