Traceability in Following your Dreams

REM sleep patterns - tracing your dreams maybe?
REM sleep patterns – tracing your dreams maybe?

With the start of 2013 and a new set of New Year’s resolutions, it seems like the perfect time to talk about how to fulfil goals. While you might be thinking about your personal resolutions (be more patient, have more exercise, be a happier person etc), I am of course thinking about how to fulfil operational goals. But it is my opinion that the same principles apply, so while everyone is still in holiday mode, let’s talk personally for once!

Over the last couple of months this blog has covered the high level parts of a model for enabling superior business analysis and achievement within an organisation. Depending on the complexity of personal or business goals, each of these components need to be addressed – whether on paper or just mentally. The goals must be set, the principles and constraints applied, any clarifying rules to help you hold to your resolution identified, changes to your day-to-day processes visualised and ways of checking whether you’re on track set straight in your mind. Obviously we don’t all do this – but how many of your New Year’s resolutions have you kept in the last decade?!

And this is the crux of the matter. To fulfil goals – especially complex goals – our aspirations must be threaded through everything we do. To stick, they need to be thoroughly integrated into our life – into what we think, do and how we hold ourselves accountable for them. And in reverse, we need to be able to trace what we do back to our goals.

I don’t feel like I’m explaining myself very well here though. I’ve already jumped to the conclusion of this post in three paragraphs which is not very helpful! So I’ll now slow down and provide you with a concrete example of how important it is to link together all the parts of the organisational model.

In the last few days, my family and I (an organisation of 2.5 people) have sat down to plan our budget for 2013 and then looked at how that feeds into our long-term plans. We have a large block and it would be rather nice to get some income from it, but we also have a young child – both of these things mean a lot of work and expense! So, realising that we don’t have unlimited resources (time, money, energy) to do EVERYTHING this year, we have had to start with some fairly fundamental questions.

Firstly, what are our goals? Without disclosing the details, our goals revolve around (1) building a strong family, (2) increasing our self-sufficiency, and (3) eventually paying off our home and land.

Secondly, what are our principles and constraints? Well, as Christians we try to live our lives in accordance with Christian principles. And we are constrained by our current bank balance – we don’t want to rely on credit – , our earning capacity and the law.

Now, having agreed to these goals, principles and constraints, we have been able to make an educated decision about what we need our finances to look like at the end of 2013 and have been able to decide our ‘financial policies’ for the coming year.

We would like to spend some family time together and not be totally burnt out. We would also like to make a certain amount of money from our land. We have decided that holidays are not a priority this year, but we would still like to be able to splash out a bit on gifts and donations. And we would like to spend a bit of money on miscellaneous ‘fun stuff’, even if that means a few more meals of bean stew and more time spent in the veggie patch. These policies have been built into our budget and we have included some more detailed business rules in our budget that define what expenditure is included within each category.

So what comes next? Processes and procedures. This is the tricky bit because, funnily enough, we don’t have all our day-to-day processes documented. I’m not that much of a process geek and we wouldn’t get the same benefits as a large organisation would! However, we can go to the level of identifying what tasks we do that may need to be changed or deleted to achieve our business goals.

For example, my husband will be automating our chicken feeders so that he can spend less time feeding the chooks and more time establishing the vegetable garden. And I need to start thinking about our dinner-time meals in the morning so that I can make more economical meals (ie by soaking lentils that day) rather than throwing together whatever is easy (and probably more expensive) that night. These are both changes to process.

Then finally, what performance reporting is required to see how we’re tracking against our goals? From a financial perspective, we have used a spreadsheet to set out our income, savings and expenditure for this year and in the long-term. We have agreed to collect our receipts and record all our expenditure in spreadsheet on a monthly basis. The performance metrics we are using for our finances relate to the amount of money we have spent and the amount we have at the end of 2013, and we are collecting our expenditure and income data as we go through the year.

However, this still does not explain why traceability is important. It is pretty obvious that just writing down a goal does not magically make it happen, but why spend so much time planning how to achieve your goals?

Imagine that you would like to lose weight and consider the following…

  1. You won’t lose weight if you don’t exercise and eat chocolate all day (wrong policies / rules)
  2. You won’t lose weight if you don’t make the time to exercise (process doesn’t exist)
  3. You won’t lose weight if you don’t buy an alternative food to chocolate (process needs to change)
  4. You won’t know if you’ve lost weight if you don’t know what you weigh to begin with (performance metric needs to be set)
  5. You won’t know if you’ve lost weight if you don’t weigh yourself (performance data needs to be collected).

So in my opinion, traceability is everything…. Traceability is how you operationalize your goals and ultimately how you follow your dreams.

Traceability is: the means of following how and where strategy has been logically operationalized within an organisation.

The benefits of traceability are: to be able to easily communicate how you will achieve your goals, to understand what needs to change when your goals change, to give you a head start in identifying why goals may not have been met.

What do you think?

Can you suggest a better name or definition for traceability within a business model? And can you share any examples of where goals have not been achieved through untraceable implementation?

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