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The Criteria to Use—"Power Goals"

As you work to establish the project goal in end user outcome terms, you will find it very helpful to state the goal in terms of five important elements. These characteristics are captured in the term POWER, an acronym for the aspects of a goal that are likely to provide focus and create commitment for the project. POWER goals are pinpointed, owned, well defined, energizing, and resource framed.

Pinpointed. Your goal should be so pinpointed, so specific, and so clear that anybody with some basic knowledge of the project area can read it, understand it, and know what you are trying to accomplish. Can it pass the "you've only got one minute to explain the project to a new team member" test? Could you drop dead tomorrow (of course, we do not recommend that you test it this way) and somebody else pick up the goal statement and know exactly the project's purpose? It should be that clearly framed.

For example, a non-pinpointed goal might be stated:

We need a new marketing piece.

But for what product, by whom, at what cost? To pinpoint this goal, we might say:

We need a new marketing brochure for product X within three months at a cost of less than $15,000.

This second statement makes much clearer what needs to be accomplished, with much less chance of confusion by the end user or the team.

Owned. For a goal to be effective, ownership must be created and based on understanding and buy-in from all parties. The end user, be it a customer, upper management, or a peer in your organization, must agree that the project goal is desirable. Stated differently, the project leader and the project's "customer" must agree that the end result should solve the problem or respond to the need that led to the initiation of the project. The more that people agree upon and own the goal up front, the easier it will be to develop a viable plan for the project. This solid ownership will make it easier to respond to changes that may require modifying the goal as the project unfolds. Ownership is based on sharing information, and it builds commitment and passion for the project.

Sometimes reaching agreement and ownership can be difficult. It may take extensive dialogue to help all parties understand each other. And it usually helps if you, the project leader, can focus on understanding what the end user really needs. Those needs should be the ultimate focus for defining the agreed-upon aspect of the goal. By identifying and focusing on these needs, you build into the goal a sense of meaning and significance for the project. And passion, energy, and commitment flow from the ownership-building process.

Well defined. To manage a project to successful completion, you must create a well-defined description of what successful completion will look like. You must be able to measure the goal to know the real outcome of the project. What will be different and how will we know it is different? Ineffective project leaders often wrongly say that some project goals cannot be measured. But every goal can be measured; it's just that some goals can be measured more easily than others can. In fact, developing clear measuring standards for the more ambiguous and fuzzy kinds of goals is where you should spend the most time. The risk of confusion is too great in these situations for you to fail to spend time creating useful measures. Without well-defined goals, members of your team cannot acquire any sense of direction, and they wind up like the archer shooting at the wrong target or no target at all. Project participants need to work on measurable activities, even if the measures are crude, in order to know what to do. And you need a well-defined goal if you are to try to reach it.

Every goal can be well defined with measures; it's just that some goals can be defined more easily than others.

For example, Ken Blanchard, co-author of The One Minute Manager, describes how a large bank wanted to create an image of friendliness, but nobody knew how to measure friendliness. Top management felt that bank personnel were not friendly, and a survey of customers confirmed this impression. The consultants called in to work with the bank decided, after much discussion with bank personnel, to measure friendliness in a unique way. They would count the number of comments between customers and bank personnel unrelated to work—comments about the weather, about how somebody was dressed, or about how cousin Johnny was feeling these days. The consultants found that very few of the comments between bank personnel and their customers were of this non-task-related variety (about one comment per customer interaction).

The goal established for the "friendliness project" was to increase the number of non-task-related comments per customer interaction from one to four. All bank personnel got involved. They talked about the goal with the consultants, they discussed examples of what to say, and they worked at it. After five weeks of observing, the consultants determined that the number of non-task-related comments per interaction had risen to four. A follow-up customer survey revealed that their perception of the bank's friendliness had gone up dramatically. Now this is not a particularly brilliant measure of friendliness, but it worked because it helped quantify what people should do. It gave people a target they could aim at. They could also measure their own progress. Having clear measuring standards is a vital part of the process of setting effective goals. Such standards as quantity, quality, time, and cost are the most useful to work with in establishing measurable standards.

Energizing. Project goals must be energizing, and this energy comes from a feeling that the goal is realistic and doable, yet challenging. All too often managers set goals that are impossible to achieve, given the resources, knowledge, and time available. And project leaders who allow this to happen set up themselves and their teams for frustration that saps energy. This does not mean that goals should be easy to achieve. They can and should be challenging in order to build energy, but if they are unrealistic, they will instead diminish energy. How many times have you been assigned a project and a deadline before the goal is clarified, only to find out that the project cannot possibly be completed on time? When you and your team realize the impossibility of the situation, everyone tends to give up before the race even begins.

One of the benefits you derive from dialogue in the goal-setting process is determining whether you are talking about a goal that is realistic, given your resources. You have to question this assumption explicitly. Don't just say, "Sure, we can get that done." Discuss resources, budgets, personnel, and timing to determine how realistic the goal is. Making it realistic may mean adjusting the goal, the deadline, or the resources, but realism is critical for the energy that leads to success.

Energy that comes from the project itself also means that even though the project is unique and different from your past experience, it should not be totally alien to project personnel. If it is, you are asking for trouble. In this case you will need to set aside time for research and learning, or perhaps engage consultants or hire new project members or even delay the project. You should not get trapped into doing things you know too little about, unless you want to fail.

But by the same token, you should not just take on projects that are a snap. Energy comes from taking on goals that are a challenge and that make a difference in your organization. Passion is a must, and it comes from the joy of tackling a challenge that is a stretch, but not a stretch to the breaking point of your and your team's will and ability.

Resource framed. Finally, you need a goal that is resource framed. How much time and budget do you have to accomplish the project? Is there any flexibility in the deadline? Is there any flexibility in the resources available for the project? This goes back to looking at what is attainable. You want to set a deadline that is reasonable, given the resources available and the amount of knowledge and experience you have with this type of project. In addition, you want everyone involved in the team to clearly know the resource constraints and deadline so they can act in an empowered fashion to help get the job done on time, within budget, and with high quality. Clarity about resources is critical to project success.

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