Thursday, December 23, 2010

Goals Goals

Goals are fantastic as standards or aspirational states for regulation. Using a goal as a way to set direction is a fundamental part of Scrum and I am seeing it more in generic "Big A" Agile. of course the goal needs to be the right goal, and if we are inherently goal directed organisms then we need to make sure everyone has their goals aligned.

Having learned some skills for project management the idea of managing a plan based on the original estimates (aka commitments) never seemed right to me. In this situation the goal is to make sure the plan is met, be that the dates/scope/budget. Ah hah! that's project management, the magic is to drive the team to achieve this result. Of course it's also utter bunk, it's hitting the target and missing the point.

My rough sketch above is an attempt to show what I am on about. An idea becomes a plan, then there is some action followed by measuring progress, then checking the progress against the plan. This assumes the plan and the idea are correct. With these two assumptions there isn't much room to make changes. This is a simplification and plans do change, but from what I have heard it's more about "updating" the plan than intentionally varying the plan and re-planning is a significant effort that is met with disapproval.

Now if we manage our work to achieve the goal rather than to follow the plan there is greater opportunity for changing what we doing. The second sketch shows this simple difference, that is to check progress against the goal rather than the plan. Each cycle through the action, measure, check and change needs to be treated as an experiment, where we learn what works and doesn't work to achieve the goal. In this scenario nothing is assumed to be correct until it is proven to help achieve the goal, and we can refine the goal as well.

Unfortunately within a traditional work environment this is a big change in thinking. Outside of a specific R&D team trying something that might fail is rarely approved. Changing this will be a significant challenge as structure of the organisation reinforces these ideas of how to view success.

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