Posted by: JC Gatlin | November 15, 2009

The Goal Statement: My point is and I do have one…


Have you ever heard the old saying, “Behind every great problem statement is a great goal statement?” Probably not…

Goal statements rarely get the attention that the problem statement or root causes receive. They just kind of hang out like some fleeting after thought. More often than not, they’re reduced to fragmented sentences scribbled on the PDCA form before we move on.

But the goal statement is, arguably, the MOST CRITICAL component of the PDCA. We just don’t realize it because we don’t understand what its job is. So, here’s a job description for the goal statement.

1. The goal statement is the whole point of the PDCA. Yes, you want to solve a problem. But unless you’re a detective — or possibly some kind of super hero — your job isn’t to just solve problems. You’re trying to accomplish something, be that to make more sales or to reduce cycle time or meet a deadline. But there’s an obstacle keeping you from achieving that goal. Thus the point of the PDCA and the importance of the goal statement.

2. The goal statement is the PDCA’s compass. It sets the direction for the problem statement and the following causes and counter measures.  Without a clear direction, the PDCA can mire down in  data collection or steer off course during the cause & effect analysis. Have you ever had a PDCA that just seemed to linger on for months without ever really getting anywhere? Or have you ever seen a PDCA with counter measures that have nothing to do with the original problem?

3. The goal statement tests the validity of the problem statement. A strong goal statement is practically a mirror image of the problem statement — they are twin sentences with a few minor word differences. If they aren’t, there’s a problem with the problem statement. And, the PDCA isn’t ready to move on to the point of cause yet.

4. The goal statement supports the reason for the counter measures. It must be clear that these actions will eliminate the root causes allowing you to achieve the goal. But if the counter measures aren’t moving you toward achieving the goal statement, you know the PDCA went off course.

5. The goal statement measures the success of the PDCA. When you follow-up on the counter measures to see what worked and what didn’t work, the first question you want to ask is, “Was the goal statement achieved?” That answer isn’t always a simple “yes” or “no.” The goal statement on a recent PDCA sought to increase Realtor® participation to 80%. The counter measures got participation up to 70%. Because they had a strong goal statement, the PDCA group could determine if new counter measures were needed, or if the current ones simply required more time to work.

It’s okay to start your PDCA by writing the goal statement first. In fact, it’s sometimes easier to write the problem statement once the goal statement is clearly stated. Remember, behind every great problem statement is a great goal statement. (There… Now you’ve heard it.)

© November 2009 Homebuilding Partners, Inc.   twitter-logo



  1. Nice cartoon sketch. Is that a JC original? It’s pretty witty and effective at getting the point across about goal statements mirroring problem statements.

    Can you provide some real-life PDCA goal & problem statements from the construction industry (in addition to the leaky faucet one already provided)?

  2. A good problem statement describes a gap, therefore the goal becomes implicit. I’m completely agreeing with you, just saying it a little differently. I think good problem statements should say something like “I’m here and I need to be there.” It should describe the gap or change in condition that I need to see.

    And yes, it’s probably the most important part. Problem statements are your trajectory, and if you’re off just 5 degrees, you end up in a very different place.

    Jamie Flinchbaugh

  3. I think we have found sometimes that when it’s hard to come up with a solid Goal Statement, that often we need to revisit the Problem Statement because something is lacking. It’s at this point where we often catch ourselves listing the point of cause or assumed countermeasure in the body of the Problem Statement. That’s what is great about the PDCA process. Once you are used to it, you can almost feel when something isn’t right with one of the components. So, you continue to Check and Adjust until it meshes.

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