Hierarchy of objectives and Impact case

Download the tool and prepare a hierarchy of objectives or an impact case. The hierarchy of objectives and impact case describes the desired impacts the project must achieve with SMART formulated objectives. It is an essential part of the project definition and is a kind of requirement specification of the project impact. The hierarchy of objectives creates a connection between the project’s deliverables and the impacts. The impact objectives are defined on the basis of a situational analysis to ensure that the project creates the desired return on

Full description

Purpose and yield

Some describe the project assignment using a WBS (Work Breakdown Structure) The WBS focuses on deliverables and activities. The hierarchy of objectives and the Impact case focus on the project impacts. You can call it Objective Breakdown Structure (OBS).

  • The hierarchy of objectives creates a connection between deliverables and the impacts of the project
  • The hierarchy of objectives establishes a structure in the project, so there is focus on creating impacts
  • The Impact case is an extension of the hierarchy of objectives, which focuses on the necessary behavioral impacts of staff, stakeholders and customers
  • The Impact case maps the project’s value chain: deliverables, new skills or competences, new behavior, immediate effect, effect in the medium and long term
  • The hierarchy of objectives and impact case enable continuous and early follow-up of the impacts (Benefit tracking)

When is it used in the project?

  • The hierarchy of objectives and the Impact case are used when the project is designed. The tools can be applied to different levels of detail, but at the starting point it is the foundation of the project’s structure, milestone plan and organization.
  • During the project process, the hierarchy is used to follow up on the impacts and adjust the effort to achieve the impact objectives.
  • The hierarchy allows an early warning regarding the fulfillment of the impacts. Are the new competencies in place? Have employees changed their behavior? Can we measure the immediate impacts? Can we measure the impacts in the medium term and ultimately the long-term impacts?

Pitfalls and restrictions

  • The hierarchy of objectives and the Impact case must be developed with the involvement of all the necessary professional competencies to ensure quality.
  • It is important that management and key stakeholders have accepted the objectives and all the impacts.
  • The objectives must be consistent with the organization’s strategic goals.
  • If the project is one of a program, the hierarchy must fit into the program’s hierarchy of objectives.
  • Project owner and management must take ownership of the behavioral and business objectives.
  • In particular middle management needs to know and accept that they are the ones who really ensure behavioral change.
  • The hierarchy of objectives and the Impact case are no better than the people who have developed the objectives and the ownership of the management. Without leadership commitment, the hierarchy of objectives is insignificant.
  • The objectives must be SMART formulated, otherwise it is not possible to follow up and the impact in the organization fails: S = Specific objectives, M = Measurable objectives, A = Accepted by key stakeholders, R = Realistic (but ambitious) objectives, T = Time-based objectives.

Approach for the hierarchy of objectives

Who is participating?

  • Often the top objectives (impacts) in the hierarchy will be defined by the management or project owner. Next, key project members develop a first draft of the hierarchy of objectives.
  • It may be beneficial to develop the hierarchy in one or more workshops with the management and key stakeholders. Between these workshops, key people in the project can count on different solutions and refine the hierarchy. It is important that the objective has professional quality and political acceptance in the organization.

How to build the hierarchy of objectives

The target hierarchy is most easily built using cardboard or post-it notes on the wall of the project room.

  • Step 1: Building the hierarchy is based on the overall purpose, but it is not a condition. The structure can be made for any sub-purpose, the technique is very simple. When an objective or purpose is placed on the wall, one can move up the hierarchy by asking “Why?” and down by asking “How?”.
  • Step 2: The hierarchy can be developed in more detail by asking “How?”. If you continue to ask, the objectives will become more and more detailed, and you will eventually end up with the milestones.
  • Step 3: After getting well into the details, you can go up in the hierarchy by asking “Why?”. It is important to do this ascent and descent in the hierarchy sometimes. Only then do you get the overall view that is needed.
  • Step 4: The separation of purposes and deliverables is defined by drawing a line where the deliverables end and the impacts start.
  • Step 5: Once the hierarchy has been prepared, the bottom line of deliverables can be used directly to prepare the workstreams for the upcoming planning. If these objectives are too detailed, you will already have reached the milestone level. It is therefore important to provide a uniform level of detail in the different branches of the hierarchy.
  • Step 6: As the last step, it is now possible to define impacts, deliverables, success criteria and at the same time see the interrelationship. The hierarchy on the wall can now be documented in template 1, the traditional hierarchy of objectives. Template 2, the horizontal hierarchy of objectives.

Approach for the Impact Case

Who is participating?

  • Often the top objectives (impacts) in the hierarchy will be defined by the management or project owner. Next, key project members develop a first draft of the hierarchy of objectives.
  • It may be beneficial to develop the hierarchy in one or more workshops with the management and key stakeholders. Between these workshops, key persons in the project can calculate the different solutions and refine the hierarchy. It is important that the objective has professional quality and political acceptance in the organization.

How to develop an Impact Case

The impact case, is most easily built like the hierarchy of objectives, using cardboard or post-it notes on the wall of the project room.

  • Step 1: The construction of the Impact case is based on the project purpose, the strategic impact in the long term. The structure can be made staritng from any sub-purpose, the technique is very simple. When a purpose or impact is placed on the wall, one can move up the Impact case by asking “Why?” and down by asking “How?”.
  • Step 2: The impact case is developed by asking “How?” Throughout the value chain: Deliverables create new competencies, use of deliverables requires new competencies and new behaviors. The new behavior creates immediate impacts. The sum of immediate impacts creates the medium-term impacts which then ultimately creates the overall impact.
  • Step 3: After getting well into the details, you can go up through the impact case by asking “Why?”. It is important to perform this ascent and descent sometimes. Only then do you get the overall view and context that is needed.
  • Step 4: Often the Impact case will contain overall impacts (purposes) that are not the responsibility of the project but impacts that the project must support. It may be that there are several projects that together create an overall strategic impact. This is often the case if the project is part of a program. Therefore it must be marked in the Impact case where the limit is for the project’s responsibility. An example of this is marked with a red dotted line on the next page. The accountability line.
  • Step 5: When the Impact case has been prepared, the bottom line of deliverables can be used directly to prepare workstreams for the upcoming planning. The impact case on the wall can now be documented in template 3, the traditional Impact case. Template 4, the horizontal Impact case.
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John Ryding Olsson Founder & author John Ryding Olsson

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