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Defining an Accurate Project Goal

Why do we do the things that we do?

There are two ways of approaching assignments. You can either toe the line or question all the crucial matters.

When you’re creating something for someone else, you usually sit down together, listen to their needs, lay out some ideas and come up with a solution which you will then turn into reality.

But what if someone comes to you with a very specific idea and they’re very keen on making it happen? Would you accept it immediately and do what you’re told? Or will you approach the idea flipping everything upside down?

Let’s look at the pros and cons of the situation when someone approaches with a clearly defined idea, leaving no room for discussion.

The pros and cons

The pros of executing orders are certainty, efficiency, and speed.

No dwelling, no philosophy, just let someone else deal with the creative process, decision making, and risk-taking. Your part is to sit down and do the manual work. Almost like a machine. Hold on, aren’t machines made in series? This means there are more than one. Just like that, there are many others out there that will do the same.

And there’s a con right there. Do exactly as you’re told and you won’t be any different than the others in a market so vast that the only way to stand out is to be different.

Here are some more cons: uncertainty, lack of effectiveness and speed need extra attention.

A firm stance is rare. Surely you’ve had the opportunity to see how people’s wishes and opinions change throughout the progress of a project. People will start off with a vision, and then remodel it according to what they see. Since you’re only executing orders, you’ll have to change whatever you’ve created in line with their wishes. Over and over again, risking effectiveness for efficiency. Additional requests seem to be endless and granting them comes at the cost of speed. No one benefits from projects that drag out for way longer than planned.

Also, reasoning is what makes us humans extraordinary. So why not use it? Admittedly, questioning someone’s ideas may get on people’s nerves. In the end, though, the questioning process could take you far from where you started.

Employee motivation

Not to mention the avalanche of positive effects this approach has.

First of all, everyone will more likely be motivated to invest their energy and attention in helping people achieve their goals, rather than just completing tasks.

Most of us prefer having our opinions taken into account, especially when we know what we’re talking about! There’s nothing more frustrating than being silenced and forced to do something we don’t agree with. Unfortunately, that’s what happens more often than not.

Changing the approach could, over time, lead to an individual feeling of owning the product or service, a higher happiness rate, and a lower employee turnover rate. This is of course just an assumption of the snowball effect that would take place over time in case the mindset of the company changes.

Simply being part of the decision-making process could be motivating. Instead of meetings behind closed doors and briefs containing new orders, knowing why we do what we do is crucial for personal motivation.

Moving forward, carefully

If you want to go forward, which is usually the case, you need to create something new or change what you already have.

However, is change at any cost a good thing? Changing for the sake of it may not be such a good idea. A well-thought-out change, on the other hand, can bring progress.

Now, how does one make a well-thought-out change?

Firstly, you need to know where you’re coming from. Enters: project baseline. What’s that? It’s a reference point, the one you’ll be comparing your progress to. If you’re selling 100 ice-creams per day on average and you want to increase your sales, 100 per day is your baseline. It’s the official point the project planning phase stops and its execution begins. Every progress you make will be defined as progress because it has moved from the baseline.

Here’s a set of questions you could ask to guide the thinking development.

What needs to be changed and why?

What’s the goal that needs to be accomplished? An increase in sales, a bigger market share, or cost reduction perhaps.

If the product or service is already on the market, what’s the current state of the circumstances based on which a change needs to be made? In different words: what’s the baseline?

If a new product or service is being placed out there, what’s the current state of the market you’d like to enter?

Basically, the goal is to answer the question: what are you basing your decisions on?

But all this feels like fluff. It’s all very general and can be interpreted in many ways. So, we’ll illustrate an example from our own yard.

This is how we do it

We thought it would be nice to suggest you try out ActiveCollab in your native language. So, if you’re from Portugal and you’re visiting our site or want to start a trial period, we’d like to suggest Portuguese as a default language as soon as you get there

But before we start developing this feature, there’s a whole set of questions we need to ask ourselves.

Imagine having someone come to you with a similar request. This is what you could ask them first: why would we even create this feature? Which goals are you trying to reach?

We asked ourselves these questions and came up with an answer: the goal is to increase the number of trials on a monthly basis. Although it seems very ill-defined and vague, it’s actually not. Because, the next step is to outline the baseline, and then to define more precisely the goal.

Asking the right questions

This means the questioning process doesn’t end at the first set of questions. It’s rather a start, after which you can define the current state, the one you’d like to change. Here’s a hint: try to stick to statistics from a certain period in the past. For instance, last year.

The set of questions that came after this was: how many visits, on a monthly basis, does our site (i.e. the place where trials are created) have?

Immediately, we realized that wasn’t specific enough, as a great deal of our visitors’ primary language is English.

We quickly corrected ourselves and rephrased the question to:
How many visitors from countries where English isn’t an official language do we have? Also, how many of those visitors create trials?

Which languages other than English are most commonly used?

Then we thought of our existing users and posed the question:

How many of them translate ActiveCollab to their native language?

And which languages are those (top 3)?

Let’s say you’ve established those visits make up 1% of the total number. Out of this percentage, 10 users whose primary language isn’t English create a trial monthly. So, if nearly no one is using this option, maybe there’s no need to spend time developing it.

Not only this is a display of a professional approach to the project, but it’s also a way to help reexamine the initial wishes and requests.

A step beyond would be suggesting an alternative of your own, based on the newly collected data. In this particular case, it could be a campaign designed to attract such users to the site. You could even define with precision which markets to target, as you already know which languages are used the most. If the campaign succeeds, you’ll have a higher percentage of these particular users. Then you can go back to the initial questions and decide whether translating ActiveCollab for those who are visiting the site or trying out the app is worth your while.

However, if the numbers already show our customers like to have ActiveCollab in a language other than English, why not suggest it and make things easier for them?

Now that you’ve established a baseline and a potential benefit, you can go back to the first question and define a S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely) goal.

Let’s rewind

The first question was: why do we do what we do? What’s our goal?

The answer: we want to increase the number of trials created on a monthly basis.

In light of new information, the goal can become more accurate (S.M.A.R.T.).

For example: following the launch of the new feature, we want to have an increase of a minimum of 10% in the number of trials created from countries where Portuguese, Spanish and French are primary languages, monthly, 3 months in a row.

Goal reached

Finally, we have an achievable and relevant goal. Getting there leaves room for creativity, as there are many ways to reach it. The focus shifts from how to where.

Without all those questions, we wouldn't have come this far. This process is not easy nor simple, but you’ve reached a clearly defined start and endpoint of a project.

Once you know where you’re coming from, you need to set out on a path to where you’re going, and that path needs to be well defined as well. Otherwise, you might go astray. 

To be continued…