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What is a desired outcome?

The key shift we need to make to formulate desired outcomes is from prescribing means to describing ends.

It outlines precisely “what will have happened.” It is very clear on what must be true for it to be considered successful, without prescribing any particular way of reaching it.

Describe the success criteria. In other words, the standards or metrics by which success will be measured

Achieving them would be an inherently valuable, worthwhile result. Even if the only result is that we gain more learning about which direction we should be taking.

Modern project-based work instead focuses on describing the end state of a project in vivid, exciting, yet objective detail.

The purpose of a desired outcome is to focus the efforts of a diverse group of collaborators on outcomes that are inherently, immediately valuable (instead of valuable only according to the plan, and “someday”).

Instead of “Deliver training manual” (a means), we want to ask “What will the manual improve, accelerate, enable, strengthen, accomplish, or increase?” In other words, what is the manual a means to? If it is to “accelerate employee onboarding,” that suggests multiple pathways: a live workshop? An online training? A pre-recorded video orientation? A peer mentoring program? We do need to commit to one of these for now to get started, but having these alternatives in mind will allow us to pivot quickly when new information comes to light. If the desired outcome is instead to “mitigate legal risks,” well that’s a completely different matter. In that case, you might just need some legal boilerplate and then be done with it.

What tightly scoped projects with clear success criteria really do is surface assumptions. If you have a massive project taking up 80% of your time for the next 6 months, assumptions will only be revealed after the deadline has passed, and management or the client starts taking a hard look at what’s going on. By then, it’s way too late to take corrective action.

Desired outcomes as Hypotheses

The fundamental nature of goals has changed, from forecasting an outcome to formulating a hypothesis that will yield maximum learning.

Underlying questions for falsification:

  • Once the licensing agreements are in place, how long does it take to onboard new licensees?
  • Who will license my content? (“people and businesses” are vague, but I could continue to narrow these down as I gather more information)
  • How much income will these licensing agreements produce? (the numbers imply $1,000 per license per month, but I really have no idea)
  • How long will these contracts run for? (if I reach a $5k run rate by August, will that be easy to maintain, or require constant effort?)
  • How long will it take to get licensing agreements written and approved by my lawyer? (reviewing this goal each month I’ll be able to track progress)
  • What kind of support or updates will licensees require to maintain a subscription? Is it a one-time transaction or does it require building a relationship?

This kind of goal is designed to be falsified, just like a scientific hypothesis. Answering any one of the questions above will require shifting the goal, which is exactly the point. I want the goal to track changes over time, getting closer and closer to reality as completion gets nearer.


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