The Goal of Management; from MBO to Deming to Project Management and
Remember MBAware in the 90s? Well, maybe you
don٢t. How about management by objectives in the
MBO History &
50’s, 60’s and 70’s? How about Deming and quality
circles? What happened to those models for
management and general productivity, and what does
1. Management by
it have to do with project management today? The
Objectives (MBO) (It’s in
MBO model sort of came and then left, without leaving
much of an overt or visible impression on most. It
2. Smart Goals (It’s in the
seemed to exit from the fore-front of management
focus by the downsizing and work group turmoil and
3. Deming and Quality
market downturn of the early 90’s. Yes, every
Improvement (It’s in the
organization has to set goals, but organizational
effectiveness was going to be accomplished by macro
4. Project Management…
efforts such as down-sizing, not a style of managing, a
(It’s in the schedule)
way of organizing what topics and agenda to focus
5. PST's GAPR Model
upon in a given day.
With the upturn of the market and the start of the Internet gold rush, management by
objectives slipped further into the past. The term “management” itself seemed to lose a sense
of compelling interest. Riches were made based upon technology, upon acquisitions, upon
something new, upon association with the WEB, not (for heaven’s sake) management of work
The premise of this article is that project management is an evolution of MBO theory, and in
need of evolvement in specific directions itself… not necessarily more standardization. A
second premise is that the previous models have all been eclipsed in history because their
assumptions did not take into effect certain aspects in the workplace reality. The assumptions
proved over time to be quite limiting, forcing the evolvement of management models with a
new or improved set of assumption modifiers. The third premise is that the current model of
project management is also limited by its assumptions, with recommendations for needed
change and expansion to the model.
In effect, all of the work models to be discussed emphasize a certain perspective as key to
achieving a goal or objective. Project management integrates certain perspectives pushed to
the center of workplace thinking, and then adds its own emphasis. Each has a weakness in the
assumptions that are included in their emphasis. Let’s start by reviewing some history, albeit
in a summarized manner.
Humans seem to need goals to achieve extraordinary outcomes. The connection between goals
and elevated performance has been in the literature as long as writing has been a part of
civilization. In the last 50 years there have been more than 300 studies completed
demonstrating repeated findings, or “basic truths” if you will, about humans and goals. Truths
incorporated in repeated findings that:
1. People accomplish beyond their historical norm when they use goals.
2. People respond positively to stretch goals that they judge to be reasonable or attainable.
3. People stay attached to goals when leaders support a goal process by both modeling the
goal related behavior and providing feedback relative to goal progress.
What hasn’t been written as clearly is, “What happens when setting objectives or goals doesn’t
work?” What happens when its effect on organizing behavior and achieving results is relatively
nil? Why are goals so significant for some and relatively unused and apparently unneeded by
others, both in and out of work? In this white paper we will be using goals and objectives
interchangeably. We will use the term of goal to generally describe a goal or objective for the
purpose of describing in broad terms the process of defining some outcome to be accomplished
that is not presently within reach.
Management by Objectives (MBO) (It’s in the goal)
In the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s it seemed like a good thing to manage work efforts by goals, hence the
term “management by objectives.” The idea was to improve management and work
productivity in general by being more defined about the intended outcomes
MBO principals contained many precursors to the basic building blocks used by current project
management tenants. The basic MBO principles included:
1. Establish a set of top level strategic goals.
2. Create a cascade of organizational goals that are supported by lower level definitive
objectives and action plans.
3. Develop an organizational role and mission statement, as well as specific objectives and
action plans for each member, often in a manner that involved participative decision making.
4. Establish key results and/or performance standards for each objective.
5. Periodically measurement/assessment of the status or outcome of the goals.
The assumptive strength behind the MBO model, as commonly practiced, is the notion that if a
desired outcome is defined as a goal and progress is measured towards reaching that goal, then
the chances of reaching that outcome are enhanced. From a simplistic view, if you start out
with a goal in mind, you are more likely to reach it or conversely, “If you don’t know where you
are going, you’ll probably get there.”
But MBO theory didn’t survive very actively in the work arena. Why? One weakness was its
assumption that correcting the traditionally broad or vague state of goals would lead to
performance improvement. Goals were accurately noted to regularly get stated and stored in a
bound annual volume somewhere and only occasionally used as a measurement or reference
device. An effort was made to shore up this weakness with a focusing upon the goal definition
process, which became popularly known as the acronym SMART. To put it briefly, don’t just
manage by objectives; manage by “smart” goals or smart objectives.
Smart Goals (It’s in the goal details)
The SMART goal era of the 80’s and 90’s provided some helpful criteria about what makes goals
more or less effective in shaping behavior. By definition, a goal that doesn’t shape behavior is
ineffective. The theory went on to suggest that SMART parameters were good predictors of
influential or effective goals. As an example, goals that were not specific or measurable were
less likely to shape behavior than those that were high in these characteristics. Using a play on
words, you were smart to include these characteristics in your goal and objective definition.
SMART stood for the characteristics of: Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Reasonable and Time-
One of the almost palpable impressions of SMART goals is that they are pointed; they have an
edge, often a sense of energy created by the specificity, the time limits and the measurement.
Non-SMART goals seem flat in comparison (ie. Improve productivity); bureaucratic, like one
more strategic plan that’s going nowhere. While the enhancement to goal definition was a
helpful direction, it did not address fundamental weaknesses in this model.
What were the weaknesses in the MBO assumptive base that forecast its demise in the work
1. It emphasized the setting of goals over the working of a plan. Do you remember when it
was in vogue to “visualize” your goal daily… as if that was going to make it come to pass?
2. It underemphasized the importance of the environment or context in which the goals
were set. That context included everything from the availability and quality of resources, to
relative buy-in by leadership and stake-holders. As an example of the influence of management
buy-in as a contextual influencer, in a 1991 comprehensive review of thirty years of research on
the impact of Management by Objectives, Robert Rodgers and John Hunter concluded that
companies whose CEOs demonstrated high commitment to MBO showed, on average, a 56%
gain in productivity. Companies with CEOs who showed low commitment only saw a 6% gain in
3. It didn’t address the importance of successfully responding to obstacles and constraints as
essential to reaching a goal. The model didn’t adequately cope with the obstacles of:
· Defects in resources, planning and methodology,
· The increasing burden of managing the information organization challenge,
· The impact of a rapidly changing environment, which could alter the landscape enough to
make yesterday’s goals and action plans irrelevant to the present.
Deming and Quality Improvement (It’s in the product/process
At roughly the same time, there was an emerging model that addressed some of what the MBO
model didn’t. In the face of increasing change, information demands, distance from vendors
and increase in breadth of competition, Deming suggested that goals are achieved by
persistent, attentive measurement of the details and quality improvement. Identify and
remove the defects, the issues, the obstacles, one at a time… and ultimately the objective will
be achieved. He built a model around the importance of successfully responding to goal quality
Deming’s model also addressed the environment and context - in a manner. Essentially it
created a team environment (Quality Circles) at the mid-management level and below, to
protect and nurture the (goal) effort. This also allowed upper management to support without
participating and yet avoid the de-motivating impact of not-walking the talk or modeling the
desired group behavior that harpooned the MBO model. Deming’s model provided two
vehicles for addressing the complexity of work.
1. A singular or galvanizing focus of pursuing goals through achieving zero defects.
2. A structure for creating and following a series of best practices or task lists to ensure the
optimal achievement (highest quality) of each objective
The weaknesses in this model, which continues to evolve indicated as exemplified by the Six
Sigma effort, include:
1. Under estimating other (market) impact and feedback sources in the environment, with
the presumption that removing defects and improving quality (making it the best) would be the
determining factor in reaching a business objective.
2. De-emphasizing the value of non-metric feedback loops when attempting to achieve
something new, as contrasted with optimizing the existing.
As both MBO and Quality circles began to fade, the power of personal computers, spreadsheets
and computerized schedules were rapidly expanded. It set the environment for an emerging
demand to manage the complex in an increasingly organized manner. The achievement of
increasingly complex goals nurtured the developing model of project management with an
emphasis upon the specification, scheduling and deployment of resources as the chief predictor
for work success and outcome delivery.
Project Management… (It’s in the schedule)
Drawing upon the influence of MBO theory (set clear objectives, build an action plan, and
measure progress) and Deming’s work (optimize processes and products by identifying and
practicing listed best practices behaviors), emerged the project management movement. In
1. Yes set clear objectives, and get key stakeholder buy-in and definition for the participant
through explicit requirement setting
2. Yes, put together a series of best practices action steps in the form of a work breakdown
3. But, what primarily helps people achieve their objective, is the planning, securing,
scheduled deployment of resources and the completion of tasks.
Baking a Cake from a Historical Management Perspective
Yes, I know this review is very simplistic and full of omissions and arguable errors in emphasis
and coverage given its simplicity. But, bear with me as I would like to make it even simpler and
more concrete. If you represented the three models discussed as various perspectives on what
will most influence the success of achieving a goal of baking a cake, it might look like this:
1, The MBO model would emphasize setting a goal of baking a cake with as much specificity
as possible as to the nature of the cake, and the timing and metrics relative to setting up the
kitchen and the desired conducting cake baking activities.
2. The Quality model would add to that perspective by clarifying that you are never going to
bake a cake unless you ensure that your equipment is functioning correctly, there are no bugs
in the flour, the milk is of good quality, etc, otherwise all the goal setting and action planning
will be severely compromised. Furthermore, you are not going to turn cake baking into an
efficient production without measuring and optimizing each step and process involved.
3. The Project Management model would lightly address the two above and in effect state
the best predictor of baking a cake is your ability to obtain the right ingredients and effectively
complete the tasks of measuring, combining and heating the ingredients per the recipe (work
breakdown structure). Incorrect combinations or measurement of ingredients (resource
allocation and task completion) is the most significant contributor to overall success, regardless
of whether or not this has been your specific goal, and regardless of whether or not you have
made sure all ingredients and equipment meet quality specifications.
The combination of all three models seem to fit the linear environment of cake baking very
well, even when done on a high volume manufacturing model. However,
· What if most work goals impacting you, and specifically management, don’t fit the cake
· What if they don’t include repeating a known recipe for success?
· What if it involves making sure you don’t practice what you did last year?
· What if the kitchen (business) environment is not stable and the sequence is not a known
· What if?
It is the author’s premise that, in fact, today’s business and management environment is exactly
that – a non-linear, sometimes chaotic, only roughly predictable experience. Today’s business
environment needs current management methodology to adapt and create a better fit than it
does, at present, using the current project management model.
PST's GAPR model; a Needed Evolvement on the MBO to PM history (It’s a basketball
game, not a cake bake)
Remember our premises? In short,
1. Management models for the past 50 years, really 100 years, have been eclipsed in history
because their assumptions did not take into effect certain aspects in the workplace reality.
2. The current model of project management is also limited by its apriori assumptions of
emphasizing resource scheduling and task management.
3. Project management is an evolution of MBO theory and in need of evolvement itself.
It is our assertion that as the work environment becomes less linear, less predictable, the
present project management model becomes increasingly less effective and hence, the large
proportion of project outcomes that are unsuccessfully achieved given today’s model.
For the sake of simplicity, as the business and work environment becomes more like a
basketball game and less like cake baking, the more the model needs to evolve – quickly.
Business is like basketball, where the environment is subject to fast swings, sudden shifts, turn-
overs, misses and success. Where time and resources are limited and where planning is a
necessary but limited tool; resulting in the increasing need for emphasizing coordination,
playing heads-up, capitalizing on the emerging, brief opportunity and making adjustments.
The basketball model is full of implications, but most of all it suggests that a methodology that
over-emphasizes resource scheduling and completing tasks will be bulky and slow in responding
to change requirements.
Project Management needs to embrace a broader, multiple
focused approach. Think of it as a three legged stool. Here
are a few suggestions characterized as a GAPR three legged
stool (1. Goals, 2. Action Plan, 3. Results), representing an
evolved model for managing projects, people and ultimately
1st Leg – Goals
First of all, goals work. Given the choice, organizing work around goals… versus almost
anything else (ex. tasks, deadlines, crisis, meeting job requirements, looking good, you name it)
improves performance. But goal management really embodies a number of important
functions, all of which are essential:
1. Setting goals as specific outcomes, with defined requirements
2. Scheduling and planning,
3. Securing support/resources on all fronts
A second part about what works, is both simplifying and addressing the functional
characteristics of goals as they provide a foundational, if not directing, role in the greater
project management process. At PST, we have moved to a DORIP model (our term, although
not nearly as intelligent sounding or well put together as the word SMART). It simply stands
for critical working features of goals as they impact the worker, the customer and the project
Our findings suggest that a goal isn't really a goal until it has some form of definition and
metrics. Otherwise, it is just a vague sense of expecting something better. Consequently,
definitions and measurement becomes the first of several steps in constructing a valid plan for
reaching a goal. Here’s what the letters stand for and why we emphasize these perspectives:
DO – Goals or objectives ultimately need to be articulated as a Defined Outcome. Anything less
and goals become vague and don’t have much motivational power to them, as defined before.
Goals need definition and a sense of outcome to drive the following steps of working a plan and
course correcting based upon feedback into effective action.
R – Requirements are an essential characteristic to define in creating specificity and
collaborative usefulness in treating goals as defined outcomes. If a goal is a defined outcome,
then what are the requirements it is supposed to meet? Requirements add to goal definition,
while shaping methodology and creating a set of boundaries for the development of an action
plan. (Example: generate those sales using the existing product version, but with new
customers, and with the existing sales staff.) Secondly, requirements ensure that when you
deliver on the goal, the results, the outcome, will be satisfying to the customer. Actually, all
goals operate with a set of requirements, and what we find is that it is very important in the
process of setting goals to explicitly state the goal requirements.
I – Issues and constraints represent the conditions, the challenges; the hurdles that stand in the
way of completing a project as simply a walk in the park. Defining and planning around the
issues and constraints is the single best precursor we know of to building an accurate action
plan or work breakdown structure to follow. If requirements provide a context for customer
satisfaction, issues and obstacle definition provides the reality base for the work breakdown
structure/action plan and the scheduling of resources. Issues and obstacles describe the
environment in which a goal will be achieved and mandate that the ensuing action plan address
them as a reality check.
P – The ability to achieve goals is directly tied to the proposed (project) plan. Goals look like
unsupported aspirations when they aren’t attached to a plan. They simply don’t have legs. If
you have goals but no plan or measurement ... you're dreaming. In fact, if people aren't
working a plan, they’re probably spending time putting out fires. Fire-fighting is not correlated
strongly with reaching goals. Really effectively working a plan means it impacts your priorities
and decisions daily in a way that pushes you closer and closer to the goal - not just finishing a
list of task or completing empty checkboxes.
2nd Leg – Working the Action Plan
Like the old Koan “What is the sound of one hand clapping,” goals are only half of what’s
needed. As a construct and practice, they only represent part of the equation. In a similar
fashion, attempting to complete a project based upon setting resources and creating a schedule
needs something more, otherwise it also is about as effective as one hand clapping. Actually, it
is worse than that. Working on goals without the support of an accurate, realistic, informed
action plan ultimately leads to poor results, disillusionment and playing it safe. It leads to a
work environment where goals are aspirations that are under-resourced by the lack of a valid
set of steps to reach them; best intentions that have all the inspirational power of a New Year’s
resolution come Valentine’s Day. Managing by the “one handed” approach is not conducive to
There is, then, no substitute for creating and working an accurate plan. The easier it is to
display the work-breakdown structure of the plan, the important best practices, the check-off
lists, the better this leg works. Why? At PST we stress that “follow-up creates follow-through.”
Having a visible plan supports both follow-up and follow-through. Visibility and fighting for
attention is key in this area, as for both management and direct reports, “working the plan”
gets easily crowded out by the challenge of managing the incoming, daily rush of demands, to-
dos, emails and crises. It’s exemplified in that nagging thought, “Now what’s the objective and
plan we are supposed to be working on today?”
But, as is so well pointed out in the 5th Discipline, there’s so much we don’t and can’t know
when starting a project to achieve a goal. Consequently, it is imperative that the plan be both
realistic and flexible… because parts of it will be wrong, you just aren’t sure which steps are
wrong until the plan is being worked. As we move to the 3rd leg of the stool, you’ll find that
what's really important is that people are on track and have an easy way to document their
3rd Leg – Results
No matter how good your plan is, how well crafted the schedule, the work environment has
enough volatility, unknowns and unforeseen, that most plans will need to be approached with
an interactive-construction perspective. You can’t foresee what you don’t know and, when not
repeating the past, you can’t know everything. Since success in today’s business environment is
less and less dependent upon repeating the past, albeit more efficiently or productively,
obtaining and responding to feedback about the impact of current plan implementation is
Consequently tracking and responding to “results” is key. Put more graphically, a plan without
follow-up and feedback is worse than lifeless, it is a resource consuming pastime we are all too
familiar with at work. Here are some process characteristics we find consistently true for high
performing teams and individuals, and lacking in the average organization:
1. Document and respond to results
Follow through is critical, but feedback is a priceless scarcity. It isn’t enough to do well, you have
to document. Information that can't easily be converted into action and track-ability is
absolutely a burden to work with. Consequently, documentation is only of value to the extent
it leverages information and expertise in a way that gets reviewed and used by others. Results
without documentation (what worked, what happened, what didn’t work, what’s next)
represent a huge missed opportunity in leveraging information for repeatable success across
If this makes sense to you, you will also see why the current project management feedback
loops in the simple metric forms of % complete, budget #s and expected days until completion
are far too limited. In fact, worse than that, they can be used to protect against or delay course
correction rather than evoke it. It takes an information-rich feedback loop, not single
measurements, to make effective plan changes. Lots of “what’s happening, why, what ifs,
what’s possible, potential options, results,” etc. You can’t pre-know or plan for everything, but
you can create and reinforce a coordinated response to project management by emphasizing
and responding to feedback loops from those implementing the “plan.”
2. Respond to results and recognize high performance
Follow-up creates follow-through. Reaching project objectives, especially stretch goals, is
regularly an effort of high performance. Without supplying the reinforcement that recognition
in all of its varying forms provides, high performance inevitably becomes a declining (limited to
crises and the need for heroics) phenomenon. Goal and project management is also
recognition management. It’s that simple. If you don’t pay attention to providing recognition
for high performance, plan on trying to reach those goals with the much less effective option of
pressure and all of the accompanying problems.
Where does all this take us? What does work? What is a model that is relevant today and can
use some of the business experience and transitions encountered over the past 50 years? Put
another way, “What does project management need to expand to include – especially as it
becomes an effective management model?”
What really works is to organize management in general and project management in particular
around the three key structures which we refer to as GAPR. In short, to adopt a management
process and secondly to support it with the needed technology. Let’s go over both briefly.
1. The GAPR management process (a three-legged stool which will result in predictable floor
impact when any one of the legs is missing).
1. Set and manage Goals, (plan, resource, schedule)
2. Create, work and document to an Action Plan (create, follow and document the progress
and process of implementing the plan)
3. Document, review, respond to and recognize Results. Set up feedback loops and regularly
respond (gather and respond to feedback on the results and status of implementing the plan
with needed course corrections). From a recognition perspective, as the “One Minute
Manager” suggested, catch people doing the right things and recognize them for it.
2. Support the GAPR management process with technology. This is not a process to be
managed with paper and pencil, spreadsheets, to-do lists and/or email. Nor is it a process that
is adeptly handled with the traditional project management software.
At Performance Solutions Technology we offer the ManagePro management software product
line that provide the adaptive, flexible tools required to support people in managing the
information and deliverables in a coordinated, collaborative, strategic manner.
For more information about PST products go to