Set CLEAR goals with your agile team rather than SMART ones

The phrase “improve quality” is an example of a goal that is too broad to be helpful. Goals like “create a new product that doubles income in three months” and “complete project X by Y date” feel more like checklists than actual goals. Many of us have adopted SMART statements — Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Timely — to formulate more beneficial, meaningful goals over time. SMART goals significantly improve the process of establishing direction and determining whether or not teams are successful. If you are unfamiliar with the SMART strategy, several resources can help you learn about it. If you haven’t already, you should do some research.

SMART goals, on the other hand, work in a different way than an agile team would. An agile team prefers the freedom to “discover” goals along the way or to modify and tweak their goals as they gain new knowledge. Although SMART is an excellent framework, it is not adaptable enough to meet the needs of today’s agile teams. While thinking about my goals, Adam Kreek’s new framework, abbreviated CLEAR, came to my attention. This approach leans heavily on the agile mindset and attitudes that teams strive for in today’s environment, but it does not conflict with traditional goal setting.

Before delving into Kreek’s method, it’s important to emphasise the importance of goals for any team, agile or not. Although the Agile Manifesto states that working software should take precedence over extensive documentation, it makes no mention of the team having no documentation at all. Similarly, an agile team believes that as they acquire new information and become more familiar with the business environment throughout the year, they should be able to define and reset goals. This is not to say that an agile team cannot have any goals or objectives. Even hazy goals are preferable to none. However, goals that are adaptable and grow with the team are preferable to rigid ones that must be decided upon in advance and are difficult to change. Let’s look at Kreek’s CLEAR framework and how it relates to setting goals for an agile team.

CLEAR is an abbreviation that, like many other things in our world, aids in remembering the framework’s critical components.

  • Collaborative. No single group can achieve greatness. Good goals should inspire individuals, groups, and organisations to collaborate for mutual success. Consider who will lead, assist, and support a coalition of individuals to achieve a desired result when developing objectives. A shared goal has a much better chance of success than one completed by a single team.
  • Limited. Good goals have a limited scope and duration. Setting goals necessitates knowing what success looks like, and for that to happen, a finish line must be specified. They should be quantifiable and capable of objectively assessing their success or failure. A goal with no end date is either a pipe dream, the result of wishful thinking, or something that will never be considered successful. With such broad objectives, it is impossible to achieve lofty goals like world peace or nebulous goals like project quality improvement. Setting time- and size-restricted goals allows the team to take specific steps toward achieving them.
  • Emotional. Goals should be aspirational for the team and the people, with an emotional component. A goal must be motivating and align with the interests of the people working to achieve it. Few team members will be motivated by the desire to increase revenue for an organisation; instead, many more will be motivated by the desire to improve society, build the world’s most customer-centric business, or make the world a better place. Sales, users, transactions, or any other business statistic can be used to assess performance if the team supports the overall goal.
  • Appreciable. Being substantial in most cases means being large enough to be noticed. In this context, it means breaking down large goals into manageable chunks that can be completed quickly and effectively. A goal’s likelihood of success decreases as it grows in size, similar to “Limited” above. By breaking a big goal down into smaller, manageable tasks, the team is much more likely to make steady progress and keep their focus on the big picture. A large challenge can usually be broken down into smaller ones, which improves team performance and alleviates some of the initial friction. By focusing solely on the task, the team can remain committed to completing one component at a time.
  • Refinable. This is the goal attribute where CLEAR goals differ the most from SMART goals. Both paradigms advocate for setting challenging but attainable goals. A goal that is too easy to achieve will not inspire the team, and a goal that is too difficult to achieve will most likely demotivate the team rather than inspire them. Refined goals are more compatible with agility. As the team gains a better understanding of their objectives, it can modify the goals to make them more relevant. Goals set months or even quarters ago may be impossible because an Agile perspective holds that the future is unpredictable. A few months into the year, the team usually discovers that its goals are either too conservative, overly ambitious, or even completely incorrect. By allowing goals to be modified after they are set, the team can maintain motivating aspirations rather than restricting ones.

Adopting CLEAR goals isn’t all that different from setting SMART goals. The team should meet with all its stakeholders to develop goals that correspond to the ideas above, understanding that they should be aspirational, flexible, and built so that the size and scope are specified. Future goal updates are where the two processes diverge. Rather than simply tracking progress toward a goal established months ago, the team should be able to assess the goals to ensure that they are appropriate and that the right targets have been selected. The goals are more likely to produce the desired results for the team due to their increased adaptability.

Key Takeaways:

  • Whatever strategy the team takes, having and setting goals is critical.
  • Because SMART goals are frequently too stiff for an agile team, setting strong goals early in the year may constrain the team later in the year.
  • Adam Kreek’s CLEAR objectives framework is similar to SMART in many ways, but it differs in a few significant ways.
  • Setting goals that motivate the team to achieve them is critical; aspirational goals are more likely to do so.
  • Flexible goals will allow the team to change as they gain more knowledge and raise or lower goals in response to that knowledge.
  • Managing CLEAR objectives is more of a conversation than a straightforward analytics exercise.
  • Working together to achieve goals, regardless of the method, frequently yields superior results.