More on the seven levels of success and failure

What to read first: Degrees of success and failure

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There is nothing magical, or standardised, about seven degrees of success and failure. The seven levels suggested there create an easy way to move in the right direction.

You’ve probably seen other examples with five levels, all of which are below planned success. They are similar, but will not take you in exactly the right direction.

The seven levels include three that represent success. Two are better than planned, and one (‘Success’) represents exactly the target outcome to which annual business planning is directed. That leaves four lower levels of outcome that are not so good. The four levels of negative outcome probably look similar to the levels on any consequence scale you were given as an example. If the one you were given has five levels, but the lowest level of consequence is ‘negligible’, that’s only negligibly different from ‘Success’. You might wonder why it’s there at all. The consequence scale does not recognise Success as a consequence.

It’s best to keep the style of column labels suggested by the Clear Lines , and not to simply replace them with wording from elsewhere. Wording like ‘medium’ or ‘severe’ is not equivalent and not helpful. The recommended column labels take a definite point of view. That point of view is from unit’s organisational purpose and business plan. Labels such as ‘medium’ or ‘severe’ suggest some sort of universal scale of ‘badness’, but exactly how ‘bad’ a ‘medium’ consequence might be will shift according to the point of view from which you are looking, even if there are examples. That kind of squishiness will be of no help in looking your boss calmly in the eye.

In this guide, the measures for outcomes are the pictures that you draw. The pictures come from plans, dreams, and nightmares. You may include formal numerical measures in the pictures, if those measures are the ones that really matter. You don’t allow measurement techniques to decide what matters. Neither do you get distracted by debates about the validity of measures.

The seven levels of success and failure are not the measures. The pictures themselves are the measures. The levels of success and failure are guidelines to drawing pictures, but have no lasting importance. They are scaffolding that comes down when the building is finished.

The ‘Minerite’ example in HB 436 (Table C.2) has six levels of consequence that are interpreted as either positive or negative, making twelve levels altogether, with a neutral hole in the middle where planned success might have fallen to make thirteen. The levels in that example are simply the numbers 1 through 6. All of that can work, though it is a long way from intuitive and natural method of drawing a line of pictures.

The ‘Minerite’ example uses six general categories of ‘impact’ on the other axis, in place of objectives. Those categories of impact are not closely aligned with the objectives, outcomes, or outcome measures, even though all have been painstakingly defined and:

In the risk management process, these outcomes and the manner in which they are measured become the method of expressing consequence.


The measures … are also used to express consequences. [HB 436, C2.2]

Parent articles

Degrees of success and failure

Degrees of success and failure are possible on each objective. Aim to get three levels of success and four more levels of failure. The levels of success and failure are how the organisation will see the unit outcomes for the year, not how you see them. The pre-defined levels of success and failure can disappear after you have specific pictures of success and failure for each objective. The pre-defined levels of success and failure are not themselves a scale for consequence or impact.

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