Mark van Meurs Agile Coach and Software Development Manager with an interest in technology and writing code, but a passion for uncovering better ways of organizing people in effective teams.

Aligning goals with the Alignment Canvas

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Aligning goals with the Alignment Canvas

There is no denying that organizations in which all teams and individuals are perfectly aligned, are set up for success. When everyone is moving in the same direction great things happen. Getting everyone on the same page can be challenging though. The Alignment Canvas was developed with exactly that in mind: how do we make everyone move in the same direction?

The canvas

The purpose of the Alignment Canvas is twofold. First, it will help you and your fellow team members define qualitative and quantitative goals for a specific period. By following the steps, you will shape, align and solidify your goals. Next, a completed canvas can be discussed with other teams and stakeholders to show and review goals and expectations. A set of canvasses serve as a tool to check if everyone is moving in the same direction and reveal when they are not.

The OKR Alignment Canvas

It takes some effort, but, in our experience, we found that filling out the canvas with an entire team (up to 10 people) is very valuable. Especially for teams who are not used to talking about what they want to achieve. Filling out the canvas together stimulates team members to think and talk about their shared purpose and translate that into their daily work. The process of jointly filling out the canvas improves alignment between team members.
Prior to diving into all the elements of the canvas, it's probably a good idea for you to download the alignment canvas and open it. It can be found here.

The Alignment Canvas vs OKRs

For those of you who are familiar with OKRs (Objectives and Key Results), you might wonder how the Alignment Canvas relates to this goal setting framework. It’s not a matter of one versus the other. Although this canvas doesn’t have to be used in conjunction with OKRs they definitely are two of a kind. Just replace step 3 (Goals) with Objectives and step 7 (Targets) with Key Results and your canvas is OKR compliant.

Alignment in OKRs is supposed to happen through cascading: from senior management all the way down through the organization hierarchy (and up again). However, in practice, cascading of OKRs is not something that works equally well at all organizations. It often leads to substantial lead time before the last team is able to craft their OKRs; effectively impacting the organization's agility. The Alignment Canvas, and the accompanying successive discussions, can be a welcoming addition to help reduce lead time to make all OKRs add up to reach company goals.

One step at a time

The canvas consists of seven steps:

  1. Vision
  2. Tactics
  3. Goals
  4. Contribution
  5. Partners
  6. Targets
  7. Health Metrics

The canvas is set up in such a way that, by following all the steps sequentially, you will work from thinking strategically, by defining a vision, all the way down to operational results. It is important to go over all steps sequentially. Make sure you fully complete a step before you move on to the next one. After finishing each step, go over the already finished steps and check if the completed steps together still form a coherent set.

Now, let's go over all the steps one-by-one. Brace yourself, because some heavy lifting is coming up.

Example:
To help explain the steps, let's work with an example. For the remainder of this article, suppose you are on a team that is part of a large chain of Pet Stores. Your team is tasked with launching a new online Pet Store. What could this team put on its Alignment Canvas?

1. Vision

What is the ultimate objective of your team? When is their work done? Describe the dot on the horizon the group is working towards.

A vision is an ambitious description of what a team would like to accomplish in the mid-term or long-term future; it is intended to serve as a guide. When deciding on actions to take, the vision of a team can help separate the wheat from the chaff.

Example:
To be the worlds most loved online pet store

2. Tactics

When you are confident about your vision, it's time to define the tactics. Tactics are those actions you are planning to take, projects you want to start and ideas you like to work out. You might wonder if this is the right moment to get your feet back into the mud. And you are right, it is not. But, you probably already have some ideas in mind about what you want to work on in the coming period anyway. Let's get those out of your head and onto paper. It will free your mind to move back up the abstraction ladder later. Plus, it will help you get clear what it is you want to do.

Example:

  • Research e-commerce platforms
  • Build webshop
  • Optimize for Search Engines
  • Create Pinterest boards

3. Goals

At this point you know what you eventually want to achieve and what you are planning to do, do your magic and convert these insights into qualitative goals. Take a close look at your vision and tactics and translate these in a set of inspiring and ambitious objectives (preferably 3, no more than 5).

Goals should be ambitious, inspiring sentences. They describe what you would like to achieve in the foreseeable future. Don't try to make them measurable just yet, targets will cover this.

Example:

  • Launch an awesome webshop
  • Kick-start sales

4. Contribution

Before you start making your goals measurable by defining targets, see how your current set of objectives contribute to the greater good. We want to align with everyone around us. This is the moment to start thinking about how we achieve this.

Look around you, what other groups or individuals are working in the organization that your goals support? Are you contributing to the goals of the organization directly? Are there any objectives from other teams that you are actively contributing to? Write down, per team or person, who they are and how you will support them.

If you have a hard time coming up with defining how your goals are contributing there can be two causes. Either you are the first one defining goals in your organization and you just don't know yet what others around you are pursuing. Or you just realized your objectives are not in line with what the people around you are aiming for. If the latter is the case: go back to previous steps and revisit those.

Example:

  • Sales; our efforts will help sales reach her targets
  • C-level management; our efforts will support the digital transformation our organization is in

5. Partners

So, we know how you are going to help make the bigger picture happen. But who can help in your moonshot? Do the same as in the previous step, just the other way around. List everyone and all groups that you expect to support you.

What groups or individuals in the organization do you think should support you in pursuing your goals? Per supported group or individual, write down who they are and how they help you reach your goals?

Ideally, there should be some overlap between groups and people in step 4 and 5. After all, in a perfectly aligned organization, partnerships should be mutually beneficial.

Example:

  • Marketing; they can include the new webshop in our advertisements

6. Targets

We're getting close to finishing your canvas, but we're not there yet. Let's start thinking about what success will look like.

However, before you actually start defining targets, it is advisable to first do a brainstorm on what you can actually measure. What metrics do you already have and which can you set up? What do you need to gauge to determine if you are getting closer to your goal? Make sure metrics are truly measurable. Don't pick metrics that rely on gut feeling or that cannot be realistically measured. Try to come up with as many metrics as possible.

When you are done brainstorming metrics, select a couple of these metrics per objective. For each goal, pick some (preferably 3 to 5) of metrics that best communicate progress on each of the objective. Now, for each of these metrics, define what value describes success. These are your targets.

Targets are quantitative. They describe the measurable end-state you would like to achieve.

Example:

  • 1000 unique visitors per day
  • 20k revenue per month
  • 8 (out of 10) average customer rating

7. Health Metrics

Given everything you want to do and achieve, what is at stake when you are going to pursue your objectives? If you are like many people, your goals and targets are probably challenging. This means some pressure needs to be applied here and there to achieve them. Where are you going to apply pressure and what is at stake? List them here.

Health metrics are the metrics you want to keep a close eye on because you don't want these metrics to change too much. At least, they should not be negatively impacted.

Example:

  • Team member happiness
  • Webshop up-time

Now what?

If you made it till here and filled in a canvas in the process: congratulations! You just finished a major part of aligning your goals with those of the rest of the organizations: getting insight in your own ambitions. For many teams this is already very valuable.

To get the most out of your effort, it is time to start checking if your team is heading in the same direction as other teams are. This is the time to print the canvas, share it on your corporate intranet and publish it on Reddit. Okay, maybe not the latter, but make sure it's out there and seen by your colleagues. Discuss it with as many co-workers and other teams as possible, especially those that play a role in your goals. Use the feedback received to revise your canvas and create a new iteration. Again, discuss it and continue these steps until your plans are clear and aligned.

Good luck!

Successful Goal Setting using the OKR Method

Simply having a goal is not enough. You can tell yourself that you want to earn a million dollars all you want, but if you do not actually have a plan for making that money, you’ll never achieve that goal.This is where the Objectives and Key Results (OKR) method can help....

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