Precision-engineering objectives

The objectives should be necessary, sufficient, independent and yours. If the process has been followed successfully, the number of objectives will usually end up somewhere between four and fifteen.

What to read first: Discovering the objectives

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Raw material for the objectives comes from answering the big questions. 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. You will do some further tidying and re-structuring in the next stage. In the next stage you define levels of success and failure on each objective. Where you are now, the objectives should be stated clearly enough that you can generate examples of success and failure.

The objectives should be necessary, sufficient, independent and yours.

Your aim is a short list of objectives with the following features.

Necessity: Your unit will need to achieve each of the objectives to have achieved overall success in the period. the work unit will have failed if one of them is not achieved. Each objective is the goal itself, not a predictor for achieving a goal.

Sufficiency: The unit will have been successful for the organisation if all the objectives are achieved. No reasonable arguments could be raised against claiming that success.

Independence: If your unit achieves one objective, that does not of itself mean any other was achieved. 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. You can tidy up subtle overlaps later.)

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. The key word is ‘influence’. You own an objective not because you control its achievement. You own it when its achievement is influenced more by your unit than by any other unit inside the organisation, above, below, or alongside your own. The may be no-one who directly achieves the objective, or fails to achieve it.

All this is easier to do than to explain, so start straight away with your own unit. You might want to look at some examples of edits for a payroll unit within a large organisation.

  • You can include headings such as Benefit, Cost, Danger, and Capability within the list of objectives. They 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. 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.

Measures for the objectives have not been mentioned, and need not come into the development of objectives at this level. You will achieve assurance through focus on the outcomes that matter. They are not just the outcomes that are easy to measure.

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 fifteen.

Fewer than four objectives suggest 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 fifteen) 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 necessarily have a longer list of objectives. Higher-level units typically have single, inclusive missions, which will result in a shorter list of objectives.


Drill-down articles

Payroll example of engineering objectives

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Parent articles

Discovering the objectives

Understanding your objectives is the most important part of business planning, and of the risk management process. The objectives are the outcomes that the unit delivers for the organisation. Big questions: You can find the objectives by asking about your unit’s benefits, costs, dangers and capabilities. Precision engineering: Ensure that those objectives are necessary, sufficient, independent – and yours. Choose your priorities within risk management.

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Index to the topic Risk in work unit business planning

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