Setting Goals

Doing the Right Thing

The purpose behind any course of action has a direct and significant effect on the way it is undertaken. The reasons why you do something will affect the way you do it.

At first glance, the objective of a football team is pretty obvious, it’s to win the game. This isn’t always the case though, circumstances vary and the team will adapt the way they play:

  • Win at all costs when playing against a hated rival
  • Put on a show for the fans, a middle-league team that needs the ticket sales
  • Play for a draw to avoid relegation

The same applies for any project, the ends you want to achieve affect the means you use and way you go about it.

Before I go into the detail, let’s understand some of the terms I’m going to use.

Goal – result with a purpose, so be clear about the purpose, what’s it worth? The purpose affects what you do.

Means – the things, people, and time you have to use

Ways – how you use things, what you have to do

Ends – the results you want, the outcomes, benefits and goals you want to achieve

Stakeholders – who’s involved and what do they want?

Drivers – external things that make you act

Objective cascade

'Goal’ defined

There is a whole string of words that get used in these circumstances to mean almost the same thing; aim, objective, result, end, outcome. For the sake of consistency here I’ve chosen to use ‘goal’.

A goal is the end result you want to see happen because it has a worthwhile purpose.

The purpose is what makes it differ from a result or outcome. They are things that happen. They don’t become goals until you give them some meaning. If the result of the football match was a 2 – 0 win, who was it for, the fans, the team, or the chairman? What was their objective and how well was it met?

Goal types

Naturally, life is much more complex than this simple example. We have goals. The people around us have goals. Some are obvious, some are subtle, some we don’t even recognise. They can define your life or simply get you through the next five minutes. They can be the product of genius and deep analysis. They can be dumb. They can even be downright perverse. Sometimes we choose our own goals and sometimes they are thrust upon us.

Our goals are the things we want to see happen, whether we appreciate them or not. What we need is a method that helps us:

  • Recognise that the goal exists
  • Analyse whether it’s a valid goal or not
  • Select the right goals from the many options we face
  • Plan what has to be done to realise our goals
  • Do what has to be done to realise our goals

The goals come in all shapes and sizes. They can be:

  • Tangible / intangible – have lots of money in the bank or be surrounded by happier people
  • Time-bound (quick / long term/ indefinite)
  • External / internal, who's it all for? Whose goals are we working towards?
  • Owned / imposed – are we doing what we are told or using our autonomy to choose our own goals?

We choose the goals that best meet the things outside, the drivers. It’s rarely a simple one to one relation of one driver to one goal though.

Recognising the right Driver

We have to understand the drivers if we are to choose the right goals for ourselves. We also have to recognise that the drivers may not be set in stone. We can negotiate and change the drivers. And do more than simply react to them.


Now you know what has influenced your choices it's time to see who gets what out of the decisions you make. What's the value of your project? Who gets the benefits?

Selecting Benefits



The Quick Decision

The Options Estimate

The quick decision is often made at a time of crisis. The best examples come from the military. They get to make urgent decisions in very stressful situations so they’ve developed a pretty good method to help them cope. 

At its basic level this contains:

  • Operational objectives – what you have to achieve, the task you’ve been set
  • Limiting factors – things that help or hinder
  • Options – more than one choice, don’t leap to the first conclusion
  • Course of action – the option you choose, picked for good reasons

It is a way to stop and think before making quick decisions and stops you making a knee-jerk reaction to circumstances. Even the quickest decision is helped by a pause to consider:

  • What you need to do. Work out what you’ve been given to do and what you’ll actually do to succeed. The estimate explains how what you do fits in with the things around you. Knowing what you have to do is key to understanding how you will do it. It’s not always a one-off task though. Sometimes it’s worth looking back and checking that the situation hasn’t changed enough that you have to change your mind.
  • What’s there to help or hinder you. Some things come up every time:
  • ·         Deadlines
  • ·         The business environment around you
  • ·         The competition
  • ·         Your colleagues and collaborators
  • ·         Your resources
  • What reasonable choices do you have, what are the differences between them, return on investment, timescale, who gains. At this point you should have a broad idea of what needs to be done. If all has gone well then you will have a few options to choose from.
  • Which is the best choice to take. As you work through your options, you get to see what tasks need to be done and which ones aren’t going to help you. For each option you can then work out the pros and cons, the effort and risk.

You then make your decision and it’s going to be a logical one that’s based on the analysis you’ve just done. There’s no point in putting all this effort in, just to pick your favourite or the easy way out. Now is the time to look into your choices and how you set your goals.

Setting Goals

Validating Benefits

Endgame – Benefits Validation

Sound benefits – get what you expect, have a good chance of success

Categories – Balanced Scorecard, etc

Appropriateness, the right benefits for the goals and stakeholders

Owners and Recipients

Measurement and proof

It’s not only what you choose to do, it’s also how you choose to describe it

A straightforward blueprint means people can see the end result and know their part in it


In the same way as we can have various reasons for the same outcome and find they affect how it is brought about, we can also affect the process through the way we describe the end state. Only a very confident (or deluded) chess player would describe the endgame in terms of where the pieces will be. Yet we are often very granular in describing our programme objectives. This sort of mass objective twists individual priorities and breaks down any common purpose. In the chess analogy it’s like having a different person responsible for each piece. Each heads for its assigned position and sits there without contributing anything to the whole or supporting its team mates in winning the game.  

So have you picked good benefits? Are they the right things for the right people? How will you measure them and know you’ve achieved what you wanted? There are a number of ways to validate your benefits, to see how ‘good’ they are. 

The first thing to do is sort out the different types of benefit. They can be financial. If you can describe your benefits in terms of money then you have an instant way to see which is biggest. Next come the ones with firm non-financial measures. They are good for showing that a change has happened but not so good when you need to choose one against another. Knowing how productivity has increased in Departments A and B doesn’t tell you which one was better for the whole company. Finally, there are the intangibles like customer satisfaction. Again, there are ways of measuring them but the link between what you do and what you get is going to be long and uncertain. Was the big advertising campaign successful or was the product such a bargain that it would have sold anyway? 

See where the benefits lie. Having no financial or firm benefit suggests you may have a leap of faith rather than a sound business case. 

Your costs will also fall into the same categories. Here are some typical IT cost types. Not all costs are concrete ones:

Financial         Hardware

                        Software purchase

Firm    Software development

                        Provision of education & training

                        System running costs

                        Implementation costs

Intangible        Disruption

                        Reduced morale

                        Emotional response to change

The timescale and stakeholders’ interest will differ with the different types. The financial ones will have people breathing down your neck wanting instant results. The intangible ones risk being forgotten about as time passes and life moves on. 

Validation matrices are a way of giving your benefits a sanity check.

  • ·      Beneficiary v accountability – who does the work v who gets the benefit
  • ·      Phase/time v type – financial ones are likely to be soon, intangible one a long way off
  • ·      Beneficiary v type – would accountants want much customer satisfaction?
  • ·      Disbenefits & benefits v recipient – is there a fair spread of benefits and disbenefits?

Workshop to get benefits

If there’s more than just you involved then this will require some serious workshop / brainstorm time. It’s not the sort of thing that can be done in an hour or two. It’s worth putting aside a few sessions to go over this. This is likely to be the start of a major piece of work and it would be a shame to put so much effort into something that’s heading off in the wrong direction to begin with. 

The workshop should cover the following points: 

Setting the Scene        It’s worth taking a few minutes to explain what the meeting is for. Before you get down to the hard work, everybody should know who’s who and be up to speed with the project so far. 

Picking the Goals What are the key, strategic objectives you want to achieve? Why do you want improvements? Be careful to define what relevant drivers are pushing you to act: national, local, bosses, work-group. Remember that the Goal has to have a purpose. The Goal is not to install some kit, it’s to use the kit to get some good out of it. 

Context / Limiting Factors This is where you start to test your Goals to see if they are actually possible. Where will the improvements occur? Who’s involved and how will they act? How do you do things now? What time, money, people and hardware do you have? What costs will you face? 

Consequences What benefits do you want or could you get? Brainstorm a list of consequences, “If I had X I could get…” Accept the features and outcomes that are bound to be listed as well as benefits. Put them on Post-its and shuffle them around. Then start to look for connections between them. 

Business Activity Analysis What changes are needed to obtain the benefits you’ve chosen? At this point you get to see how much effort is going to be needed and you may have to cut down the list of benefits so it’s more manageable. 

This will be enough for one workshop. If you can, let people go away and thing about it and then call them back a week later for a quick review session. Having had time to sleep on it, does it all still make sense? When you are happy with the decisions you then take the selected benefits on to planning, delivery and review. 

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