Home > 7 habits, Agile, Leadership > How to write a good principle or objective

How to write a good principle or objective

Have you ever seen objectives or principles which are something like this:

“Our solutions are future safe, uses the best of technology and is easily integrated with our other systems”.


Sounds well, doesn’t it? My former college professor once said that a valid objective is one that someone could rewrite so the aim was the opposite and someone could also see that as a valid objective. So, “future safe solutions” is not a valid objective since no one would ever want a solutions which wasn’t future safe. An objective is only interesting if it helps us make decisions and these type of “happy” objectives are therefore in principle useless.

So, how do you avoid these useless objectives? How do we formulate them so they give meaning and direction? There are probably many ways, but here are some favorites from the agile dame in Enskede, Stockholm:

N is better than M

Why does the agile manifesto help us? Well, because it tells us something about the relative priority. If I get to choose between following the process and interacting with people, I choose the people. Since someone could say that process is more important than the human (and sometimes this is true, for example in aviation regulations you have to follow the procedure), this is a valid objective also given my professor’s definition. But this is only if someone could be standing selecting between N and M.

Commander’s intent

The Commander’s intent is used in US military and according the the principle you should always in a sentence say “Independent of how everything else goes, we should have achieved X”. This also gives a relative priority. X is more important than anything else there is. This would mean that if we said future safe is the commander’s intent, that should be reached independent of other priorities.

The pronounceable sentence

It’s too common that an objective is formulated in a long, complicated sentence which you have to read many many times before it becomes clear. These objectives are written like law text but cannot be part of everyday life. So, write your objective so anyone can remember it. Both commander’s intents and N better than M objectives can and should meet this criteria too.

Better missing one objective than all

What are the chances that you would remember if you had one, and just one objective? What would they be if you had 100? We sometimes try to cover everything in our objectives so we write too many.

In 7 habits, we talk about 3 wildly important objectives. That is probably a limit. One of the projects I’ve been struggling with for a couple of months now have three objectives and that is too many. It gets confusing. Better focus on one.

Write it down

Do you think that everyone knows the objective(s)? You don’t have to write it down? You’re wrong. Write it down and post it on the team wall. When the guys look up, it should be the first thing they see.


One final insight. I love concrete stuff. When it gets fluffy and lots of words, I loose focus. But don’t mistake abstract with not concrete. Just look at Nike’s brilliant logo. Just do it! Isn’t that just a wonderful objective which can give you guidance when you’re wondering if you should really run in that cold rain?


Categories: 7 habits, Agile, Leadership
  1. 2010/02/22 at 8:34 am

    I really love this Anna. If one objective can’t be measured quantitively, placing it in relation to other values gives you a sense of its importance and more clues to its meaning.
    Also, I hadn’t really thought about how you can use an objetive like that in your daily work. Having it up on the wall is an excellent way.

  1. 2012/03/06 at 6:51 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: