Learning patterns/Achievable goals

Achievable goals
problemEven impactful projects may look unimpressive if the project team sets unrealistic goals, or doesn't develop some way to measure their progress ahead of time.
solutionWhen you plan a project, identify a small number of important things you intend to accomplish, how you'll do it, and how you'll know you've succeeded. Be ambitious, but realistic.
creatorJmorgan (WMF)
created on30 January, 2014
status:in progress

What problem does this solve?


Setting ambitious goals can motivate you to work harder, and attract more interest to your project. However, if your goals are so ambitious that they can't be achieved in the timeframe, talent, and resources you have available, you run the risk of winding up with an incomplete project and a disappointed audience. Setting unrealistic goals can actually result in a project that is less impactful than it would have been with more modest goals. This kind of outcome can diminish your credibility among the people you want to impress and support.

What is the solution?


Set realistic goals! Devote time at the beginning of your project to thinking about, discussing, and documenting not only what you want to achieve, but how you're going to achieve it. Be critical of your own plans. It may be helpful to sketch out "worst case scenarios" where circumstances beyond your control interfere with your ability to complete a task or reach a deadline. Identify dependencies within your project: can you anticipate sequential steps in your project, where you'll only be able to complete a task if someone else has completed another task? Are there elements of your plan that depend on your ability to gain access to a particular technology, or to form a relationship with another organization? If so, it may be useful to have a backup plan in case those arrangements fall through.

When you set goals for your project, don't just rely on your own judgement to determine whether they're achievable. Ask for feedback from other people, especially those who have done similar work before. Search for relevant data: it can be very helpful to look at reports (or learning patterns!) based on previous projects with similar goals, methods, budgets, or timelines, and work out what they were able to achieve, given their resources.

General considerations


Set realistic targets


Many projects, including those funded by WMF grants, require the team to include specific measures of success in their plan. These measures are usually quantitative, such as "100 new editors recruited" or "50 new articles created". These measures and targets may seem arbitrary, but it's actually very important to choose them carefully and make them realistic. Realistic targets allow you to evaluate your progress as you work. If you don't think you're on track to hit your targets three months through a six-month project, you probably still have time to assess the plan and try out new approaches.

Realistic targets should provide you with good reference points for how you're doing. For example, timing was the problem for the Replay Edits project; they set a target of 3700 users by the end of the grant period, but were unable to measure usage of the software they created before the project was completed.[1] For another project, the extent of reach was the issue: although the PRChina project did manage to build a substantial following of nearly 10,000 users [2] on the Chinese social media network Weibo, this number fell far short of the somewhat arbitrarily selected goal of 60,000 followers stated in the original project plan.[3]

Set strategic goals


In 2010, the Wikimedia Foundation identified a set of strategic priorities for growing our projects and keeping our movement healthy and dynamic. These priorities are the product of a huge amount of research and discussion by hundreds of Wikimedians, much of which is documented on Strategy Wiki. Aligning the goals of your own project with these larger strategic goals will not only help you focus your energy on the most important outcomes—it will make it easier for you to explain to other community members why your project matters.

Tying your goals to high-level strategic priorities is also helpful if the nature of your project changes over time—which happens on many, many projects! Often, changes to activites the project is pursuing require you to set new measure of success, because the original ones are no longer useful. If you set strategic goals, it helps you explain why your new plan and activities are still important, and also helps you identify new success measures. An example of where this worked well is the Elaborate WikiSource Strategic Vision: the team decided partway through their six-month project to focus on building cross-wiki connections among WikiSource communities rather than creating a single "Vision" document for WikiSource. Because they connected their original project goals to higher-level Wikimedia strategic goals, they were able to set meaningful measures of success and show the impact of their project, even though they didn't achieve some of their original targets. [4]

Promise less, deliver more


Set goals that are more conservative than what you expect to achieve. The Wikipedia Library project expected to achieve donations of database licenses worth $100,000, and to secure research database access for 1000 Wikipedians. The project managed to exceed both of these measures in secured contracts by the end of six months, and reported additional positive outcomes that could lead to substantial increases in both measures in the near term.[5] Exceeding a more conservative goal gives a more positive impression of your project than failing to achieve an unrealistically optimistic one, even if you accomplished the same amount. If the goals and targets you set in your project plan are too conservative, the people you ask to review and comment on your plan should be able to tell you so (this is especially true if you're asking them to support the project with money or time).

When to use




See also

Education Toolkit Learning Pattern
This learning pattern is part of the Education Program Toolkit.
Go to the toolkit.


  • Writing the grant proposal for the project "Script encoding proposals for Nepal" involved careful forethought, in order to identify goals that would be definitely attainable. The project itself involved holding a meeting in Nepal with different constituencies to discuss proposals for two scripts of Nepal. The goals put forward for the project were very modest: a meeting would take place and the proposed outcome would be to come to an agreement on the future steps.[6] By setting modest goals, anything that the project accomplished beyond them would be rewarding, whereas making grander goals that couldn't be met could lead to disappointment and frustration.
  • WLMIE was the first event organised and run by the newly formed Ireland Community Wikimedia User Group so we were eager to impress. But we also knew that with a small group of volunteers we wouldn't be able to do everything we wanted to. We set very modest goals for the competition. Overall we reached our goals, and in many cases exceeded them. If we had set loftier goals and didn't reach them we would have become discouraged and the group might have fallen apart.
  • Wikipedia Connection is a student organization at the Ohio State University. Our PEG grant was interesting as it wasn't for one particular event; it funded an entire semester's event worth of workshops, edit-a-thons, and projects. This presented a unique opportunity to come up with a set of achievable goals that encompass an entire semester's worth of activities. Two of the target outcomes we set were creating 1-2 new articles and improving 7+ more at our weekly workshops, along with creating 5-10 new articles and improving 20+ more at our edit-a-thons. On average, we created 1.71 articles per weekly workshop and improved 5.83 more. We hosted one Art+Feminism edit-a-thon, which resulted in 6 new articles and improving 28 more. While we did not fulfill the full target outcome for our workshops, we were still pleased with the results. The best thing to come from not meeting the target was identifying why we did not meet the target. One of the biggest reasons was that many of our workshops included presentations that didn't necessarily involve editing, such as presentations on various aspects of Wikipedia, or a photography guide as we prepared for a photography event. Some of our workshops also focused on improving non-articles, such as uploading images or editing portals. While all our target outcomes were not reached, we managed to identify a positive reason why it did not happen, and will now look at how we can better work to meet our target outcomes in the future.[7]
  • The GLAMpipe project set high expectations for a Swiss knife tool for data and media upload. The tool has taken a different trajectory to be developed from the original project plan. It has taken more time, it has become much more powerful and versatile at parts while some of the intended parts have been less developed. Because of this it has been difficult to engage users and spread information about the results. This project would not have benefited from a more compact approach. Rather, the development has required the lengthy period of exploration. More direct engagement with end-users and Wikimedia developers would benefit it now and in the future. The GLAMmers will be able to pinpoint the workflows that need to be served and pain points that developers may not notice. The project would benefit from technical support, either from skilled Wikimedia developers or the staff, who could help to incorporate the tool into the Wikimedia fabric.[8]