Stated goals vs actual goals

Sent by Jonathan Stark on October 7th, 2016

For my entire adult life, I’ve weighed within five pounds of 190. That is, until my daughter was born, at which point I shot up to roughly 205 and stayed there. 

She turns three next week and the extra weight is not gone. I’m getting REALLY sick of the extra weight. I’ve done all the things I used to do to keep my weight in check but none of it has done the trick. 

Maybe it’s my age, maybe it’s my metabolism, or maybe it’s the new lifestyle that comes with parenting two little kids. Whatever the cause, it was clear that the old methods no longer worked and I needed to do something different this time. 

So for the first time ever, I hired a personal trainer. When I went in for the preliminary interview something happened that I think you’ll find interesting. 

The Why Conversation

When I first met with my prospective trainer (his name is Adam), he asked what my goals were. I said, “to lose twenty pounds.” He nodded politely, but kept asking questions. He asked:

What does this have to do with software projects?

In this short conversation, Adam achieved a few important things that we software devs can learn from:

If I truly, literally, just wanted to lose 20 pounds, I could chop off a leg and be done with it. But Adam knew that hitting some arbitrary number on a scale was not my real goal. In order to satisfy me, he needed to identify a more specific success metric, which he was able to do in about five minutes of simple questioning. 

I’ve been seeing him for about two months and there has been a noticeable (to me anyway) improvement in my athleticism and appearance. I LOVE this. As predicted, I have not lost any weight. I do not care about this fact even though it was my stated goal! Had Adam not uncovered my actual goal, it’s quite likely that I’d be disappointed when I stepped on the scale because I’d be tracking the wrong thing. 

Moral of the story

When prospects reach out to you with a punch list of tasks or features that they want to you build for them, they are like me saying “I want to lose weight” to Adam. It’s too simplistic. 

If you push past their self-diagnosis and get to their actual desired outcome, you will have done them a huge favor by identifying an attainable goal that will absolutely delight them once reached.

In other words, a more valuable outcome for which they will be willing to pay a premium. 

Yours, 

—J

P.S. And of course, billing by the hour for a more valuable outcome would be nuts. 


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