Commitment vs Goals

by Jennifer Borek on October 27, 2015

Sam LaingSamantha Laing partners with Karen Greaves at Growing Agile and focus on helping teams improve the way they work using agile techniques.

I’ve been thinking about commitment vs goals for a while. And the concepts confused me. What is the difference really? They are more or less the same thing – right?

Yesterday I applied some learning from my life and now I finally get it. Here is my story.

I have a love hate relationship with smoking and exercise.

Commitment #1
I commit to stop smoking. This lasts about a month and then I start up again. Like any good agilist, I did a little retrospective and realised that its when a lot of wine is involved. So simple solution – stop drinking and smoking? That also lasts about a month :(

smoke     exercise

Commitment #2
Lets skip to exercise. I started at a new gym. Its about a 20 minute drive away and costs 5x more than the gym around the corner from my house. I commit to attend for 6 months with 2 friends, 3 times a week. This is working brilliantly. Perhaps too much so. I attend all the sessions and am getting fitter. However when I’m sick I still want to go (and did) and that was not good for my health.

Goal #1
About a month ago, the same 2 friends and I decided to monitor our goal of getting healthier. We invested in a Fitbit Flex each. The first goal is to get 10000 steps a day. This is rather difficult when you spend most of the day behind a computer! I have managed that goal about 5 times. Another measurement it has is Active Minutes. You need to aim for 30 active minutes a day. I am finding this more rewarding than the 10000 steps. The measurement that is driving most of my behaviour though is the 7 rolling day step count.

Steps  Active  RollingCount

This is a list with you and your friends showing the total number of steps you have each taken over the last 7 days. The beauty of this is that you can have a bad day and it affects your rolling count very little. Likewise for a very good day. So the behaviour it drives is for you to be a bit more active everyday instead of only a few times a week. My weekly count started at 30000, then went to 40000 and is now around 38000 (I have bronchitis!).

So what have I learned?

When I stop smoking and have one slip up I feel like a bad person. Like I am useless and pathetic for not having any will power. It’s then way more difficult to stop again. When I have a bad day with my step count, I brush it off because I know I can make it up the next day. I don’t feel unworthy, I just feel more inspired to go for a walk the next morning.

The word commit implies you do it or fail. You need to be perfect everyday (not smoke at all) or else you have failed your commitment. And no-one likes failure. It is way more difficult to get back on track when you FAIL.

Having a goal with a rolling count over a time period, allows me to have good and bad days and realise that they are ok. More importantly it makes me strive to do a little bit better everyday.

Having friends to measure myself against encourages me to try more. And with a 7 day rolling count – they can never get that far ahead of you that it seems impossible to catch up. Everyone has bad days :) What a freeing feeling!

How does this relate to Scrum and agile?
The team commits to stories and either fails or not. In my experience even though this is just a gauge, managers tend to hold teams to commitments. They should take them seriously etc. A goal instead of commitments would probably not make these managers very happy. But reading about my experience above – which do you think would drive the better behaviour in the team?

As a team – there is already a pack of friends working towards something. Perhaps a rolling count of the last 10 days points would drive behaviour of finishing stories. Or breaking down stories to smaller chunks? More of a continuous flow of delivery of value to business.

These are my thoughts and theories. Let me know yours.

This post originally appeared on Growing Agile on 8/7/2013.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Sureshchandra Sharma July 8, 2016 at 7:48 am

My interpretation is like ‘I commit to my goals’, commitment an agreement to accept and take action to meet your goal. The goal is an ultimate destination however there may or may not be an commitment or agreement to achieve to goal.

adrie sweep November 6, 2015 at 4:30 am

My vision (being involved from the start of SCRUM) is different. First of all you as an individual, have a commitment to the team: To do your utmost best to be a good team member, to speak out, to help other members where needed, etc… If at retrospective time you feel that you did not do that to your full extent, then you should feel bad about that. Also when you did all you could, you should feel good about that. This has nothing to do with reaching the sprint goals or not.

Next you commit as a team to the product owner to deliver the set sprint contents. When do you think the product owner is most satisfied? When a team successfully completes the sprint but has 8 hrs to spare, or when a team doesn’t complete the least item (and the sprint) because they worked with a very aggressive planning. In my opinion, when a team makes the sprint with 8 hrs to spare, they were not fully committed, and they should feel bad about that, while in the other case, the team should be very proud.

Its about getting the highest throughput with constant quality by making the best use of all team members. And…its all about proper communication. A team can set its expectations at the planning phase towards the product owner, and a good product owner will reward the team for their commitment (independent of the sprint goal reached). A team evaluates its performance at the retrospective, and a very good team knows that it will fail the sprint goal from time to time, because of their commitment.

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