Advances in Project Management: Whatever happened to management by objectives? Learning to look beyond goals


By Prof Darren Dalcher

Director, National Centre for Project Management

University of Hertfordshire


Introduction to the March 2014 Advances in PM Series Article 

With the aid of social, mobile and other technologies we are increasingly surrounded by data, facts and values searching for a meaning. It appears that as a society we have never been so data rich.

Yet with so many potential measurements we struggle to stay afloat and pay attention to the urgent and critical ones. Indeed, it seems that managers have never had as many potential targets, indicators, objectives, goals and measures to track, study, analyse and interrogate.

The idea of management by objectives (MBO) was first formulated by management guru Peter Drucker in his 1954 book, the Practice of Management.

A manager’s job should be based on a task to be performed in order to obtain the company’s objectives … the manager should be directed and controlled by the objectives of performance rather than by his boss.

The book highlights a set of priorities for the managers of the future; chief amongst them is the need for managers to manage by objectives. Management by objectives is a participative and collaborative process of defining objectives between management and employees so that everyone understands what needs to be done in order for the organization to achieve its principal goals. The intention is that subordinates play a key part in setting their own goals rather than that receiving a list of objectives from above.

The idea of MBO was particularly popular in the 1960s and 1970s. The process also became known as management by results (MBR) emphasising the focus on translating high-level business goals into individual objectives that enables the organisation to deliver the outcomes strategic outcomes. The key implication of MBO is that objectives need to be understood, defined and measured to determine their ultimate achievement.

The result of non-systemic application of MBO can often lead to a rapid escalation in the number of measures tracked through an organisation. Responsibility for single measures and their achievement can also lead to lack of interest in some aspects, undeserving attention to a subset of parameters, and sub-optimisation without concern for the overall impacts.

US Quality guru, W Edwards Deming, suggested that the setting of production targets encouraged resources to be diverted to meet these targets through whatever means necessary, potentially resulting in poor quality. He therefore advocated the elimination of work standards as well as numerical quotas including management by objective and management by numbers.


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Editor’s note: The PMWJ Advances in Project Management series includes articles by authors of program and project management books published by Gower in the UK.  Each month an introduction to the current article is provided by series editor Prof Darren Dalcher, who is also the editor of the Gower Advances in Project Management series of books on new and emerging concepts in PM.  Prof Dalcher’s article is an introduction to the invited paper this month in the PMWJ.  Information about the Gower series can be found at http://www.gowerpublishing.com/advancesinprojectmanagement. 

About the Author 

flag-ukdarren-dalcherDarren Dalcher, PhD 

Series Editor 

Director, National Centre for Project Management

University of Hertfordshire, UK

Darren Dalcher, Ph.D. HonFAPM, FRSA, FBCS, CITP, FCMI is Professor of Project Management at the University of Hertfordshire, and founder and Director of the National Centre for Project Management (NCPM) in the UK.  He has been named by the Association for Project Management (APM) as one of the top 10 “movers and shapers” in project management in 2008 and was voted Project Magazine’s “Academic of the Year” for his contribution in “integrating and weaving academic work with practice”. Following industrial and consultancy experience in managing IT projects, Professor Dalcher gained his PhD in Software Engineering from King’s College, University of London.  Professor Dalcher has written over 150 papers and book chapters on project management and software engineering. He is Editor-in-Chief of Software Process Improvement and Practice, an international journal focusing on capability, maturity, growth and improvement. He is the editor of the book series, Advances in Project Management, published by Gower Publishing of a new companion series Fundamentals of Project Management.  Heavily involved in a variety of research projects and subjects, Professor Dalcher has built a reputation as leader and innovator in the areas of practice-based education and reflection in project management. He works with many major industrial and commercial organisations and government bodies in the UK and beyond.  He is an Honorary Fellow of the APM, a Chartered Fellow of the British Computer Society, a Fellow of the Chartered Management Institute, and the Royal Society of Arts, and a Member of the Project Management Institute (PMI), the Academy of Management, the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and the Association for Computing Machinery. He is a Chartered IT Practitioner. He is a Member of the PMI Advisory Board responsible for the prestigious David I. Cleland project management award and of the APM Professional Development Board.  Prof Dalcher is an academic editorial advisor for the PM World Journal.  He can be contacted at [email protected].

To see other works by Prof Darren Dalcher, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at http://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/darren-dalcher/.