Last week I appeared as part of the QA Touch Virtual Series. I spoke on the topic of goals and setting goals. I used the presentation to bring together a number of ideas of goals and goal setting, and this essay, in turn, is based on the presentation. This is Part 2 of a rough transcription of the webinar (note — I have moved several slides around as I have created this essay).

Read Part 1       Read Part 3

Whether we are considering goals for groups of testers or teams that include testers, there is a natural tendency to set goals that are specific to a process. Examples of areas covered by specific process level goals include code coverage, test case automation, or (god forbid) the number of defects found or defect removal efficiency. While two of the four might be valuable focus areas, none of the examples are based on systems thinking view of the output delivered from a value chain therefore rarely impact the bottom line significantly. Other than a few specific scenarios, testing, is not the output of a value chain. In a software development organization, software products that people spent money on are an output. In an automobile manufacturer, cars are the output. Every team needs to have goals based on their contribution to the value stream. Four basic metric categories that need to be considered are:

  • Throughput
  • Cycle TIme
  • Productivity
  • Delivered Defects

The four cover quite a bit of ground from how much is delivered (throughput), how long work takes to deliver (cycle time), financial efficiency (productivity), and the level of quality (delivered defects). The idea is to focus goals on what is important to the business rather than on lower level activities that often are important but rarely are strategic. Developing an understanding of the value chain provides scope and the products that testing or any other role needs to focus on impact when setting goals.

Individuals and teams need a north star which is something to aspire toward. What, however, is more likely is that goals will be set that provide incremental improvements but do not challenge the status quo. Enter the idea of a BHAG, which stands for big hairy audacious goal that by definition requires upsetting the apple cart. A BHAG goal is a long-term goal that, if attained, will fundamentally change the nature of an organization. While goals that fit the BHAG mold should be specific, measurable, and time-related, they may be less attainable or realistic than a SMART goal. A BHAG goal often provides an organization with the energy to break the inertia, rally the troops and to provide a direction for an individual, team, or organization. For example, reducing the wait time for patients would be a BHAG goal for my doctor. In order to attain that goal, he would have to fundamentally change how he practices, which might mean I might not like going to see him because he wouldn’t spend as much time with me. BHAG goals can have consequences beyond just attaining the goal. While BHAGs are important most goals are set at a much lower level. 

The acronym SMART is a useful mechanism to help frame and evaluate non-BHAG goals.  SMART stands for:

  1. Specific – The definition of the goal covering the five w’s (who, what, where, when, which, and why).
  2. Measurable – The goal can be tracked and evaluated quantifiably.
  3. Attainable – Achieving the goal is possible.
  4. Relevant – The goal is worthwhile to pursue and this is the right time to pursue the goal.
  5. Time-Bound – A specific window of time has been defined.

Goals that are developed in this format are useful in providing day-to-day motivation and are easily incorporated into accountability approaches.  

You have goals without setting up an accountability approach (or worse the only occasional accountability is the dreaded annual performance review)? Accountability programs create scenarios where peers can support each other and provide subtle pressure to achieve goals (we will return to this topic very soon). SMART goals are great but they are not all created equally. A few tweaks include:

There are several wording changes that I recommend for all SMART goals. Five suggestions generate a more positive meaning and you can know when you actually accomplish the goals are:

  1. Replace “should” with the term “will”. The term “should” implies necessity while will states that necessity explicitly. 
  2. Change “soon” to a specific time or period. The term “soon” is ambiguous while a specific date or period draws a harder line in the sand and can be evaluated. 
  3. Switch “need to” to “want to.” Goals are about motivation toward something you may not achieve. A want is an expression of desire while a need that must be achieved to survive (in its most absolute sense).
  4. Replace “quit” with “stop.” The term “stop” is a more positive expression than “quit”.
  5. Change the use “never” to a specific action. Absolute goals are very hard to attain and can only have yes or no outcomes. Stating a specific action can be planned and performance evaluated.

An example of how I evolved a poorly written goal into a SMART goal  is shown below:

Bad goal: “I want to make more time each morning to work on my most important task.”

Unclear goal: “I want to spend two hours each morning working on my most important task.”

SMART goal: “Every day this week, I will work on my website from 8:30 – 10:30 a.m. without interruption.”

Next: Systematic Problems WIth Goals