Three rules to make Stretch goals work

Many times late in projects we frequently see the use of stretch goals to instill a sense of urgency and motivate the team. But do they truly work? Many times stretch goals are applied in a manner that can actually cause them to be de-motivating rather than motivating.

In my experience, there are three rules that need to be followed to make stretch goals work:

1) Collaborative Goals – The goals need to be collaborative. There is nothing more de-motivating than someone else making a stretch goal for you with out your input and consent. These goals will end up being ignored as the team members are not engaged on the stretch goals.

2) Realistic Goals – The goals also need to be realistic. If the goals are not merely stretch goals but also impossible goals, the team members will lose their motivation to try to reach them. Impossible goals will have the opposite effect. Instead of people putting more effort in, they will put even less effort in as they are doomed to failure.

3) Empathetic Goals– This is perhaps the most important rule. Even if the stretch goal has been set collaboratively and is realistic, there is still one more factor. Team members need to understand why they should care about the goal. I read a fascinating book called ‘Leading Geeks’ that proposed that geeks and other professionals can’t be just told what to do. They need to be reasoned with and convinced that the goal is appropriate and worthy of their care.


Can Stretch goals work? They certainly can if they follow these three rules.

But I find what usually happens is that there is an issue following one or more of these three rules. Either there is a hesitancy to be collaborative or the goal may not be realistic. Even more, there may be a challenge convincing the team as to what the reason is for the goal. In those cases, the stretch goals will probably be more de-motivating that motivating.

I understand there are reasons for stretch goals being demanded of projects teams and sometimes they can’t be modified or rejected.

But you also should know they probably aren’t going to work.

Author: Terry Bunio

Terry Bunio is passionate about his work as the Manager of the Project Management Office at the University of Manitoba. Terry oversees the governance on Information Technology projects to make sure the most important projects are being worked on in a consistent and effective way. Terry also provides leadership on the customized Project Methodology that is followed. The Project Methodology is a equal mix of Prince2, Agile, Traditional, and Business Value. Terry strives to bring Brutal Visibility, Eliminating Information islands, Right Sizing Documentation, Promoting Collaboration and Role-Based Non-Consensus, and short Feedback Loops to Minimize Inventory to the Agile Project Management Office. As a fan of pragmatic Agile, Terry always tries to determine if we can deliver value as soon as possible through iterations. As a practical Project Manager, Terry is known to challenge assumptions and strive to strike the balance between the theoretical and real world approaches for both Traditional and Agile approaches. Terry is a fan of AWE (Agile With Estimates), the Green Bay Packers, Winnipeg Jets, and asking why?

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