Blog Post

Three Ways IT Project Managers Can Set Realistic Goals

February 14, 2017 Author: Brian Bargmann

Being an Agile IT project manager has never been a simple job. While companies strive toward organizing their teams around common goals, in reality team members frequently are pulled into the cycle of working along their own ideas, plans, and schedules. And especially for large or complex projects, it’s important for project managers not just to be expert cat-herders, but to set realistic, achievable goals that have buy-in across the organization.


Key to a team’s success is understanding how their work relates to the broader company vision, objectives and priorities. As an IT project manager, here are three approaches that I find effective for helping to ensure that my projects have realistic goals:

  1. When setting project goals, IT project managers should provide clarity on how goals fit in the larger picture. This gives team members context and helps them be more engaged and supportive in project execution. By clearly communicating project and value priorities, IT managers are also communicating what the organization has decided to not work on articulating priorities includes making it clear that some things are off the table. If you don’t provide team members with this broader perspective, wrong assumptions will be made, resulting in wasted effort or slower future project delivery.To do this successfully, you need to carefully balance the long term product vision with the day-to-day details of project execution.
  2. Focus on providing incremental business value when converting project goals into specific features and requirements. Avoid tying the hands of the development team by giving a long list of features and declaring they cannot be ranked or prioritized (“project must be ALL or nothing”). Break down project goals into key measurable results, ranked by business value, and work with the team to define project milestones that will deliver value throughout the project, not just at it’s completion. This facilitates both project success (delivering the highest business value items early) and greater organizational agility (by allowing shift to other priority initiatives, if they arise).
  3. Develop and maintain a transparent work breakdown during project execution. Teams may need to first aggressively prototype to fully understand options and technical challenges. The outcome of this effort is to have a confident, high level understanding of the work required – enough to enable teams to define technical milestones that deliver the highest value (technical, integration, and/or business) early in the project. Teams should continue to iterate by adjusting scope and tasks for later milestones as technical details emerge and/or requirements change. A lack of transparency during implementation hides inefficiencies and/or process issues, thereby limiting opportunities to continuously improve.

This is not an exhaustive list of how managers can set realistic goals for their IT projects. But starting with these three guidelines will help ensure your teams stay aligned and focused on the tasks at hand – and help you keep the cat-herding to a minimum.

Do you have a good project management tip you’d like to share? Post it in the comments section below or share it with us on Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook to keep the conversation going!

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[Note: This blog was originally published on LinkedIn February 13, 2017. It has been reposted with permission.]