Goal Setting: How To Avoid a Software Development Road Trip

A lost couple looks at a map, illustrating how a lack of software development goals can lead to a detour on your road trip.

Road Trip! The term has come to represent the joy of the journey. Unfortunately, some software development projects feel like road trips. No one is sure about the destination. As a result, the path becomes unclear and soon no one enjoys the journey. Similarly, a software development road trip happens when the only goal is the final deliverable. For software teams to be successful, they need development goals to keep projects on task and on time. 

Why Set Team Development Goals?

Setting team development goals brings individual members together. As they discuss project goals, teams learn to value the skills of individual members. They realize how different talents can blend together to make projects possible. Ultimately, the process builds an environment that generates synergies that lead to innovation.

Working together to define project goals helps quantify the scope of work. Consequently, software development teams must share the same project vision. That way, it’s easier to discuss components of the work, such as methodologies and architecture. Individuals can express differing opinions within a collaborative environment, resulting in a better end product.

Software development goals provide direction and motivation. Ultimately, they are a means to monitor progress and ensure accountability. According to Oxford Languages, a goal is an individual’s aim or desired result. It is synonymous with an objective. However, some managers see goals as overarching. They are simply abstract statements supported by concrete objectives. Conversely, some project managers adhere to Robert Herjavec‘s statement that:

“A goal without a timeline is just a dream.”

That’s why goal setting often uses the SMARTER method to ensure that goals become reality.

What Are SMARTER Goals?

George Doran used the acronym SMART in 1981 to serve as a guide for setting goals. The idea was quickly adopted, although its implementation varied greatly. As individuals used SMART, they found that this method did not include evaluating and reviewing goals. SMART goals lacked accountability and flexibility. As a result, SMARTER goals developed.

SMARTER stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, timely, evaluated and reviewed. Goals must possess these seven characteristics if they are to be effective. Whether it is setting long-term goals for a software development team or short-term project goals, the following criteria can improve their quality.

Specific

Software development road trips happen when projects lack specific goals. For example, suppose developers are told to improve a website’s checkout page. What does that mean? Is the development team to improve navigation? Layout? Increase functionality?

Without a specific goal, developers have to decide what needs to improve because the goal lacks direction. Every team member may have a different opinion on what needs a refresh. Suddenly, the group is on a journey without a clear destination. 

Changing the goal to “improve website by reducing the time to check out” provides focus. As a result, software developers have a starting point for detailed project requirements.

Measurable

How much should the checkout time improve? If a company wants a 25 percent reduction in checkout time, it will be disappointed if the development team only hits 15 percent. As a result, developers become disengaged from the project if they feel that their efforts are not appreciated. Additionally, letting teams know after the software is delivered what was wanted frustrates developers and their customers.

If a goal is measurable, it gives all parties an opportunity to discuss what is achievable. Maybe, 15 percent is all that can be achieved in the time allotted. What if a 25 percent increase is essential? Then the timeline may need to change. Ultimately, goal setting helps define a project’s priorities.

Achievable

Software engineers have a saying that defines achievable – Every project requires time, money, and resources. The customer can pick two of the three requirements, but the engineers determine the third. If a project has a tight timeline and limited resources, it’s going to take more money to hire added resources to meet the delivery date. Similarly, limited resources and money may require that the timeline be extended. 

Determining if a goal is reasonable should rest with the development team. However, navigating the negotiations with the client may best be performed by a project manager. For example, consider the checkout page. The team may determine that reaching a 25 percent goal will require a rewrite of the checkout process. However, a 15 percent reduction could be achieved with minimal changes to the base architecture. Choosing 25 percent will result in a longer delivery schedule, but 15 percent could be completed by the target date.

Unrealistic or unachievable goals result in unhappy clients and disgruntled developers. Conversely, making realistic goals yields a better outcome, especially when the development team is involved.

Relevant

Consider this the road trip check. When someone suggests taking a steamboat excursion for a day, everyone hops on board, adding a day to the trip. Now, suppose someone recommends changing the color scheme of the checkout page. The team agrees that the colors need an update, so they add it to the project. The question becomes — how does updating the page colors reduce the checkout time?

It doesn’t. It isn’t relevant to the task at hand and would take resources away from the more critical tasks. Without specific, measurable, and achievable goals, it’s easy to add irrelevant project requirements. 

Timely

Without deadlines, software development projects become a never-ending road trip. There’s always one more feature to add or change to make. A timeline sets priorities and defines a scope of work. If the checkout page needs to be ready within 30 days, the priorities and scope will differ from those with a two-week deadline.

Evaluated and Revised

Evaluated and revised were added to the original SMART goals when companies realized that project teams needed to look at original goals and evaluate their progress while a project is ongoing. Because things change and priorities shift, goals may need to be revised. Whether progress is evaluated once a day or once a week, a development team needs to determine if the goals are still valid or if they need to be revisited.

For example, the goal of reducing the checkout time by 15 percent on a company website needs to be evaluated when a primary resource will be unavailable for 10 days. Can others step in and complete the tasks? Is their money to bring in an outside resource? Must the deadline change?

What Are Clear Software Development Goals?

Not everyone agrees that setting SMARTER goals is the best way to manage software development teams. For example, project managers and developers feel that SMARTER goals lack the flexibility that agile methodologies require. They believe that an agile approach requires shared goals that are context-dependent and self-rewarding. Consequently, they focus on CLEAR goals that are collaborative, limited, emotional, appreciable, and refinable.

Collaborative

Collaboration is central to agile methodologies. Individuals work as a team to create goals that build on the group’s expertise. Ultimately, creating goals in collaboration makes for a culture that fosters innovation. 

Limited

CLEAR limits the difficulty and duration of goals. They must have a start and end date, and they must be achievable within that time window. Similarly, these characteristics align with SMARTER requirements of timely and achievable.

Emotional

Engaged teams are 17 percent more productive. They are more committed to attaining goals and feel a sense of accomplishment when a job is well-done. 

Appreciable

Employees can become overwhelmed when faced with longer-term projects. Setting appreciable goals means breaking down goals into tasks or milestones that can be accomplished in shorter time frames.

Refinable

Refinable is equivalent to SMARTER’s evaluated and revised. Development teams must have the ability to adjust goals as circumstances change. 

Although CLEAR goals leverage agile concepts such as adaptability and collaboration, they do not discuss the specifics of what makes a goal effective. Instead, they appear to build on Dolan’s SMART goals.

Setting CLEAR and SMARTER Goals for Software Development Projects

Goals provide direction, motivation, and accountability. They are designed to give focus and monitor progress. Whether software development teams use SMART, SMARTER, or CLEAR goals, they are needed to prevent unwanted road trips. At EC Group, goal-setting is part of every project development team.

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