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Accomplishment vs. Achievement

Many people use the words accomplishment and achievement in an interchangeable manner. Dictionary definitions do not delineate the words and treat them as synonyms. However, there are subtle but important distinctions between the two. This article aims to highlight the differences and suggest suitability for both words in the context of Project Management.

An achievement is a goal that has been reached.

An accomplishment is an initiative, task, project, job, etc. that has been completed.

Achievement examples:

  • BHP achieved a 10% growth in revenues

  • Michael achieved Scrum Master certification

  • John achieved a promotion to the level of a General Manager

Accomplishment examples:

  • The Symphony project accomplished a major process change without business disruption

  • The team accomplished the restoration of services, in a major outage, by working all night

  • Delivering the data migration phase of the project within 4 weeks is a major accomplishment by David

What are the differences?

A person doing something that principally benefits only them = An Achievement

A person doing something that benefits others and the world outside them = An Accomplishment

Achievement can be relative. An achievement in one environment or context may not seem as remarkable in another environment. A Salesperson may be able to achieve great results in one organization but fail to sell anything in another. A Project Manager may achieve great results with one team but fail with another.

Accomplishments tend be consistent and universal across environments. The degree of an accomplishment may vary, however benefit to others is still valid and valuable.

The project context

Are we seeking individual achievement or collective accomplishment?

Collective accomplishment is more appropriate and meaningful in the context of projects. High achievers often accomplish little for their projects or organizations. It is much better to have individuals for the team than superstars in the team. What we really want from project teams is accomplishment and not achievement. Nothing builds self-esteem and self-confidence in teams than accomplishments. Given a choice we should seek to accomplish rather than achieve. Accomplishments may often lead to achievements but achievements seldom lead to accomplishments.

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