Changing Targets : Reasonable Goals

A project that I’ve recently been managing at work is around process efficiency.

One tranche of “efficiency” is speed, in that if we can do a process faster with at least the same degree of accuracy, it will be better.

So we set about the task of mapping how long the process took, taking each step and asking the relevant stakeholder how long they spent on that task, how long the task was with them before they looked at it and any issues that meant that they could not complete the task at the first time of asking.

Taking all that information, it’s possible to re-organise the workflow to minimise wasted time and effort, which is what we did.

All very straightforward, all very sensible.  Nothing groundbreaking there.

Our consultancy partners then took the data, and some more, and determined how much money the improved process would make the business.  It was based on some assumptions, some of which were reasonable and some of which were just arbitrary numbers.  They took the total amount of extra money we might make and then decided that 30% of that would be a reasonable return.

Why 30%, we don’t know.  They don’t either.  It seems that it just came out with a number they liked the look of.  Unfortunately, I didn’t.  The number was staggering even at 30%.  It didn’t feel right to me and it didn’t feel possible from the simple changes we were doing.  It certainly wasn’t a number that I’d have wanted to have to hit.

I asked them to go back and review it – review the maths and review the assumptions.  A few days later, they came back to me.

They’d adjusted the time taken in our workflow to make it last longer.  With our process being slower, the financial gains that we could make would be smaller and that would be a more achievable target.

Ignoring my personal feelings for the time being, it is a really bad way of working.  They took the one constant we had, that was based in fact with no assumptions, and changed that to fit a hypothetical target made of rumour and conjecture.

Made me think about how often that might happen away from work in real life.


In some instances, we might not know how things will turn out, but the ground work is there.  We can see the first step to our target and it’s obvious and apparent and unquestionable.  However, it doesn’t look like we expected it to look and takes us somewhere different, so we change it or take it out of the equation rather than run with it to see what happens.

The other side of the metaphor is that we have our target, and we’re so keen to hit that target that we don’t mind compromising ourselves or others to hit that target.  We could, for example, have a big plan around what we want our career to look like.  It will be our dream job – a mix of glamour, power and money enabling us to do what we enjoy doing, and getting paid for it, for the rest of our working lives.

But then there’s another job.  We don’t like it as much and find it pretty boring, and it’s not even in the same ballpark as that dream job.  It has power and it pays well and, well, that’s 2 of the 4 and that might be as good as we’re ever going to get, right?  So we make a compromise and we massage our actions and outcomes so that it looks like we had it planned all along.

We’re so certain about an end target that, even though everything else feels so right, we’ll give it up to hit that target.  You’re enjoying the journey but it’s to a destination you weren’t planning on.  You might take that as being an exciting adventure, or you might take it as being as unnecessary waste of time.

I’m risk averse, so I like to stick to what I know.  If the here and now is right, I’ll stick with that because I don’t know what the future will hold and there’s only so much I can influence it.  Others will gamble, and that’s up to them.  My way of thinking in either situation, though, is that when something is right and unquestionable and we believe in it, don’t change it because it affects something that may never happen.

The question is:
Is this gonna help us,
or have we already done too much?
The question is:
Is this gonna bring you back to me,
or have I forever lost your love?

Go and climb the highest mountain.
You may find the view means nothing.
Fame and fortune are fair
as mountain air,
when all that is here, is
the step of the stairs.

The question is:
If time’s an illusion,
then, have you been with me all the way?
The question is:
Is this gonna get us anywhere
If we have already been there?

Go and climb the highest mountain…

Steps Of The Stairs by Randi Laubek

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