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Goal Setting
Hasse Jansen, 11 Aug '16

The Agile Goal Setting Cycle - Iteratively Grow Towards New Heights

Drive more value with every iteration using the Agile Goal Setting Cycle. Use this visual model to harmoniously plan tasks and reach your goals.

Imagine you just left an inspiring meeting discussing a new product launch. Adrenaline is gushing through your veins and spirits are up. Surely, you and the team will get it just right this time. The future is smiling at you. Or is it?

In the back of your mind you know nothing ever really happens after the initial excitement of having a ‘great idea’ ventilated during a meeting. A couple of days after the initial surge of optimism, there’s just the sound of silence. Does anyone know how to proceed?

Then, the valley of despair presents itself.

Boardview goal setting valley of dispairInstinctively you reach for your parachute to fly right over. But you’re not wearing any. And frankly, you don’t even know what a suitable parachute would look like exactly.

In management, goal-task separation is your parachute. It is life saving.

You will fall right into the valley of despair if you do not distinguish between goals and tasks. Achieving success requires both to be clearly defined.

Nothing ever really happens after ‘a great idea’ is put on the table because it was either a task without a goal, or a goal without a task. And you need both to succeed.

Only rarely do people know the exact difference between goals and tasks. So you end up putting in a lot of effort and achieving very little, or you know exactly what you want to achieve and have no idea how to.

Half a cycle is no cycle

“We have to increase brand health, guys!” Which sounds reasonable, but you’d bet your left kidney the company won’t be any closer to actually making that happen one month from now. That is because nobody ever assigned tasks to this goal. The end point is clear, but the road that leads to it, is not.

Agile goal setting cycle Boardview only goal

“We have to make instruction videos, guys!” Which sounds like it could be a good idea, but there’s no way to be sure. That is because nobody established a goal before coming up with this task. It’s clear what the road looks like, but who knows where it could be going.

Agile goal setting cycle Boardview only task

We’ll share a visual explanation of how to manage goals and tasks over time so you can fly right over the valley of despair.

We provide you with a test to see if you have both ingredients available before you set off on the road to success. So you won’t get stuck halfway through the journey anymore.

Here is how to steepen your learning curve.

  • First, learn how to separate goals from tasks,
  • Second, learn how to iterate and manage goals & tasks over time.

You’ll be able to have tasks and goals reenforce each other through every iteration. You can iterate your way towards an expanding horizon using as little energy as possible.

Separate goals from tasks

To avoid wasting the energy you spend or not knowing where to spend your energy, learn how to identify half cycles; learn how to separate goals from tasks.

Goal = a result in the market measured on a scale

  • A goal is an activity executed by your customers, e.g. changed buying behavior.
  • A goal is a commercial result you want to achieve.
  • It says something about what the people think of your product.
  • It says nothing about what you’ve done to shape what people think of the product.
  • The market is in charge of whether you reach your commercial goal.

Task = an activity performed by the team measured as binary

  • A task is an activity performed by the team.
  • A task is a piece of work to be performed.
  • It says something about what you’ve produced what you set out to produce.
  • It says nothing about how the people like what you’ve produced.
  • You are in charge of whether you complete your tasks.

In short, producing is your task, serving the market is your goal. If you are to judge your performance, it’s a task. If the market is to judge your performance, it’s a goal.

Iterating goals and tasks - get your timing right

Now you know the difference between goals and tasks, you’ll inevitably start to see a pattern. Typically, for products a goal achievement timeline goes something like this:

  1. You plan tasks that should contribute to reaching your goal.
  2. You put in effort to perform tasks.
  3. Go live! You give it a last push and hope for the best.
  4. You wait as ‘the market’ judges your efforts. People buy, like, view what you produced…. or maybe they don’t.
  5. You take stock and assess your ‘winnings’ using a suitable KPI. Goal achieved?

After you’ve performed all your tasks to produce your product internally, your product hits the external market. All that’s left to do now is observe how things are going - maybe perform a few minor support tasks, but nothing major.

You’re like a parent bird who’s taught his offspring all he knows about flying. But one day it’s game time, and the children will leave the nest to fly off on their own. All you can do is hope they’ll utilize the wisdom you have given them to avoid plummting to their death.

Or maybe you’ll shout some last minute pointers just after they jumped, but nothing elaborate. Here is a simplified linear representation of how tasks and goals interplay.

Goal setting tasks difference timeline Boardview
Find your cadence

The linear representation above gives you a mental picture, but reality is different. You know that, and we know too. We haven’t just narrowed the same old ‘valley of despair’ for you to fall in a few meters later.

In today’s turbulent competitive environments, you rarely get things right the first time round. So it’s likely you’ll have to string together a couple of the ‘timelines’ shown above. In practice, you’ll most likely end up with something like this.

Goal setting task difference timeline 2 BoardviewThis is where waterfall approaches fall short. Actually, you could look at it as cycles you go through to improve over time. Nothing is ever finished, like nature is never finished. But you’ll get better at everything as time passes and you use market data to plan more effective tasks.

Agile goal setting cycle BoardviewBut we are not there yet. Yes, the circular depiction appears more akin to reality, but to reap the full benefits, imagine going for multiple cycles where the process repeats itself and you learn with every go-round.

So we end up with a sequence of growth cycles. The effort required to perform tasks may shrink, while the results achieved are likely to grow over time.

Goal setting task difference timeline internal external Boardview 2

And you'll soon find yourself gliding right over the valley of despair on your way to reach new heights.

Boardview goal setting valley of despair agile goal setting cycle
Don’t go in circles - try the Cycle yourself

Separate goals from tasks. Determine what your pursued commercial result is and what you will do to effectuate that result.

If you don’t really know, ask yourself who’s judging your performance. Is it the company or the market? If you can establish your performance right after you’ve put in effort, it’s a task. If you have to wait for the market to give its verdict on whether you’ve been effective, it’s a goal.

Separate goals from tasks, fill out the Definition of Success and put them in a tree. Meet with your team periodically to reschedule your tasks based on new market insights.

Use the Goal Setting Cycle in every strategic meeting and grow with every iteration.