What Goal Setting Acronyms, Models or Mentoring styles do you use? - Career Development - IET EngX - IET EngX

What Goal Setting Acronyms, Models or Mentoring styles do you use?

I know engineers love a good acronym - and I hope you're all familiar with the two we use most widely TWAVES and SMART:

TWAVES being the CPD activities (Training, Work Experience, Academic Study, Volunteering, Events and Seminars and Self Study) and SMART being a goal reminder that goals should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timebound).

But I'm looking to expand the models and information we use in our mentor and competence development training to ensure we're utilising the right models that engineers are actually using, and trying to ensure we're up to date with the current styles of support available to you.

So if you have a favourite, or alternatively if there is one that you think we should avoid - then I'd love to hear from you ...


  • Interesting, in my experience this really divides opinion. I've found that HR departments and some managers really like SMART development objectives, and it's easy to see why - they give the impression of a nice measurable controlled process. And for many of the years I was running engineering teams our annual review / objective setting process drove us to work with SMART objectives. The only problem was...generally they didn't work. The problem is that if they are used on an annual (or even six-monthly) basis, life has a habit of creating other plans. And it can be demoralising for staff to see year after year the same SMART objectives, which seem never to be met (because the opportunity hasn't arisen to follow it, because workload has got in the way, or because a different, and much more interesting / useful development opportunity arose).

    That said, I have found SMART objectives are useful - provided they are very short term and targeted. Which as I understand it was the original idea. It's worth remembering that (as far as I understand it) they were designed for managing business (rather than personal) goals, where there would be an overall aim - e.g. "double the size of the business in 5 years" - and then short term SMART objectives to meet that goal. Somehow that idea of goals and objectives has got lost and muddled.

    So taking the very common objective we get involved in, I'm sure many of us have either set for our staff or had set for us "achieve EngTech / IEng / CEng in 1/2/5 years", which appears to be a SMART objective, and in my experience it mostly fails *. What can work is setting a Goal of  "achieve EngTech / IEng / CEng", and maybe a sub goal of "strengthen competence C skills through project management experience", and then finally there's a chance of workable SMART objectives of "apply for and take part in distance learning management training", "contact projects A, B and C and express an interest in PM support / shadowing opportunities". It's harder work, because the objectives by definition are shorter term, so a soon as one's complete the follow-on one needs to be developed, but it can actually work.

    P.S. my nadir with SMART objectives was when the company I worked for at the time linked achieving objectives with salary increase. So those of us managers who liked retaining our staff ended up just setting trivial objectives which we knew would be met anyway, which therefore missed the whole point. Fortunately the company was sensible enough to see that's what happened, and delinked them from salary again. 

    So personally I'd put in a plea for a process along these lines:

    1. Clear goal (e.g. apply for CEng)
    2. Clear sub goals (strengthen competences A1, B2, C3)
    3. Then step by step development by SMART objectives - where the mentor can help set each objective in turn to make sure it really is achievable. Some of these steps may be VERY small.

    TWAVES I see flashed up on slides at IET conferences. That is my entire experience of it Smiley I explain it to applicants in words, but have never found a need for an acronym.

    Hope that helps, just one view,


    * It's interesting to think about why it fails. I'd suggest it's because the R part has too much of a dependency: "Realistic provided nothing else gets in the way and the right opportunities arise". And life's rarely like that. If SMART is to be used you need to be really tough on whether R has really been thought through completely. Which tends to drive you to short term objectives.

  • The only problem was...generally they didn't work.

    Agreed. I have a job where (as I see it) my primary role is to do whatever needs doing to keep the customers happy & therefore the company profitable. Often I don't know in any kind of detail what I'll be doing from one day to the next - sometimes from one hour to another - it all depends on what needs to be done. I might be creating a new system one moment, then get broken off to investigate a problem another, or help a colleague with something completely different. Yet I'm supposed to set targets months or years in advance and  then be measured against them. So either I set "targets" that are so high level and vague (do whatever needs doing) that it's all pretty meaningless or at such a tangent (e.g. acquire such-and-such new skill/certificate in case it comes in useful at a later date) that putting effort into meeting it by a specific date is more likely detract from my primary role than enhance it. Then if an opportunity to do something extra useful does come up and I take advantage of it, I don't get credit for it under this approach as it wasn't set as a target.

    As for Acronyms being used for memory aids - that really doesn't work for me. I find it much harder to accurately remember lists of basically meaningless letters or words than I do to just understand the logic of the underlying system and just 'see' how it's going to behave. Maybe it's just the way my brain is wired and I should be on the spectrum of something or other (or not).

        - Andy.

  • I’m going to be very cynical here (my trademark).

    I think that most of these management planning systems and acronyms are an attempt by the ‘management’ to emulate the abilities of an experienced ‘differently wired’ (to use the current IET term) engineer. I am aspi/auti and use the benefits of this to be able to visualise a complete system or project. I used SMART when explaining to my younger daughter how to set up her first real project at school but don’t really use it at work.

    The only system I have really found useful is the Kepner-Tregoe ‘Problem Solving and Decision Making’ but I then realised it is basically a system for managing your manager. One of my Ops managers said to me that halfway through the KT decision making process he started to feel manipulated, possibly because he was being faced by his reality.

    At the end of the day something has to done, a ‘goal’. How you reach that can be incredibly flexible. If you can see the whole thing in your mind just do it. One of my previous technical managers reckoned he could just wing it up to about ½ million. It seemed that he could.

    I have done the same with a ¼ million machinery relocation project. My employer at the time had a factory in Spain that they were thinking of selling. There was one production line they wanted to bring back to England and I was asked to look into this. I arranged a site visit with a firm of machinery movers and they gave me a budget quote. A few weeks later, 7th November, I got a phone call ‘can you get the line out by the end of the month?’. After a quick phone call to the machinery movers I said yes but the PO has to be with them tomorrow, no negotiating no faffing about. Purchasing were not happy releasing ¼ million but the pressure came from above. It worked, we got the line out on time without going near Microsoft Project and it was back in production in the UK by Christmas. This line was packed in four artics and one special heavy truck so not a small project. The special truck and associated large cranes were the critical path but I didn’t need anything to tell me that.

  • KISS keep it simple, stupid

    Works for me

  • Along with KISS, I am a fan of YAGNI - You Ain't Gonna Need It.  Don't add features now because you think you will need them sometime in the future.  It drives up cost and complexity now, and the extra features you added won't be the ones the customer wants anyway.