Getting clear and aligned about goals is a critical practice for any project, big or small. All too often, groups don’t take the first step of articulating their goals up-front. Even more often, groups are not specific enough about what success or failure looks like. As a result, groups move forward thinking they have alignment, only to find out later that they don’t.
The Goals / Success Spectrum is a toolkit designed to help you get very clear about goals and outcomes. It defines success along a spectrum — from minimum to target to epic — which gives you a much more nuanced and specific sense of what you’re trying to accomplish as well as different scenarios for success and failure.
There is both a digital and a paper version of the toolkit. The digital version is a Google Docs template. (You’ll find the same template embedded on our meeting templates as well.) To use, click on this link to open Google Docs, then select File > Make a copy… in the menu.
The paper / stickies version is part of the larger DIY Strategy / Culture toolkit. To use, you’ll need to download and print large-sized versions of the Goals / Success Spectrum. You’ll also need stickies. (You can purchase full, pre-printed versions of these kits with stickies as well.) You’ll want to allocate about an hour to work through the toolkit.
Using this toolkit can be a surprisingly emotional experience, especially when using it with a group. It’s perfectly normal to feel vulnerable about exploring some of these questions and writing down possible answers. Make sure you create a safe space for doing these exercises, and if you find yourself feeling uncomfortable, take a break.
Brainstorm on stickies (or directly in your Google Doc) different scenarios for what success looks like. Be as specific as possible. If you previously used the Strategy / Culture Bicycle and already have stickies defining different success scenarios, you may re-use those stickies.
Put the scenarios in the appropriate column: Minimum, Target, and Epic.
- Minimum: These are the minimum things that must happen in order to call a project successful. These scenarios should almost certainly happen if the group does its work diligently.
- Target: These are the things you’re hoping will happen. They should be hard, but attainable. They should have a 40 to 60 percent likelihood of happening if the group does its work diligently.
- Epic: This is what success beyond your wildest imagination looks like. Fill this column in twice, as everybody usually self-censors themselves the first time around. Don’t be shy! These are not your target scenarios, but it’s nice to envision what you really care about.
Brainstorm on stickies (or directly in the Google Doc) different scenarios for failure, and place them in the Failure column. Be as specific as possible.
Identify the discrepancies on the poster — the same success scenario in different columns, or a minimum success scenario that is more lenient than a failure scenario. Discuss these discrepancies with the group, and adjust accordingly.
Once there are no longer any discrepancies on the poster, do a gut check. Are the success scenarios too hard or too soft? Are these truly the scenarios that matter most? Is there anything missing? If necessary, either reframe the goals or re-adjust the different success scenarios.
Finally, come up with some high-level goals that summarize what you’d like to accomplish and why.
(Download instructions for more.)
This free 30-minute video tutorial will walk you through all the steps for using the Goals + Success Spectrum. To use the tutorial, you can use any version of the toolkit. (We recommend either the Desktop Template or the Google Doc.) You can also create your own version of the toolkit on your desk by creating four headings using sticky notes: Failure, Minimum, Target, and Epic.
If you’d like more support, we also offer online peer coaching sessions.
1. Tell a Story
A good Success Spectrum tells a story. Anyone should be able to visualize and viscerally feel what their world would look like if the project were successful.
2. Capture Different Levels of Granularity
You want to capture both the forest (the goals section, which is higher level) and the trees (the success spectrum, which can vary in granularity, but should have several specific items).
3. Think About Feelings Too
How success feels is as important as the tangible outcomes we seek.
4. Put a stake-in-the-ground. Don’t worry about getting it “right” at first.
These exercises can be hard, because we’re worried about coming up with the “right” answer. The goal of this exercise isn’t to get it “right,” but to give you something to target and explore.
In this vein, it’s better to be specific and explore scenarios than to leave things vague. For example, if you’re coming up with a fundraising target, put in a number, even if you haven’t yet done the analysis to test it.
5. From “more” to “how much”
We often frame success in terms of “more,” but that’s often not what we actually mean. For example, if Minimum Success is to “make more money,” and you make one dollar more this year than last, is that truly success? A better question to answer is, “How much?” The Success Spectrum encourages you to be more specific by enabling you to specify a range of success.
6. The purpose of Epic is to stretch
Don’t censor yourself! I sometimes ask, “What does success really look like?” a second time to give you a second chance to overcome your inner censor. Hopefully, the fact that this is Epic and not expected liberates you from holding back.
7. Don’t put Target goals in Minimum
Your Target column contains your stretch goals. For your project to be successful, you should get 100% of the items in your Minimum column, and 40-60% of your Target column. Sort accordingly.
8. Close the Gap, Avoid Overlap
Make sure there’s no gap between what’s in your Minimum and Failure columns. For example, if you’re trying to raise money, and Minimum success is $100,000, but Failure is $50,000 or below, if you raise $75,000, is that success or failure? Close that gap!
Similarly, there should not be overlap between your Minimum, Target, and Epic columns. For example, if you’re throwing an event, and Minimum success is 100-200 participants, and Target success is 150-250 participants, is 150 participants Minimum or Target? Avoid overlap!
9. Consider Process and Outcomes Goals
“Run a mile every day” is a process goal. “Be able to run a 10-minute mile” is an outcome goal. There are different pros and cons to these different types of goals, and there is no universal answer as to what’s best for you. However, when you’re in the process of formulating your goals, consider both types of goals. Try on how they feel, and think about how they might impact your strategies.
10. Cluster Items in Rows or Multiple Spectrums
Sometimes, goals and success naturally fall into categories. In these cases, you could either create a new row per category or an entirely new Spectrum.
11. Review, Reflect, and Keep Practicing
Taking the time to create and align around a Success Spectrum is valuable for both individuals and teams. However, to get the most value out of this tool, using the Success Spectrum should be an ongoing practice, not a one-off. Put your Spectrums somewhere so that everyone will be constantly reminded of them. Review your Spectrums regularly to stay oriented and aligned, and take the time to reflect on the Spectrum afterward to assess success and make meaning of what you learned. The more you practice, the better you will get at working strategically and collaboratively.
Related Collaboration Workouts
Related Blog Posts
- “Be Intentional, But Hold It Lightly.” (January 6, 2014)
- “Hack: Defining Good Goals, Success, and Failure.” (January 9, 2014)
- “Using the Goals + Success Spectrum Skillfully with Groups” (December 18, 2017)
The Goals / Success Spectrum is part of a larger DIY Strategy / Culture toolkit, which also includes:
- Strategy / Culture Bicycle. Surface, align around, and prioritize critical questions about strategy and culture.
- Roadmap. Explore different scenarios and develop a strategic plan.
- Working Agreements. Helps you agree on how your group will work together.
- Mindset Cards. Get more concrete about desired culture.
For more on the design philosophy of these tools, read, “Balance Bikes for Changemakers” (January 16, 2018).
Eugene Eric Kim and Amy Wu (Duende) created this toolkit. The idea of defining success along a spectrum was inspired by Kristin Cobble. The idea of explicitly incorporating failure scenarios was inspired by Seb Paquet, who also named the “Epic” column.
Unless otherwise stated and to the extent possible under law, we dedicate this toolkit to the public domain.
November 13, 2018
- Removed the default row labels column in the Google Doc template
July 16, 2018
- 2.0 release of DIY Strategy / Culture toolkit! printed versions:
- Now in color!
- Redesigned top to encourage use of stickies
- Created space to include high-level goals
- Resized columns to emphasize Minimum and Target
- Updated instructions, including best practices
May 8, 2018
- Updated Google Docs template:
- Added project name and timespan fields
- Added annotations to better explain each column heading
- Created a new column to label each row by default
May 4, 2015
- Released as part of v1.0 of DIY Strategy / Culture toolkit
January 26, 2015
- Updated fonts and colors to new Faster Than 20 styles
- Added arrows to emphasize Target column. (Contributed by Amy Wu)