10 Guidelines for Great Goal Statements

When you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meager and unsatisfactory kind.
—Lord Kelvin (1824-1907)

Lord Kelvin was credited with many scientific discoveries, and the metric absolute temperature measure was named after him. His description of measurement is basic to the scientific method. You don’t have to be a scientist to use the scientific method—it’s how DMAIC works! Based on observation and measurement, we follow the facts and data to dig to root cause.

Our Project Charter defines the project—all its sections are important. However, the Goal Statement is the most critical because it defines what we should be trying to achieve with our project. I’d like to share some guidance in choosing Goal Statements that will serve you well.

Try our Goal Statement Builder template to streamline building a proper Goal Statement. 

1. Be Specific!

The Goal Statement should identify a specific measure to improve, along with “before” and “after” values, their measurement units, and a specific target date. I suggest the following format:

“Increase/Decrease aa from xx to yy by mm/dd/yyyy”

Format Defined

Increase/Decrease are the only verb options in a Goal Statement (verbs such as “streamline” or “optimize” are not specific)

  • “aa” is the measure you want to improve (lead time, defect rate, etc.)
  • “xx” is the value before improvement or the baseline (measurement units such as xx days, xx minutes, xx% defective, etc.)
  • “yy” is the desired value after improvement or the target (references the same measurement units as the baseline such as days, minutes, % defective, etc.)
  • “mm/dd/yyyy” is a specific target date (actual date as opposed to a month or quarter)

In terms of the target date, if you pick something broad, like a quarter, it can create confusion as to whether you mean the beginning or end of the quarter—spell out the exact date and nobody needs to guess! In terms of the baseline, if you don’t know the value before improvement (xx) when you draft the Project Charter, just use a placeholder (like “xx”) and update it when you collect your baseline data.

Avoid This Goal Statement:

“The goal is to decrease the ingredient commodity cost.”

A Better Goal Statement:

“Reduce ingredient cost from $15.75 per unit to $14.50 per unit by 3/20/2020.” (This specifies before and after values, along with a target date.)

To make Goal Statements easier for you, we’ve built this format into the Black Belt Project Selection Tool and the Project Screener for Green Belts.

2. Keep It Short and Sweet!

The Goal Statement should be simple (the above example is about as simple as you can get and still include the needed content). When I read a multiple-sentence Goal Statement it often seems confused, as if the writer wasn’t entirely sure what they were trying to achieve. Keep in simple—save the additional wording for your Problem Statement or Business Case.

Avoid This Goal Statement:

“The order quoting process is complicated and confusing, resulting in incomplete quotes that miss customer deadlines. Furthermore, the process is not standardized, so there is no consistency across the organization. Over half of the missed opportunities last year can be traced to problems in this process.”

A Better Goal Statement:

Reduce the lead time to produce a complete and correct quote from 10 days to 2 days by 3/20/2020.” (This could be stated in other ways, but it should focus on a central issue.)

3. Make It Your One and Only!

There should be one and only one Goal Statement. I often see compound statements with multiple goals—”reduce scrap and reduce cost.” It is perfectly fine to want to achieve multiple objectives. The reality is that when you improve one thing, others often follow—reducing scrap will usually reduce scrap cost.

Multiple goals requires you to establish multiple baselines, investigate numerous root causes, and conduct several verifications of improvement. Black Belt projects are challenging enough without adding extra goals to your workload. I never approve projects with multiple goals. If you are considering multiple goals I suggest you opt for one of the following:

  1. If the goals are related, pick either the most important one or the one that is most fundamental (it leads to the others)
  2. Choose one goal and save the other(s) for a subsequent project

Avoid This Goal Statement:

“Reduce customer delivery lead time from 2 weeks to 1 week by 3/20/2020 while reducing late deliveries from 5% to 1%.”

A Better Goal Statement:

“Reduce customer delivery lead time from 2 weeks to 1 week by 3/20/2020.” (Reducing delivery lead time will likely also reduce late deliveries.)

4. Make It Achievable!

The Goal Statement should be achievable. Don’t go for perfection, such as “zero defects” or “no injuries.” Sometimes people think that morally they have no alternative—how could we ever say it’s okay to have 2 injuries per month? We are not making a moral statement here. If we have a process operating at a morally unacceptable level, then improving to a better, but still morally unacceptable level, is a step in the right direction!

Avoid This Goal Statement:

“Reduce scrap from 3% to 0% by 3/20/2020.”

A Better Goal Statement:

“Reduce scrap from 3% to 1% by 3/20/2020.” (This may still be aggressive, but it’s more achievable than perfection.)

5. Make It Fast Acting!

The Goal Statement should be something readily measurable in the short term. If you can track performance on a daily or weekly basis, that’s great! Collecting data quarterly or annually becomes problematic because not only does it take a long time to get the data, but it will take a long time to prove your improvement.

Some companies conduct an Annual Employee Satisfaction Survey and realize there is room for improvement, but with only one survey per year there may not be much to work with, and you won’t see results for a quite a while.

Avoid This Goal Statement:

“Reduce annual premium transportation cost from $140,000 to $20,000 by 3/20/2020.”

A Better Goal Statement:

“Reduce monthly premium transportation cost from $12,000 to $1,600 by 3/20/2020.” (This is the same annual goal, but stated in a way that can be tracked more quickly.)

Avoid This Goal Statement:

“Reduce warranty returns for air conditioner failures from 2% at 18 months in service to 0.5% by 3/20/2020.”

A Better Goal Statement:

“Reduce coolant pressure loss from 10psi at 700 hours on test to 2psi by 3/20/2020.” (This version focuses on reasons for the failures, measuring the cause on an accelerated test to avoid waiting for 18 months to elapse.)

6. Keep It Real!

Avoid measures that are the result of opinion scores as opposed to a process output. These are not impossible, but they can be problematic. For instance, Customer Satisfaction is often scored on a 1 – 5 Likert scale. This scale lacks precision and is often very biased on the high side with only a few low scores from upset customers. In addition, Customer Satisfaction is impacted by so many factors that it can be difficult to see any meaningful movement by fixing one important aspect.

For Customer Satisfaction, I recommend conducting some pre-project analysis to determine the key drivers. These are often based on write-in comments or complaint categories so they require some digging. Display the resulting complain categories in a Pareto Diagram (remember that the frequency of complaints is just one way to cut the data—don’t forget to view the complaints by importance and cost as well). If you see that “waiting time” is a key driver, then a Goal Statement to reduce waiting time can be much more actionable.

Avoid This Goal Statement:

“Increase Customer Satisfaction from an average score of 4.0 to 4.8 by 3/20/2020.”

A Better Goal Statement:

“Decrease customer wait time from 23 minutes to 5 minutes by 3/20/2020.” (This could focus on a different process measure depending upon the Pareto Chart of complaint data.)

7. Keep It Simple!

Don’t include solutions and descriptions of “how” you’re going to accomplish the goal. Stick to the facts since the reality is that after studying the process and the data, you may come up with an entirely different solution.

Avoid This Goal Statement:

“Decrease lead time by 30% (from 56 days to 40 days). Close all safety gaps to ensure full OSHA compliance. Implement KPI’s to monitor process performance. Establish standard work for Service Techs and Parts CSR’s.”

A Better Goal Statement:

“Decrease lead time from 56 days to 40 days by 3/20/2020.” (The activities listed above may or may not be part of achieving this goal)

8. Be Careful About Cost!

Reducing cost is important in business, but there we need to attack the source of the cost (the process), not the dollars themselves. In addition, we need to be precise about the exact issue and the time period.

Avoid This Goal Statement:

“Reduce the cost of quality from 25% to 20% by 3/20/2020.” (Cost of quality it too broad and vague, no specific value, and not time period for the cost.)

A Better Goal Statement:

“Reduce the cost of final line rework from $1,560/week to $500/week by 3/20/2020.” (Specific type of cost with dollars and a weekly time period.)

9. Don’t Include Solutions!

Solutions should stay in the lab, not your Goal Statement. There is nothing wrong with implementing a solution you know will work, but that’s a “Just Do It” project, not a Lean Six Sigma project. The idea is to solve a significant problem with an unknown cause. It’s okay if you have a solution in mind, but don’t fall in love with it—let your investigation of the root causes guide you to the best solutions.

Avoid This Goal Statement:

“Reduce order errors by implementing new CRM system.” (A solution, without target values or a date.)

A Better Goal Statement:

“Reduce order errors from 4% to 1% by 3/20/2020.” (Solution is to be determined; specific target values and date stated.)

10. Be Smart About It!

The SMART acronym sums up much of what you need to know about goal setting:

S—Specific (no doubt about what you are improving)
M—Measurable (you can track your progress)
A—Achievable (you can really do it)
R—Relevant (it really matters)
T—Time Bound (a definite date to get it done)

Selecting the right Goal Statement and defining it properly can make a big difference in the success of your project. Follow these guidelines and you’ll be on the right path. If you’re having difficulty formulating your Goal Statement, call upon us and we’ll be glad to help!

Bill Eureka is a Senior Consultant at and has over 40 years of success helping leading organizations achieve their continuous improvement goals. He’s an experienced trainer, mentor and coach with the ability to relate to all levels within an organization. Bill is also a Professor in the School of Business at Davenport University.

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