Risk in work unit business planning: Firming up the objectives

In this article:
Qualities: Necessity, Sufficiency, Ownership, Independence

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When you have a good set of raw material for the objectives, you resolve that material into a tidy list of objectives, including the outcomes the unit is expected to avoid or minimise. Some further tidying and re-structuring will follow in the next stage, in which we define levels of success and failure on each objective. Where we are now, the objectives should be stated clearly enough that the examples of success and failure can be generated.

Qualities: Necessity, Sufficiency, Ownership, Independence

The aim at this stage is a short list of objectives with the following features.

Necessity: Each objective is essential when considering the overall success of the work unit in the period. Failing to achieve one of them would mean the work unit had failed. Each objective is the goal itself, not a predictor for achieving a goal.

Sufficiency: If all the objectives are achieved, the unit will have been successful for the organisation, and no reasonable arguments could be raised against claiming that success.

Ownership: Achievement of the objectives is under the influence of the work unit more than it is under the influence of any other work unit.

Independence: Achieving one objective does not imply the achievement of any other. Similarly, failing on one objective does not of itself imply a failure on any other. (There is no need to spend a lot of time on independence at this stage. Subtle overlaps will be tidied up later.)

All this is easier to do than to explain. You might want to look at some examples of edits for a payroll unit within a large organisation.

Headings such as Benefit, Cost, Danger, and Capability can be included within the list of objectives and could be useful while you are looping back to the big questions. These headings are not essential to later stages, so long as you have answered the questions.

Edit the candidate objectives to move them closer to the ideal qualities. You may find that pushing the form and structure around reveals new gaps in your understanding of unit objectives, especially answers to the four guiding questions about Benefit, Cost, Danger, and Capability. That’s good. Come up with some answers to those new gaps, and then start re-structuring again.

Keep all the original answers to the Benefit, Cost, Danger, and Capability questions, especially the ones that didn’t make it through to the tidy list of objectives. These answers will be very good idea-starters when we get to identifying actual risks.

You will know when you’re ready to move forward when the questions are answered, the format is more or less followed, and it feels right. You might feel good about your progress. How will your boss feel about the objectives that you have captured? How happy will everyone be at the end of the year when you have achieved everything on the list, but nothing else?

Those feelings matter. They tell you what’s really important, and that’s exactly what you need to know.

If the process has been followed successfully, the number of objectives will usually end up somewhere between four and twelve.

Fewer than four objectives suggests that the specific value and purpose of the unit is not clearly recognised and separated into its unique components. The unit objectives should be clearly different from those of other units performing different roles for the organisation, and show exactly what those differences are. There should be at least one separate objective for each of the Benefit, Cost, Danger, and Capability questions.

A longer list of objectives (towards twelve) is reasonable if the work unit has a collection of functions that are not tightly related into a single mission. A larger unit at a higher organisation level should not of itself lead to a longer list of objectives, as higher-level units typically have single inclusive missions.

There will be some further merging and splitting of objectives in the next stage, which defines levels of success and failure on the objectives.

Drill-down articles:

Risk in work unit business planning: Payroll example of firming up objectives

Recommended next article:

Risk in work unit business planning: Priorities within risk management

Some risk needs immediate attention, not all risk. Prioritising within risk management is a matter of prioritising objectives affected by uncertainty.

Previous article: Risk in work unit business planning: How to answer the four big questions

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