Goals Setting for Critical Work – Commit to Less and Achieve More
Setting fewer goals and achieving them is a key to success. Finding predictability in unpredictable work is challenging but rewarding.
I was doing some push-ups with my daughter on my back the other day (she's small), and we took some photos for fun. I just found those photos while trolling through our photo album looking for photos to post with today's article.
It can be disturbing to see the back of your head, and realize there's less hair there than last year. On the other hand, to tie this tangent into this article, my goal this year wasn't to get more hair on my head. I intended to get stronger, and I achieved that goal. I suppose if I had to choose, I'd pick being stronger over having a thick head of hair. Considering it's not really a choice, I'll just be satisfied with the stronger thing.
Anyway, I hope everyone is having a lovely January, and I wish you all a magnificent day!
Repetitious work is predictable. If you can write down a process to follow, you can know with high levels of precision how long it will take to complete the work.
A central component of Technology work is avoiding or automating repetitious work. While there are certainly technology employees installing thousands of hardware racks in AWS Datacenters somewhere, the majority of technology workers add value by being creative. They add value by doing tasks which haven't been done before. Amazon, Meta, Google, and others don't pay the big bucks to people who follow checklists.
Technology workers invent new designs, connect components in ways they haven't been connected together, and find the intersection between what is possible and what is desired. Creative work is not repetitious, it's innovative and new. If you can accurately predict how complex a task is, and how long it will take, it likely is something which has been done repeatedly in the past.
When technology workers encounter tasks or processes which have been done repeatedly in the past, the desired behavior is to automate or otherwise eliminate the work from being done again.
This means that your best technology workers should be unpredictable, because they're always doing new things.
Frequent questions about how to predict technology work.
"Why do the technology teams miss so many dates?"
"How do we make the technology teams work more predictable?"
"How do we set goals properly on all the technology team's work?"
I don't think it's practical or desirable to avoid setting goals entirely. Yet technology work is highly variable in nature, and the more valuable and innovative the work is, the less predictable it will be.
This means that instead of saying that a task may take 20 days (plus or minus 1 day), technology tasks are often closer to 20 days (plus or minus 15 days). This lack of predictability can be painful.
What is the most important need solved by setting goals? The company requires critical (especially multi-team) projects to have predictable dates.
Finance needs to predict when the revenue will be created.
Partner teams need to know when they can integrate with your feature.
Marketing needs to know when to launch their campaigns.
Manufacturing needs to schedule your components to be assembled.
The work is hard to predict. The business requires it to be predicted. How do you reconcile these conflicting realities?