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Understanding & Modifying Systems - Goals

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    Danny Mican

Identifying system boundaries is one of the hardest parts of understanding and modifying systems. A focus on goals acts as a compass by drawing attention to an outcome. Goals help to guide attention to parts of the system that are essential to support the goal. Without explicit goals it can be easy to get lost in system details without understanding how a system works to produce desired results.


It's the 30th of the month. You have 10leftinyourbackaccount.Itfeelslikeeverymonthisthesamething,theendofthemontharrivesandallthemoneysgone.Wheredoyoustart?Howdoyoudiscoverthecomponentsessentialforunderstandingtheseriesofactionsthatresultin10 left in your back account. It feels like every month is the same thing, the end of the month arrives and all the money's gone. Where do you start? How do you discover the components essential for understanding the series of actions that result in 10 in the account each month?

Understanding systems requires defining systems. Many times we're working in systems that we aren't familiar with. This requires the discovery of systems before the definition.

Discovering systems is the process of understanding the components of a system and inputs and outputs (or "flow") of the system.

Goals To the Rescue

Goals are powerful tools to help understand systems. A goal is a statement about the intended outcome. Goals are used as cornerstones to discover the important components and connections of a system and to act as a benchmark for success. After a goal is expressed, it can be used to begin to explore the system, by starting at the goal and working backwards.

Stating A Goal

A good goal expresses a measurable outcome within a timeframe. The financial goal explored in this book is:

I would like to save $100 a month.

Choosing Good Goals

Good goal's can be measured. 100isaquantifiabletarget.Itseasytoseeattheendofeachmonthwhether100 is a quantifiable target. It's easy to see at the end of each month whether 100 was saved or not. This goal also states a specific time frame, "month". A time frame helps to bound the problem space. It's much easier to gauge progress after a month than if the time frame was a year. The same is true for a shorter time frame, such as a day.

This is part of a series on Understanding & Modifying Systems