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What is the Difference Between Goals and Objectives?

An essential if not the most critical element of integrated new product development (iNPD) is setting a clear direction as to where to compete and how to win. At a macro level, direction is set by creating a vision and mission statement. To execute the vision and mission we define our goals and objectives and create a strategy to achieve them.

As with vision and mission, the terms goals and objectives often get confused and used interchangeable. While on the surface it seems like it’s just a semantic difference, and I am not one to be a stickler on semantics, I thought it would be worth defining the difference between the two in the context of strategic & product planning so the next time when you engage your troops in setting goals and objectives, you can explain the difference.

The main difference between goals and objectives is the level of specificity. Goals are broader than objectives in the sense that goals are general intentions and are not specific enough to be measured. Objectives are narrow and are set for certain tasks in particular.

Goals are general guidelines that explain what you want to achieve in your company or product line. They are usually long-term and represent global visions such as “be number one or number two leader in the markets we serve.”

Objectives are developed to help achieve goals by defining them into manageable components. Unlike goals, objectives are specific, measurable, and have a defined completion date. They outline the “who, what, when, where, and how” of reaching the goals. For example “we will launch 3 new products in 2010 using VOC best practices in developing new products that the market values and wants.”

Frankly it really doesn’t much matter whether you differentiate between goals and objective in your planning activities; the real “objective” or “goal” is to provide the specific direction for your business activities described in both long-term and short-term time frames. According to the management sage Peter Drucker:

“The basic definition of the business and of its purpose and mission have to be translated into objectives. Otherwise, they remain insights, good intentions, and brilliant epigrams that never become achievement.”

Here are some “SMART(s)” guidelines that you should follow when setting your objectives:

Specific: Objectives must be specific and provide a precise statement of what is to be accomplished by the business’s marketing strategy.

Measurable: Objectives should be measurable and stated in quantitative terms.

Attainable: Objectives should be attainable and

Realistic: realistically achievable with the resources you have.

Time: Objectives should be related to time so that everyone knows when the objectives are to be achieved.

Simply Stated: Objectives should be stated in simple, understandable terms so that everyone involved in carrying out the strategy knows exactly what is to be achieved.

Hope this helps and good luck on setting your goals and objectives for the New Year!


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