Sunday, March 09, 2014

Don't be too SMART - Goals, Targets and Lighthouses

The idea of SMART goals has such appeal to many people, that they try to put everything in these terms. And I have to admit that I'm a big fan of the SMART concept myself.

Having goals that are:

  • S pecific
  • M easurable
  • A ctionable
  • R ealistic
  • T imed

is very helpful when I try to decide whether to start a certain task or not. Whenever I hold an operations review or a retrospective I remind people to think about the SMART acronym whenever they they refer to actions.

As an example from the software development world “We should clean up our code” is not a very SMART goal if you look at it. “We want to reduce the function size of every function to less than twenty five lines by applying ‘extract method’ until next month” may not speak very well to the non-initiated, but it surely is SMART.

Sometimes I may overshoot in this quest for clarity. Not all goals have to be perfectly SMART. Especially with long term goals it is sometimes a good idea to aim for a “goal” that is not really reachable but that can show the way nonetheless. Some goals are targets that you want to hit, for some goals you want to pass between the goalposts (or over the finish-line for that matter).

Some goals really should be treated more like lighthouses by fishermen. You want to move towards them when it's appropriate but you can never reach them and probably don't even know their specifics – but they still help you find your way. (Besides: when your in a seagoing vessel and do reach them bad things happen, but that may be pushing the analogy to far)

So the picture in my mind has changed over the years and nowadays I try to use the SMART concept whenever I deem it appropriate, but I also try to find enough lighthouses on the way.


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