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Delivering the right results with a Real Project Plan

Real Project Plan

There is a common theme when delivering a project; it requires finesse to obtain all the relevant information to ensure the information is accurate. However, there has to be a distinct separation on the information being delivered, in particular, the separation between, if it is a plan or a schedule. A plan is where the approach is mapped out to deliver versus the schedule which covers the tasks and dates. 

Depending on the size of the program it is best to use Microsoft project to build plans as opposed to using Excel. When reporting high level milestones for governance purposes Excel is an invaluable tool, but to use it solely during the delivery of a project is recipe for failure. If an Audit is conducted it can be looked upon as a violation of SDLC practices.

Strategic plans can deliver business value; the default project plan can be used as a starting point, but some things cannot be automated or standardised. These kinds of tools so only be used for reference purposes, and not as shortcuts to doing the thinking about what is really needed to execute successfully. It is a fine balance between reinventing the wheel each time and working with your own data.

Plan out the success criteria with stakeholders and craft out the high level milestones that task will roll-up to deliver the vision. The tasks must be prescriptive and should be done in short form tweet like entries. Declarative entries should be used to perform and validate. Words like Secure, Verify, Validate, Obtain, Draft, Approve and Distribute should be commonplace throughout the plan. 

Project plans which require rework have the following characteristics;

  • Task durations are greater than 10 or 15 days.  When would it be known that a 60-day task is late?  On the 61st day it is too late to affect any kind of change. Tasks that have a long duration require subtask items to allow for follow-up and remediation.  
  • Keep the schedule up to date, if all stakeholders agree to the approach and its reflected in the plan, then it should be used to manage day to day deliverables.   
  • Tasks that are past due with no percentage completed is a red flag.   Find out if teams have skipped tasks or decided certain deliverables have been deemed out of scope.  
  • Tasks are not prescriptive enough to convey work deliverable.   It doesn’t have to be overly elaborate but at least include enough information to make it reusable  

Unfortunately, Project Managers tend to get assessed on the existence of artefacts but not necessarily on the quality of products that get produced.    It is time to start looking at how project plans connect to success criteria and how the details drive the intended result.   Start performing self-checks and peer reviews and include stakeholders in the process.   Share plans with them and ask them to comment on dates and resource availability.   That is a great way to get buy-in and learn from others.

Composing a Scope of Work

Composing a scope of work document is a fine art, ensuring that all the relevant stakeholder information has been captured to ensure the project delivers on the requirements. The scope of work or statement of work (SOW) as it is commonly known. Is an agreement on the work to be performed on the project.

It includes the timeline the project will follow, as well as important and critical milestones and different types of reports that are needed and specifically who those reports go to. To achieve this it is best to use an established template, and most templates include these things: the glossary, a glossary of terms defining what the terms are that will be referenced in the SOW. Also, the problem statement, some more detail about the problem and what is being solved. It also includes the goals, objectives and deliverables that are being produced. It also includes any kind of administration information about the project as well as the timeline.

Remember to be specific, especially when clarifying or defining terms so that everyone has a clear and common understanding of what the terms are. It must be specific when defining who does what and by when, this avoids some of the traps which could be confusing, like who’s doing what and when, or what things mean, or miscommunications which ultimately can lead to some disputes.

Including visuals is a good aide but not necessary, it paints the picture of what it will look like in the end once the Scope of Work, or this project, is implemented. It will stipulate what the people will be able to do at the end of this project once implemented. A picture is worth a thousand words. This ensures there is no misinterpretations, so visuals help avoid that.

The last step is obtaining sign-offs, ensuring that the authorized approvers sign off on the scope of work document, which is mandatory. They should also sign off at critical milestones and deliverables, again, avoiding any traps. Having a clear and concise SOW avoids selective amnesia during tense times of the project and avoids disputes and costly rework.

The scope of work document includes:

  • Deliverables: This is what the project is delivering. Whether it’s a product or a service, it’s the reason the project is being executed for the customer, stakeholder or sponsor. Whatever that deliverable is, and it can be some sort of document or report, software, product, build, possibly a combination of these, it needs to have each item clearly identified here. 
  • Timeline: The timeline is a road leading from the start of a project to its end. It’s a section of the document that delineates the major phases across the schedule of the project’s duration. It should also mark the points in the project when deliverables are ready. Scoping out the overall plan of any project is essential. This is best presented visually, like a rolled-up Gantt chart plan, so the stakeholders can see the high level timeline.
  • Milestones: Projects can be very long and complex, which is why they’re laid out over a timeline and broken down into more manageable parts called tasks. Larger phases of the project are marked by what is called a milestone. It’s a way to help monitor the progress of the project to make sure it’s adhering to planned schedule. Define key milestones in the Scope of Work document, including project kick-offs, meetings, hand offs, etc.
  • Reports: These will be generated throughout the project, delivered to the team or customer, stakeholder or sponsor. They’re a formal record of the progress of a project, but they’re also a means of communication beyond whether the project’s on schedule or not. Do not underestimate the effect of proper governance has on a project, it portrays transparency which is essential. Depending on how they are customized, there’s a wealth of data that can serve a number of different audiences. Define how the project will be reported and when the stakeholders can be expecting them and from whom.

Before composing the Scope of Work, think about the following;

Be Specific: explain the terms used clearly

Use Visuals: a picture is worth a thousand words

Get Sign-offs: make sure everyone who needs to authorise the work, signs the document.

It’s not that difficult, but it needs to be thorough, this avoids having to play catch-up with paperwork during the heat of the project.

The Scope of Work is essential to the project plan, and is often included as part of the overall project plan, but it can be time consuming to write. Remember to use a free scope and project planning template to help save time.

The 6 steps to Risk Management Analysis

Risk in projects is inevitable, and it is how they are treated and mitigated which can influence success. Risk management is a routine used by project managers to minimize potential problems that can affect the project.

Risks are possible events that can impact resources, processes, technology, or project participants during the system development lifecycle (SDLC).

The results of risk are often unclear before it strikes. Through risk management, threats can be estimated beforehand and control measures put into place if necessary. Risks can arise from anywhere in the SDLC. Even as organizations venture into new projects, there is a need to monitor the ones in operation. For this reason, risk management is continuous.

Risk assessment and management can be made less tedious by creating a risk management protocol. It may comprise of a consistent set of tools and templates as well as training of project participants. By embedding risk management into a daily routine, the company can assume better health and overall performance.

The 6 steps to risk management is outlined below, they can be eliminated, mitigate its impact, or accept if the consequences can be accommodated. However, the course of action should be a result of careful consideration and collaboration.

1. Risk Identification

It’s impossible to solve a problem that can’t be pinpointed. Risks can be identified in different ways, via interviews, brain-storming, root analysis, and more. Visualize the project as if it’s complete and running. Think about what could go wrong and note any fears down. Historical data should be analysed, lessons learnt is a great way in reducing the impact of a risk, and record any deficiencies found.

Set up interviews with the help of the project team, colleagues, and stakeholders to gather information on issues to emphasize. Consider inviting people known for critiquing. Their opinions can divulge essential insights which could have easily slipped through the cracks.

2. Risk analysis

After populating a list of potential problems, the next step is to determine the likelihood of each. Fill this information in the risk register and think about the possible consequences if the risk came true. Some questions to ask at this stage would be:

  • Can the risk lead to project failure or delay?
  • Will it raise regulatory issues?
  • Is there a likelihood of legal disputes?
  • How does it relate to various compliance standards?

Evaluate all possible outcomes if the risk happens no matter the magnitude. The process can be tricky because there is never enough information. Find out if the organisation the risk assessment is being performed for has a checklist. Compute the risk factor associated with each risk to estimate the severity of the probable impact. Qualitative and quantitative analysis techniques and tools are useful in risk analysis.

Once various risks have been analysed, a picture of their effect on the budget, scope, and the timeline of the project should be formed. At this stage it could be defined how the risks can affect the quality of your project.

3. Prioritization of Risks

Risk levels are different, and there is a need to distinguish them based on severity. Without this knowledge, appropriate control measures cannot be put in place to tackle the threat. Unpreparedness often leads to project failure or over expenditure when fixing issues.

An extensive list of risks can be intimidating, but they can be handled by classifying risks as either low, medium or high. Address high risks as soon as possible, an e.g. in IT projects is poor data integration between two technologies.

Medium-priority risks are worth attention, they’re impact can be mitigated with appropriate controls. Low risks may have little to zero influence so they can either be controlled or accepted.

4. Risk Assignment

For tracking purposes risks should be assigned to someone, look for talented individuals within the team and let them oversee risks. Apart from monitoring, they should spearhead the resolution efforts for the uncertainties. Failure to assign risks negates the effort of identification and prioritization. The project would ultimately suffer the maximum impact, accumulate more risks, and likely fail.

5. Response to Risk

Once the threats are known and they are ready for resolution, before any action is taken, separate positive risks from negative ones. The latter represents events which threaten to cause harm. A positive risk is an unplanned situation that can be exploited to benefit the project. Some people look at it as a condition that produces too much of the desired deliverables. Decide the action to take.

Create a plan to mitigate all risks that can hurt the project. The strategy can be through preventative measures or a contingency plan. Together with the risk owners, decide which approach solves the problems best.

6. Risk monitoring

The risk owner will continue tracking the risk to see how it responds, and determine any new threats that might develop. It’s crucial for all parties in the project to understand risk management measures. When they are transparent, the team will be proactive as they will know what to do. Set up different channels for efficient communication with the team.

How Risk Management Relates to Compliance

Modern SDLC relies on agile development, a methodology based on the 12 principles of the Agile Manifesto. Agility, in this case, means that the software product can adapt to changes through its lifecycle, as compliance projects are assuming the shape of agile development.

Government compliance regulations are continually developing. Therefore, these policies affecting the organization and implement should be known within the project. These include standards established with the industry as well as external regulations that touch the business. Compliance can be accommodated by planning project management to identify risks emanating from the outside.

Automation for Agility in Compliance Projects

Since compliance mimics software development projects, automation can enable organizations to meet standards effortlessly. For vendors to satisfy the needs of their customers and protect their information, they must be compliant. They can generate and monitor customer risk profiles and act accordingly to maintain trust.

By providing communication tools and motivating stakeholders, promote compliance in the organization. Self-assessment and audits inform the compliance department whether their controls are adequate.

Businesses should provide compliance officers with the tools they need for compliance projects. By so doing, customers and partners will rest assured organizations are at par with standards.

How to make the most from Project Management Meetings

If you are spending a lot of time in meetings, then it would be a good idea to try and get the most out of them. It is well known that meetings for meetings sake is a waste of time, erodes productivity and hence becomes a liability. However, meetings which are constructive and produce results are invaluable, but how is that fine balance achieved?  A project management meeting can be divided into three parts, one that obtains a result before the meeting commences the contents of the meeting and finally the actions from the meeting.

Being prepared for the meeting is the first step, once the meeting invite is accepted, then make the most of any available time leading up to the meeting to prepare. This will ensure that time is being used to good effect. Read the agenda and any accompanying documentation; think through which parts are relevant and where more information is required. This may seem “common sense”, but it is a surprise on how this simple step is often missed.

The following may seem like a waste of time, but if decisions are really needed then a pre-meeting should be conducted. People often decide on the issues before they turn up. They use the meeting to showcase their stance. So, avoid the risk of the project meeting going off the rails by taking and setting the tone in advance. If holding a pre-meeting, meeting is not possible due to scheduling conflicts? Create a list of items to discuss by using online software that can be shared and collaborated on.

Good meeting etiquette is to ensure that the meeting starts on time and not to wait for late arrivals. If for any reason most of the participants are late, especially those participants who would have the most input, then don’t waste the time of the few who did turn up, defer the meeting. Or just ask the people who are present, “What could this group best use our time together for?” the answer may surprise.

As the chair of the meeting, it is understood attendees know each other, if this is not the case then do a round of introductions. If the attendees are not known, a suggestion to remember who they are is to draw a map of the table, in a notebook. Then fill in the map, so names and affiliations of everyone at the table are then known.

Commencing a meeting on a positive note normally draws out the best results. A great way to do this is to ask about people’s biggest successes since the last meeting. Determine the best method to obtain the information, after all meetings are conversations, and the structure should match this conversations need. Think about which format will work best for each agenda item:

  • One-way briefing or lecture
  • Free-flowing dialogue
  • Structured debate
  • Round-robin sharing

The workplace is made up of many different character types, and meetings are no different, it is normally quickly determine who the assertive, dominant, talk-about-everything people are. When they start to dominate or take away from the meetings desired outcome, thank them, and ask to hear from someone who does not contribute as readily. Those people have just as many good ideas and their opinions are equally helpful. So, invite them in, and give them space to be heard.

This will then lead to a positive culture in the meeting, which provides a real boost in the mood of the meeting. Creativity will increase and people will build on the germ of a good idea, rather than knocking it down. Rapidly call out any disrespectful behaviour and celebrate evidence-based and courageous contributions. Build on good ideas, and ask for concerns and counter-evidence when one idea seems to dominate

One method to remove any knee-jerk negativity is to give anyone a minimum of two minutes to make their point before anyone can jump in and challenge it. It compels people to listen and hear the whole point, rather than reacting to their first impression. It has been often found that during the course of the meeting its perspective can shift. As the person who leads the meeting can force a particular perspective, and stifle innovative thinking. Wherever possible, ask the question to which the statement itself is the answer. This lets the group find it for itself, or possibly a better answer is provided. Another approach is to ask the meeting about how other stakeholders would react to the conversation. Or what they would say if they were in the room. This achieves a better decision, perspective and richer solution.

Remember to remain alert to signs of rising tensions during the meeting, cool them early, before they have too much heat in them. Ask clarifying or checking questions that move people to become analytical about what they are saying. This dampens their emotional responses. One way to quell any tension is to label the emotions around the table and ask about them: “I see you are becoming agitated; can you tell me what’s triggered that?”

Ensure the meeting remains on track at all times reduce the chance of the meeting slipping, start each part of the meeting by writing the objective on a board. If the meeting goes off-track, allow anyone to re-assert the objective by pointing it out. And then place any new topic that has started to take over on a “parking lot” part of the board. Now the group can return to its original topic, and pick up on the parked idea later, if it is genuinely valuable.

A conclusion to the topic must be achieved before moving off the point. Summarize up to the point which was reached, and state clearly what the group needs to do to finish the conversation. Then kick-off again with an invitation to take the next step. The meeting should have a satisfactory conclusion, decisions need to be owned by the group, but individuals may assert their opposition. Actions need to be owned by the people who have accepted them. Before the meeting is disbanded, re-affirm decisions taken, and secondly firm up commitments to action.

Once the meeting is closed, then the following should occur, schedule some time shortly after the meeting to review notes, follow-up on actions, and consider what was learned. If time has been taken to prepare for the meeting then it should also be taken at its conclusion.

Meetings are just a way to disseminate information to a group and get feedback, too.  has a selection of cloud-based project management software that helps plan, monitor and report on the progress of any project. There are great tools to control each stage of a project. A real-time dashboard not only provides up-to-the-minute data but makes graphs and charts targeted to meeting needs, whether with stakeholders or the team. Try one today free with a 30-day trial.

Scaled Agile Framework a comprehensive guide

Agile Framework

Scaled Agile Framework, also known as SAFe is the leading framework which helps companies in scaling agile. It is popular and widely used to increase productivity and quality of application development. It also promotes employee engagement and allows teams who are already using agile to work across other teams in the organization by using scaling agile framework.

Organisations use SAFe for various reasons to opt for scaling agile at the enterprise level, such as:

  • It helps organizations in scaling agile by implementing agile across larger, multi-team programs and portfolios.
  • It helps various teams in organizing and running agile across multiple platforms. It works on agile implementation without any delays and failures.
  • It can be implemented independently across multiple teams.

SAFe is also used when it becomes challenging to align the business departments across the program and at team levels. Safe methodology in collaboration with bug tracking tool can improve software quality.

It is widely used to improve product development lead time and time to market.

The guidelines used to implement a Scaled Agile Framework;

  1. Budget Constraints. You have to consider various economic constraints like development cost, production cost, delivery time, value.
  2. Working towards common goals. It helps in optimizing the entire system as one rather than working on its sections. It involves seeking business goals and mapping them to the team level.
  3. Preserve options. It discovers the various decisions aggressively by delaying decisions until it becomes essential.
  4. Integrating them with learning cycles. To understand and evaluate various other choices that cadence learning cycles are based on.
  5. Setting milestones and evaluation of the current system. It helps in measuring the progress through objectives rather than the phase-gate method, which is the conventional method.
  6. Visualize and manage the length of the flow of the process. Here the work is done in small batches and a controlled work in progress. It helps in enhancing the fast flow of value and learning.
  7. Learn from the knowledge workers. Knowledge workers can participate in the right environment, and knowledge workers have different impulse to work, which exhibits curiosity.
  8. Decentralized decision-making. It helps in promoting decentralized decision making, which leads to ethical decision making.

The following are five core competencies which are required for SAFe.

  • Team and Technical Ability
  • Lean-Agile leadership
  • DevOps and release on demand
  • Providing business solutions and lean system engineering
  • Lean portfolio management

The Lean-Agile Leadership focuses on organizational change and the right approach that agile leaders can instil to start and sustain the change. The lean-agile empowers individuals and teams to achieve operational excellence.

They learn, exhibit, and train on Safe’s agile values and principles. It values mind-set, principles, and practices to reach the maximum potential. It heads the work performed, which helps the system in continuously improving the system. The leaders drive the high performing agile teams, and the guidelines for Lean-Agile leadership are:

  • People who are well-versed with lean at the deeper levels. They can coach about lean in daily activities.

Transformation: The leaders of lean-agile help in transforming into a Scaled Agile Framework. They outline the entire process step-by-step, which includes the present step, the future ones, and to consider the importance of transformation.

Technical Agility and Team: Agility in teams is defined as the skills which are required to test, build, and deploy the value in short iterations. The agile teams use both the methods called Scrum and Kanban. They form ART teams where people collaborate to define, test, and deploy a solution.

Technical Agility: It defines the technical agility in terms of principles and practices that are used in a team to deliver quick, reliable solutions. Technical agility comprises of agile modelling, proven approaches, patterns for object-oriented software design, built-in quality.

DevOps and Release on Demand: The works on the principles and practices of DevOps which offer the capability to release a valuable project at less time to meet customer demands.

It also aligns operations, development, information security to improve efficiency by sharing responsibility and improving business results.

Lean Systems Engineering and solutions caters for the need of complex and large cyber system by using various modules such as requirement analysis, business capability definition, functional analysis and allocation, verification and validation, design alternatives, modelling, simulation and trade studies. It also provides a flow-based process and roadmaps, which helps in guiding the continuous development. These iterations reduce time and the risk of discovering issues and delivery.

Lean Portfolio Management guides in implementing lean by outlining how the organization can approach agile portfolio operations, fund investments, and governance. They perform with the assistance of these collaborations.

The entire portfolio includes three collaborations which manage the set of

  • Strategy and funding
  • Operations
  • Governance

These offer collaborations which enables you to execute commitments reliably and enable innovation by building four competencies.

In Conclusion the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) helps in overcoming the challenges an organization faces while scaling agile. SAFe’s Lean-Agile Principles gives a roadmap to implement the Scaled Agile Framework in an organization.

Get more done with these required problem solving skills.

When faced with a problem, many of us are prone to either delay working on the issue, or hope that the problem just goes away. Anyone who has been in this situation well understands that problems seldom go away on their own, intervention is required. Having the ability to solve problems keeps the project moving forward, this is not just for projects but any aspect of life, once obstacles are removed.  Hence, the quicker a problem can be resolved the quicker work can be done and the review of the solution can commence.

Once armed with both the skills and tools to solve problems effectively and swiftly assists not only when in a current job, but for futures ones as well. Regardless on the level and how quick a problem can be solved, once encountered, it can always be improved. Thus the following seven problem solving skills are important regardless on your work experience.

Do the Research

The ability to be thorough in research, this means doing the due diligence before embarking on executing a project, it is the foundation on which all problem solving resides. To not put it down as a fundamental skill that all good problem solvers have in common would leave a big hole in problem-solving skills. Ensure lessons learnt are well documented, this provides a precedent for responding to the problem. To understand the way others fixed a problem is to find a way out of the one faced.

The deeper delved into the research, the less likely a problem will be had to begin with. This and familiarity with a process will make for a better ability to identify an issue before it becomes a problem. Also team brainstorming only expands the knowledge base and improves problem solving, especially if the participants are experienced and have documented that experience into research of their own.

Conducting Analysis

Analysis in conjunction with research sows the seed of knowledge. It’s a way to take what is known and use it to understand why something is not proceeding as it should. Analysis comes in many forms, cost benefit analysis, gap analysis or any other form that helps understand current state. Analytical skills enables to visually see a situation and pull from it the core issue that is causing the problem. This problem-solving skill provides a pathway through the problem, developing effective solutions to resolve it.

These analytical skills are not merely good for triage, though it helps, but they can also assist prior to the problem when during the research stage. The problem with research is understanding, what is important and what it not. Analytical skills provide the tools to prioritize effectively, as time is always of the essence with any major problem.


The ability to find a solution that is unique, this means not reactively responding to a problem, or providing a safe solution that will likely bring unsatisfactory results. Creativity is the ability to look at a problem from many perspectives. The creative-thinking skills include brainstorming, which opens discussions to more than one point of view and widens the lens to open a broader view of the landscape. Brainstorming is a type of collaboration, which is a great way to think creatively because it adds more voices to the mix.

Decision Making

Understanding the problem and discussing how to respond to it, does not provide resolution. Accepted that some action is better than none at all however the decision must be built based on research and analysis conducted in order to have the desired effect. Evaluate the best solution, and there are going to be more than one, and choose that which is most suitable and realistic.

Experience can assist with the ability to act fast, without a great amount of experience, the research and analytical skills provides the balance to work through issue. Upgrading decision-making process is one of the fastest ways to improve problem solving, so be aware of how and why decisions are being made.

Ability to Communicate

Communication is an essential part of a project; nothing can be done without the communication skills to deliver the solution to those who are responsible for its resolution. It’s not just being able to communicate clearly to orders, but knowing the right channel to communicate the message is also important. That message needs to go to the right people and reach them as soon as possible. Finding a solution to a problem is only one link in a larger chain. If that solution isn’t delivered to the parties that need it to repair the problem for the project to move forward, then it wasted time and effort.  Clearly map out your communications to get the best results.

If you are not a natural communicator, there are ways to learn how to communicate better. It takes empathy and active listening to develop trust and loyalty. Without that bond between a team, no matter how explicitly a message is communicated it will be misheard or even ignored.


There are exercises which can be performed to gain problem-solving skills, which assist with the ability to better respond to problems and solve them quickly. Logic reasoning tests help organize thoughts clearly, analyze them and choose the best course of action quickly. These tests will help recognize and avoid the typical logical fallacies.

Spatial-temporal reasoning tests your ability to mentally visualize objects, which is important to correctly perceive space and orienting ourselves. Numerical reasoning helps to understand structure, organize and solve problems with mathematical methods or formulas. Logical reasoning also helps with problem-solving skills in that it offers different propositions by using what is already known and what is believed to be known and even what is not known.

The IDEAL Method

The IDEAL method is an acronym that stands for Identify (the issue), Define (the obstacles), Examine (your options), Act (on an agreed course of action) and Look (how it turns out and whether any changes are needed). This process incorporates much of what has already been discussed and provides a clear template to addressing problems and quickly resolving them. When identifying a problem, hear from everyone on the team. Then define not only the obstacles but the projects goals when resolving. The exploration of possible solutions should look at not only if it will work, but if it’s safe, reasonable, the best solution, and other agreed factors.

Learning is an essential component of the IDEAL method. Whatever course of action is taken, it’s critical to monitor and report on how it worked or didn’t work. If it doesn’t work, then go back to the beginning and start fresh. This will also inform on what to do and what not to do the next time a similar problem happens.

Problems occur in any project, to think or believe otherwise is naive, they can be planned but never totally avoided. Projects can be corrected with the right problem-solving skills. provides a selection of cloud-based project management software which has the features needed to monitor and report on issues that arise, so they can be resolved before they grow into problems. See how it can help your team by taking any one of the free 30-day trial today.

The Art of Project Management, a discipline for initiating, planning, executing, controlling, and closing the work of a team to achieve a specific goal. A project is a temporary endeavour designed to produce a unique product, service or outcome. The end to end delivery of the project, known as the project lifecycle is affected by resource, time management and a fixed budget. The purpose of project management is to enhance a particular situation through the avenue of delivery and change. The primary challenge of project management is to achieve all the project goals within the given constraints, normally defined in a user or project manual, created at the beginning of the development process. The primary constraints are scope, time, quality and budget. The secondary and more ambitious challenge is to optimize the allocation of necessary inputs and integrate them to meet a pre-defined objective.