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Project Objectives: The Need to Validate and Adjust

One of the most important measurements of project success is if the project has reached its objectives.

However, project objectives are part of the overall dynamic of the environment in which the project is undertaken. Therefore, the project manager should continually assess if the project objectives are still valid. If they are not, the project manager needs to consult relevant stakeholders about the need for adjustment of the project objectives or there may be a need to terminate the project altogether. Following the initial project objectives blindly, might lead to unexpected results, with which no one would be happy in the end.

The following example from the Second World War (WWII) is illustrative of how, when changes happen, project objectives can become obsolete. It shows that whoever is in charge needs to act to reconcile the project objective with the latest information so either the project objectives are adjusted, or maybe the project needs to be canceled.

By 1944, the European theatre of WWII had reached its end. The Pacific war, however, was still in full swing. Late in December 1944, Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda of the Japanese Imperial Army was stationed at the Island of Lubang, around 90 miles southwest of Manila, the Philippines. The last order given to him, delivered in early 1945, was to stay and fight and prepare the terrain for a Japanese imperial army comeback.

So far, these orders appear in line with circumstances; they are nothing outstanding for that period of the time. However, the comeback never happened.

The situation was very dynamic. On February 28, 1945, US forces landed on Lubang Island, and within 2-3 days they liberated most of it. On August 15, 1945, Japan surrendered to the United States. However, the United States and Philippines forces had information about some soldiers who were still carrying out war activities. After the act of surrender, the Japanese military informed their personnel to cease all activities and surrender to the nearest US or Philippines military outpost.

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The group of Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda continued to fight against the local islanders, Philippines army, and police forces. Hiroo Onoda was the last soldier/officer to yield: 29 years after Japan’s surrender. Hiroo Onoda and his group of soldiers refused to believe that the war was over. Even Japanese soldiers from the same contingent who had been captured tried to inform the rogue soldiers with no result. From April 1946, onwards, there were only four soldiers left with Onoda.

Onada was active until March 9, 1974, when he surrendered to an Imperial Japanese officer, Major Taniguchi. It was only after he received direct orders from Major Taniguchi that Onoda realized that the war was over. He finally accepted that he had spent 29 years in the jungle fighting for Imperial Japan, when in fact they had surrendered in 1945.

The highest respect and admiration must be accorded to Hiroo Onoda’s courage, patience and determination to continue to fight. However, he was fighting for a lost cause. Imperial Japan had already surrendered.

This is an unforgettable example. My goal in telling it is to encourage project managers to continually assess their project objectives. Project managers should ask: Has the environment changed since we started the project? Has any new technological development occurred that will render our project objective obsolete? Are there changes in the socio-economic environment that will impact the project objectives? Has the company merged or has there been a spin-off that has impacted the project objectives? These and other questions are necessary to ensure the project team is still working for valid project objectives.

The need to validate project objectives is relevant in both internal and external projects. In fact, it is very much relevant even for personal projects. Sometimes projects take weeks, months and years to complete. We need to constantly scan the environment for changes, and act accordingly. What was a right move two years ago, might not be today, what was a useful project two years ago, might not be today.

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