Goals, Signals, and Measures


As a team, set goals so you know where you're headed, define signals so you know you're on the right path, and what measures you'll use to know when you've reached your destination.

AND I NEED THIS... WHY?

Knowing where you're headed is harder than you'd think. Too often, teams set goals that are more about output than about outcomes. Then once the specified effort has been made, they dust off their hands and call it a day – without understanding whether what's been done actually made a difference.

This play brings your whole team into the room to puzzle out what your desired end state is, why it matters, and how to tell if you're getting closer. You'll ask questions like questions like "What are we really trying to accomplish?", "How will we know when we've done it?", and "Will moving X metric actually help?"

Goals and signals and measures – oh my!

WHO SHOULD BE INVOLVED

Get the whole team and exec sponsor (if you have one) on-board.

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People

6-8

Prep time

15 min

Time

90 min

Difficulty

Hard

Running the play

This play is ideal for the start of a project. Or, if you're mid-way through and aren't feeling confident, run it to make sure you're pointed in the right direction.

MATERIALS
  • Whiteboard
  • Sticky notes
  • Markers
  • Timer
  • Rubber chicken
  • Magic 8 Ball™ (optional)

Prep

Find your North Star

Before running this play, you need to understand what your team's "north star" is. Is it customer retention? Expansion into a new market? Website traffic from organic search? Without an understanding of the larger objective you're working towards, this play is useless.

Choose a time horizon

Are you looking out 18 months, or just until next sprint? Consider variables like customer expectations, market opportunities (or pressures), team size, etc., and choose your time frame accordingly.

Step 1

Set the stage (10 min)

Full-time project owners, this is your time to shine. Clarify the link between the project you're embarking on and your team or department's broader mission. Allow time for the group to discuss or ask questions about this. Don't rush this part – it's important that the entire team starts out on the same page.

STEP 2

Brainstorm goals (15 min)

Now that everyone is anchored in the team's greater purpose, it's time for some mental exploration.

Spend a few minutes individually brainstorming possible goals to pursue, writing each idea on a sticky note and posting them up at the front of the room. Nothing is off-limits here, but...

Make sure the goals speak to outcomes, not output of effort. For example, "Go to the gym 3 times a week" speaks only to the output of effort. (And let's be real: you could go to the gym 7 times a week and not see any changes if you're also pigging out on ice cream each night.) On the other hand "Feel rockin' in a swimsuit at Bondi Beach this summer" focuses on an outcome – the thing you're really after.

And be mindful of pitching goals at the right level. Goals shouldn't be so granular that they could be tracked with a single JIRA issue. But neither should they be at the level of solving world peace (but tip-of-the-hat if you're trying).

For more tips on goal-setting, check out S.M.A.R.T.

Allow time for each team member to present their ideas and encourage enough discussion to make sure you've got a solid understanding your options.

Pro tip

Think back on lessons learned from past projects – bumps, scratches, warts, and all! Pull out notes from past retrospectives or Health Monitor sessions as you're brainstorming.

step 3

Prioritise (10 min)

You've probably brainstormed a dozen or more worthy goals. Now narrow it down to the three that will provide the most value.

Yes, three. Mark of a section of your whiteboard and label it "Not doing". Chances are, the thought of "not doing" something makes your toes curl a little. But be strong! The most successful teams are those who are super clear on what they're focusing on vs. what they're setting aside for now.

Stand back and reflect on the three goals you've selected. Do they jive with your team's north star? Are there things in the "Not doing" section that make you reeeeeeeeeeally uncomfortable?

Once you're fully confirmed on your three goals, assign an owner for each one.

Pro tip

Stumped as to what will deliver the greatest value? Consider running the Trade-off Sliders play.

step 4

Signals (15 mins)

Take the three goals that you've agreed on and think about what "signals" you can listen for that will tell you whether you're on the right path. Spend 5 minutes per goal brainstorming and narrowing down.

Think carefully about which signals will actually be meaningful and encourage the right decisions or behaviors on your team.

Remember that Bondi Beach body you want? We said that "go to the gym 3 times a week" was a poor way to think about the goal itself, but going and working out regularly would actually be a good signal that you're on the right track. So we've got...

Goal

  • Feel rockin' in a swimsuit at Bondi Beach this summer

Signals

  • I'm exercising (like, really sweating) 3+ days each week
  • I'm eating 3 nutritious meals each day, and not snacking
  • I'm loosing 1 kilo every 10-14 days

step 5

Measures (30 min)

With your goals and signals in mind, look toward the end of your planning horizon. What would make you stop pursuing this goal? What does success really look like? Remember: just because you'd stop pursuing the goal doesn't mean it would cease to be important or that you'd walk away from it entirely. Think of the measures you define here as your permission to take your foot off the gas for a moment and think about what to focus on next.

As the term suggests, measures need to be measurable. And they should be specific so assessing your status against it it's crystal-clear. However...

Avoid binary measures that only have a yes or no outcome – they don't allow for (let alone encourage) stretching outside of your comfort zone. Speaking of which, don't be afraid to be bold here. A narrowly-missed measure is better than an ultra-conservative measure that's met ahead of schedule.

So thinking about our dreams of Bondi Beach swagger, we might have...

Goal

  • Feel rockin' in a swimsuit at Bondi Beach this summer

Signals

  • I'm exercising (like, really sweating) 3+ days each week
  • I'm eating 3 nutritious meals each day, and not snacking
  • I'm loosing 1 kilo every 10-14 days

Measures

  • My body mass index (BMI) drops below 21
  • My jeans slide off unless I wear a belt

Pro tip

If discussing as a full team feels unwieldy, break into small groups and have each goal's owner lead the discussions. You'll be able to go deeper this way.

step 6

Wrap it up (10 min)

You're almost ready to get out there and get on with it – kudos!

But before you do, bust out your best chin-scratching-deeply-contemplative pose and look at the whole thing. Does this all wash well? Did you leave anything out? Do each of the goals you've selected feel right? Will the signals you've chosen be the right guardrails as the project moves along?

Then agree on next steps. Validate any assumptions you've made here (such as an assumption that something you want to measure is actually measurable). Write out a task list for getting mechanisms in place to track and report on your signals and measures, and assign owners.

Nailed it?

Be sure to run a full Health Monitor session or checkpoint with your team to see if you're improving.

Find your Health Monitor

Variations

DOT VOTING

If your list of possible goals is really big, or team members have wildly divergent opinions on what's most important, use dot voting to narrow it down a bit. Each person makes a dot on three sticky notes. Then pull the no- and low-voted stickies over to the "Not doing" area of the board, and focus your prioritization on the top vote-getters.

Follow-ups


Be sure to communicate your goals, signals, and measures. Add them to your team's one-pager or project poster and share with stakeholders.

If possible, set up a wallboard or dashboard (or similar) that visualises the progress you're making toward your goals.

RELATED PLAYS

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