About PM4Web

The PM4Web blog was born as an outlet to return knowledge back to the web development community. My goal is to share my experiences as a project manager from over the years in a manner which helps you succeed with your own projects.

07 November, 2008

One Minute Goal Settings

Getting quality work from your team members

Most arguments people have with each other are a result of misalignment of expectations (e.g. Bob: “you said you were going to do this...”, Tony: “I never said that!”. Jane: “You promised this...”, Greg: “I never promised that!”).

- Concept from Brian Tracey's book The Psychology of Achievement

A common problem encountered in the workplace is when a team member thinks their responsibility or task is one thing, but their manager has a completely different idea about what they should be doing.

This is where One Minute Goal Settings come to the rescue (or Goal Settings for short). Simply put, its just a one page document which is split into two parts; the first part describes the task to be undertaken, and the second part details the level of quality that is required.

This strategy was developed by Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson and is contained in their classic book The One Minute Manager. At its core, the idea is that people working together should know what is expected from beginning to end, there should be no surprises.

The One Minute Manager

What’s that I hear you saying? “just fire off an email or put a Post-it note on their desk telling them what you want them to do.” Well, a goal setting document is different in two very important ways; for starters, its a mutual agreement, and secondly, it specifically sets out the level of quality you have in mind.

These are two very powerful things which should not be underestimated. It’s well known that people are more inclined to do something if you ask them rather then tell them. Giving people a say on how they work is very empowering. Getting a person to happily agree to the parameters of a task has so many benefits its simply beyond the scope of this article to discuss them all, lets just say the chances of success go up dramatically.

The second major aspect of a goal setting document is the level of quality expected. Why is this important? Because people can have vastly different ideas about what constitutes quality. A programmer may not even notice a button is misaligned by a few pixels, but to a usability expert, this could send them right over the edge. There’s an added bonus to openly discussing how well things should be done, over time it can actually lift peoples’ quality of work as they are exposed to a higher ideal.

One Minute Goal Setting example

This is a typical scenario of how a goal setting session with me would go:

Louis: “John, when you’re ready, I’d like to go over your goal setting for system testing”

John: “No problem, I’ll just finish writing this email. Say 10 minutes?”

Louis: “Sounds good”

[we go off to the boardroom - goal settings shouldn’t be done around other team members]

Louis: “OK John, I’ve written up your goal setting for conducting system testing on the Widgets Project. I’ll read through it and you can tell me if it all sounds reasonable, if you’re not happy with anything in it, I’ll go change it”

[read through the document – this takes only a minute or two]

Louis: “How’s that sound, does it all make sense?”

John: “You said you need it done by this Thursday, but I’ve got a dentist’s appointment in the morning. Can we make it Friday instead?”

Louis: “Done, I’ll update it and re-print it”

[I adjust the document, re-print it, and come back – this rarely happens by the way]

Louis: “OK, updated, Friday it is now. So you are happy with everything I’m getting you to do, ‘cause you are making a commitment to me on this task”

John: “Yep, all sounds fine to me”

Louis: “Cool, we’re all done. Oh, keep in mind John, before you come to me to say you’ve finished, just be sure to re-read the document at least once to make sure you really are finished, OK?”

John: “Yeah, make’s sense”

[Friday passes and John reports the work has been completed. I review it, its great]

Louis: “Hey John, can I give you some feedback? When you do testing with such detail, it really impresses the hell out of me. You logged 32 bugs, that's 32 bugs the client won't see. Thank you, great work.”

And that’s it, it really is that simple. Assuming you are working with competent and passionate individuals, things will rarely go wrong. If you want to know what the course of action is should things go wrong, I recommend getting the book as it covers the topic in the required detail. When things go right, just be sure to let the person know you are happy with their work.

Do goal setting documents always work? The simple answer is no, there are rare occasions when it’s actually counter-productive to enforce a goal setting agreement. Let me relay an instance when just such a situation occurred.

I was working with a number of programmers at a small web development company where resources where quite tight. I had been using goal settings with success amongst the junior programmers, but a time came when I negotiated a goal setting with the senior programmer to have him produce a coding style guide. Even though I could of produced the guide myself, it was too far outside of my dominion. The style guide was more likely to be accepted and adhered to if it was championed by ‘one of their own’ (i.e. written by a programmer for other programmers).

Task management cartoon

At the time, the senior developer was under a lot of pressure to deliver on a number of client projects. The agreed date was missed and no style guide materialised. Even though there was a pretext to say “hey, didn’t you say you were going to produce the style guide by the 18th?” in this situation, the value of doing such a thing would have been counter-productive.

I could obviously see that he had been working exceptionally hard to keep other commitments he had made. Also the fact that he was in a senior position in some ways gave him mandate to drop tasks as he saw fit, he is after all a professional with many years of experience, he knows what he is doing.

1 comment:

  1. Quick question. Who normally writes the goal setting page? The manager or the employee? Based off the book, I got the impression it was the employee, but this article refers to the manager writing the goal setting page. Can you explain?


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