Setting meaningful goals

Tasks, Stories, Features, Sprints, Products, the company strategy - they all have goals, and each of these goals has an impact on overall success. Beyond SMART and INVEST which are focused solely on the definition of a goal, let's look at some important considerations for in the timespan between definition and achievement, i.e. the implementation phase.


The Goal Factors

Here are six factors which will help you define helpful goals:

Clarity

In discussions, people shouldn't be talking at cross purposes. During implementation, we need to know whether an action will be progress or distraction to act accordingly.  Clarity also affects how we determine whether a goal has been achieved or there is residual effort.

Clear goals offer little space for interpretation when the goal is achieved - and partial solutions are likely a step in the right direction. Unclear goals cause people to constantly stab in the dark.

Significance

A goal should always be so important that success as well as failure have a significant impact somewhere. If there is no impact, other things are probably higher on the list. Significance depends on the bigger picture. For example, a task or a feature are only as important as their contribution to the strategy.

Highly significant goals create a sense of urgency and importance and thereby provide a boost to motivaton.

Traceability

Goals exist for a reason. Regardless whether a goal describes a specific customer need or a strategic objective, there should be tracibility of where the goal comes from, what it contributes to and who is involved.

Traceability is a two-way street, so goal definitions need to be traceable downward into implementation as much as they need to be traceable upward into strategy.

Relatability

Every person involved with a goal should be able to relate to this goal. They should be able to figure out their contribution towards success as well as the impact the achievement or failure has on them.

Goals that are highly relatable are much more likely to be achieved than goals which contributors can't relate to.

Constancy

Goals should mean the same thing from the time they are decided until met. In rhetorics, the metaphor of "Moving Goalposts" describes a surefire way to derail any effort to make progress. A goal should not change. If it becomes different, then that is a different goal.

Constancy reduces waste, as detours are evitable. Any shift in goals turns all activity towards meeting the previous definition into waste.

Flexibility

Goals should be as flexible as possible in ways of achieving a favorable outcome. When a plan doesn't work out, alternatives need to be found without compromizing either the goal or its traceable line in the organization.

When circumstances change, flexible goals only require changes to the corresponding action plan, whereas inflexible goals might cause inefficient replanning and adjustment at multiple levels.

The importance for management

Goals which meet these six factors can be monitored effectively in multiple dimensions because of enhanced transparency in the following dimensions:
  • Success - was the goal met?
  • Progress - are we getting somewhere?
  • Blockages - are we moving?
  • Delays - what affects what else?
  • Waste - are we on the right track?
These items are equally important to individuals, self-managing teams and the overarching organization.

The importance for workers

Goals which meet these six factors will help workers in multiple ways. Working on such goals boosts:
  • Motivation - why is our work important?
  • Alignment - are we talking about the same thing?
  • Creativity - which options do we have to contribute?
  • Performance - how far have we gotten?
  • Accomplishment - what have we achieved?


Summary

Regardless of whether you're setting goals for the day, for the Sprint, for a Product or a Project - for a transformation program or for the entire organization, keep in mind that these goals should offer:
  • Clarity
  • Significance
  • Traceability
  • Relatability
  • Constancy
  • Flexibility
Without creating yet another futile metric, goals which are better on these six items will be more likely to contribute more to your overall organizational success  than others.

And most of all, if you miss setting goals - you're losing out both on the factors and on the benefits.


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