Setting goals with an agile approach

Another year draws to an end and another one is about to begin. If nothing else, you know because everyone is publishing year-in-review articles. If not that, then it’s about looking forward to the next year and setting goals for things to accomplish.

Looking back is good. Time to sum up what went well and what didn’t, and see what you have learned. Hopefully, you are a year wiser and will bring the lessons learned during the year along to the next.

Looking forward is also good. Getting clear about where you want to go and coming up with strategies on how to get there.

But why only do that once a year?

Create a long term vision

I already wrote about the yearly review that I normally do around this time of year. I lift my perspective and look further ahead, making sure my current path is aligned with my values and larger life vision.

The GTD follower will recognize this as the 50 000 and 40 000 feet altitudes that David Allen talks about.

The goals I set all comes from the larger vision I have of where I want to go. And I do set goals for myself.

But there is a dynamic involved in setting yearly goals that you have to take into account.

That is, things change fast.

Don’t set your goals in stone

By the time the date of the goal arrives, the goal itself might be obsolete and irrelevant.

In software development, if it takes too long time to get version 1.0 out the door then things can have changed so much that the product will already be outdated on the day of it’s release.

The goals we set in our personal lives can similarly become outdated. If you only set goals for yourself once a year – say New Year resolutions – then things can happen in August, in March, or even in January that will make these resolutions obsolete.

It can be quite disheartening to come to end of the year and realize that you planned to do so much, but many of those plans never materialized. It’s easy to feel like a failure when your list is full of goals that were never reached.

Isn’t it better to catch these things when they crop up, and replace the goal with a more relevant one?

Life happens – and it is ok

While I’m all for reviewing and planning, there is no point in making the most detailed elaborate plan if you have to scrap everything after two months because life happened.

And let’s face it. Life happens.

People get sick or injured, or their children or spouses or other relatives do. You get a new job, or move to another city. Maybe an opportunity came up that was too good to miss, and all the things you had planned to do needs to move to the back seat for a while.

All this is ok.

Put your goals in writing

In the beginning of this year, I actually wrote down the goals I wanted to achieve on pen and paper. I printed them out, and made them part of my weekly review.

Yes, I reiterated my goals each and every week.

This made a big difference. It’s hard to forget something you promised yourself if you get reminded of it every week. It also highlighted that same dynamic when it comes to personal goalsetting as in software development.

A couple of my goals that I set in the beginning of the year were never met. This was not due to any failure of mine, but due to similar reasons I stated above. Life happened. They became irrelevant. One or two were also dependent on outside factors that were outside of my control (One could argue that they weren’t really SMART goals, but that is outside the scope of this post).

Review them during the year

Instead of only doing new year resolutions that quickly fall by the wayside, consider letting the goalsetting and review come periodically during the year.

I find every tree months to be a good timeframe. Every season, I look back and I look ahead and take notes. Where I am today, where I came from and what I want to bring forward. I also check if my bigger goals are on track or if there is something I need to do with them.

Part of this is checking if the goal still is relevant to me. I am not afraid to abandon a goal that is stale or for some other reason is obviously not going to happen.

The vision is crucial

Having a clear vision of where you want to go and how you want to live is more important than setting up goals once a year. The vision needs to ring true to your core values, and will help in your decison-making during the year. Both the small and the big decisions.

It’s the why of doing what you do. And it’s the where of where you want to go.

Make the goals agile

I’m borrowing the term agile here even though it usually refers to a specific way of software planning. But I think the analogy works well.

Planning and goalsetting is only relevant in so far that it helps your decision making in the present moment.

You cannot live in the future. You can’t predict it. You only have here and now.

But the fact that the future cannot be predicted should not discourage you from creating goals in the first place. It doesn’t mean that the process of goal-setting is irrelevant.

Setting a goal for the future means you have a direction you know you want to go in. It informs and inspires you current actions.

Make detailed plans in sprints

Agile software development talks about sprints, a time period in which the team works on a set number of issues or features. A common sprint timeframe is two weeks but can be longer or shorter. The work is defined during sprint planning, where the upcoming work is laid out in more detail.

If I would continue to use the same terminology, my three month review cycle is my sprint. I can see pretty clearly ahead for about three months. After that, things get muddier.

While I might have set goals for the whole year, I don’t bother to plan things in too much detail for the later part of it. That will come during that quarter’s review.

If at any time during my reviews I find a goal to be irrelevant, I don’t hesitate to replace it with a new one. No guilt. No hard feelings.

Did a twisted foot stop you from running that race? New goal: rehab and getting back in your running shoes again. Life happens.

Adjust your course along the way

They say that airplanes are off course 99% of the time. The plane will only reach its intended destination because of the pilot’s constant course correction.

Your goal is not your destination, your vision is. By adjusting your goals along the way you will make sure that you reach your intended destination too.

Scroll to Top