Setting Goals

As with many companies, my company has a performance review program in place. As part of this program we have to work with our managers to set goals for the year ahead.  This seems like a good idea in theory, but sometimes the way it worked in practice didn’t seem to be adding value.  In trying to make it more valuable for myself I have worked towards setting SMART goals. Here’s the problem though.  It didn’t work.

I would struggle to come up with specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely goals and after all the work put into coming up with them, I would still find they didn’t really help me.  Things would change too quickly and the goal would become irrelevant, or I just wouldn’t have a connection to the goal and so would be forcing myself to try and work towards it without any motivation, which works when your willpower is high, but not when it is low.  All in all, it just wasn’t working, and so I have been thinking about how to make better goals.

Originally the goal setting process for me was task related.  I would have goals that said something like, “spend x percentage of my time doing exploratory testing.”  That didn’t really feel like a goal at all. It was just a record of what I would be doing with my time, so I tried to re-write those as SMART goals into something like: “research and use at least 5 new exploratory testing techniques within 3 months.”  That seems like it would be a lot better, but it still didn’t work for me.  I had to really force myself to do it and I ended up giving lip service to it rather than really engaging with what I was doing.  Part of what was missing here was the intention behind the goal.  Why am I even doing this anyways?

But now what? If SMART goals aren’t working for me and if I want to try and get something useful out of the goal setting I need to do, what kind of goals should I set?  I could try another goal setting paradigm – perhaps HARD goals or BHAGs or something else – or I could try to come up with my own way of setting goals.

At this point it doesn’t seem worth it to me to go research and figure out a new goal setting method, and in some ways it feels like trying to find a magic bullet solution that will tell me how to make good goals (and by implication how to improve).  Rather than spending too much time and energy creating and polishing and measuring and tracking different goals, I will just create goals that put down in paper what I am trying to do in a way that I can refer to and use to help drive myself to change.  So to revisit the exploratory testing goal I could phrase it something like: “I want to become better at exploratory testing”  and leave it at that.  Sure it’s vague.  Sure it’s hard to measure.  Sure there are no time frames to do this in. I think I’m ok with that.  It might not be as ‘helpful’ as a more specific goal, but if it actually drives me to change something and do something and learn something it will really end up being much more helpful.  And on top of that it will be far less expensive.  I don’t have to put thought and effort into measuring and tracking it.  I can use whichever subjective experience I want to use (Am I less bored when doing it?  Do I find better bugs?  Do I find more bugs? – whatever things ‘works’) to track it.  It also took me about 5 seconds to come up with and so doing goals like this could save me a lot of time and energy to focus on – I don’t know – actually improving, instead of writing down things that might help me improve.  

Maybe SMART goals (or one of those other goal setting systems) works well for you.  If it does, wonderful!  I guess I just need something different.  Something that works well for me.  I’ll keep experimenting and maybe someday goal setting will be a time of the year I look forward too.

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