Principle: Represent Rich Reality - Dangers of having a single number represent your objective

Dec 04, 2018

 by Tom Gilb & Kai Gilb

Principle: Represent Rich Reality. 

"Any number of 
can be specified
in any number of 
useful dimensions
of time, space, and events.


If you use a single number to represent the Goal you set to reach, then it is, unfortunately, logically necessary, to specify the biggest target level, covering all your needs, forever under all circumstances. And you have abdicated the useful ‘worst case' constraint specification possibility.

That is a bad idea! That extreme target level will be far more than necessary for most purposes, and will probably be delivered far too late for most needs, at perhaps ten times less cost-effectiveness.

We practice differentiation (like ‘market segmentation’) of targets (what we are aiming to achieve), and also differentiation of our ‘scalar constraints’ (worst acceptable objective levels).

The simple reason for this differentiation is that we can plan more competitively by clearly separating high-value short-term situations from the ‘other 95%’, and delivering that priority value, quickly.

For example, instead of just specifying

Goal: 20%

we could set different goals for specific segments of time, environment (who, where), and events.


Multidimensional Targets: ‘decomposition’ and ‘prioritization’ tools using ‘qualifiers’.

[Qualifiers] the adjectives of the planning language.

We call these ‘differentiation’ planning-specification concepts ‘qualifiers’ of any type (Past, OK, Goal, etc.) of level on a Scale.

We like to write that term as [Qualifiers] to give a strong reminder, with the [square brackets] of how we use them.

We start using them as Scale [qualifiers] in a ‘Scale’ statement.

Scale [Average time for [People] to complete a [Task] Successfully].


A basic Scale specification with a qualifier using two variable Scale parameters, [People] and [Task].

We continue using them in [qualifier statements], just below the Scale.

Scale [Average time for [People] to complete a [Task] Successfully].

Past [Last Year, People = Full-Time Employees, Task = Days Work.] 7 hours ± 2.

A systems analysis ‘Past’ statement. No ‘future' levels-to-reach, are specified, yet.

By implication, Planning Language grammar, specifications, like ‘Past’ in the example above, are ‘attached’ to the Scale above, together with any useful types of Scale level specification [Targets, Constraints, and Benchmarks}.


We use exactly the same-spelling qualifier words in the Scale, and in specs below. This is to make the connection clear. They are all ‘Capitalized’ to indicate they are formally-defined concepts, for which the Qualifier term (‘People') is just a ‘Tag'.

We can also use the [qualifier] in any other planning specification, where it might be useful.

For example:

Name Tag [Children].

Supports: Efficiency [Financial Processes].

Includes: Productivity [Plant, Office, Salesrooms].


[Qualifiers] can be used as an ‘adjective, in any specification they might be useful for.

Here is an example of a normal use of the [qualifier] in a target statement:

Goal [Deadline = 1st Release, Market = China, Consumer = Golfer, Assumption = Tax Free Import] 20%.


Which can also be written, for better legibility, at the cost of more lines in the statement:

Goal: 20%.
Deadline = 1st Release.
Market = China.
Consumer = Golfer
Assumption = Tax Free Import

The four qualifier parameters are edited as a vertical list, for legibility.


The statement below:

[Deadline = 1st Release, Market = China, Consumer = Golfer, Assumption = Tax Free Import]

is a ‘qualifier.’
It contains three types of qualifier. When, What, and ‘If.’


There can be any useful number of qualifiers. In particular, the ‘What’ dimension often has 3 to 6 more-detailed dimensions in practice.

The qualifier parameters do not have to be pre-defined in the Scale statement itself. But if they are defined there, without a default, then we need to define them in every scale-level statement (Past, OK, Goal, etc.) otherwise we would have an ‘undefined' situation. Maybe we could assume that ' = All’ is intended. But it is better to be explicit, and leave no doubt to the reader of your plan. This is a pervasive Planning Language rule: be explicit. Leave no doubts.

The ‘If dimension’ is less frequently used.

But it is almost illogical NOT to use the ‘When’ dimension: since that would allow ‘fulfilling the objective in infinite time.’ I.e., never while you live. So we normally just add a time or deadline dimension as the first qualifier parameter. ‘[Deadline = 1st Release..]’, in the example above.

Deadlines Determine Strategy Type.

Time constraints have a powerful influence on our choice of ‘means,’ our ‘strategies,’ for satisfying our objectives.

Immediate delivery can require very different, and very much more costly strategies, than if we can put off delivery for a few years.

Or, on the other hand, being able to put off the delivery for a long time might allow much cheaper new emerging technology to be used.

Figure: A. The three basic statement qualifiers. Time (When), events (If), and space (where). These are the basis for helping us to avoid ‘over general’ plans which apply to everything in the universe since no exception has been made. Competitive ‘Value Planning’ needs to differentiate to compete.

The Qualifier statement is a set of ‘conditions,’ and the planned level statement, or benchmark statement, is only valid, when all qualifier conditions (‘if,’ ‘when’ and ‘where’) are true, or valid.

Figure: B. A planned Goal which is entirely contingent on all three conditions being ‘true’ (valid, applicable) at once.


Conditional Plans.

One result of ‘all qualifier conditions must be valid,’ is that we can plan for events that might never happen, but when they do happen, a valid plan, or obligation to plan at that moment, kicks in automatically.

Let us call that ‘conditional planning.’ It is a useful tool for ‘risk' planning. Planning for risks of conditions that are rare but have an unknown frequency. At least there is a plan in place, and it is cheaper than to try to find out if and when the event will happen.

Of course, you can, at any time in the planning process, have as many different Goal statements, or any other Scale level statements, with as many different qualifiers, as you need. You can plan for any set of long-range, medium-range and short-range levels for the objective, as you need, and when you feel the need.

Figure: C. You can use any useful quantity of qualifier conditions to express a target segment for your plan. This allows you to be more competitive, by focusing your plans on the most profitable, or critical, segments to deliver value to.


Emergent Planning

Your planning detail can emerge in parallel with the real value-delivery process of your project. Detailed statements can emerge, as you get feedback from real-life delivery; learning about new markets and stakeholders, that are worth catering for.

We usually as discussed above, predetermine some of the qualifier parameters, but not necessarily all of them, in the ‘Scale’ definition. The predetermined Scale parameters are conditions we will normally want to specify in the scalar level statements below.

So we could, for example, have used the Scale specification, with ‘Scale Parameters’: like

Scale: average annual % of our Corporate Unit Sales for a defined [Market], and a defined [Consumer].


We can also embed a default option in the Scale itself.

Scale: average annual % of our Corporate Unit Sales for a defined [Market: default = All], and a defined [Consumer: default = Internet Buyer].

Default Scale Parameters mean that we do not have to define these in planning level statements later, as they are the ‘default type.’ This default specification is automatically re-used, or ‘assumed.'

This Scale statement suggests that we can define any useful combination of ‘Market’ and ‘Consumer’ in the target (example ‘Goal’) and constraint (example ‘Tolerable’) specifications; as well as in Benchmark (example ‘Past’) specifications for comparison.

An optional, ‘background' ‘Benchmark’ statement (Past, Record, Trend, Ideal) enables us to see how much improvement we are planning. Goal minus Past = Improvement.

Figure: D. One qualifier, like ‘People,’ can have a well-defined, but expandable, set of qualifier instances (like ‘Married’). Each of these can have a formal written definition when that is useful. Sometimes the term, like ‘Pensioners’ is obvious enough for the planning purpose. But you might like to define ‘VIPs.'


Planning Thoroughness

Once a qualifier condition category, like [People] is established, it becomes logically tempting to define, as far as possible initially, the potentially interesting contents of that category (Children, … VIPs). This can be extended and changed any time, as needs and knowledge emerge.

Each of these categories can be well-defined:
Children: defined as: any resident or citizen from Conception until the end of the 12th year of age.
A formal definition of a concept tagged ‘Children.’ This can be local to a planning element, such as a single objective, or Global to a larger plan set, like for a project.

This category specification also leads to recognizing, that you might have failed to have any plan whatsoever, for certain categories. A ‘completeness test’ is possible. Oops, we forgot ‘Widows.’

Or you may see that you have failed to plan for certain categories, in combination with specific other Qualifiers, like ‘Country, Area, Experience.’

These [Qualifier Parameters] are one set of tools for developing your understanding of your Stakeholder set.

We can also express a group, or set, of these ‘at once’:

Goal [People = {Teenager, Married, VIPs}] 50%.

Goal [People = {Teenager & Married & VIPs}] 50%.

The {…} is a ‘set’ parenthesis symbol (‘keyed icon’) for a list, group, or set of things. The ‘{set parenthesis}.’

The comma separation (Teenager, Married, VIPs) means that the target applies to any one of the types of people (‘or’).

The ‘&’ means that the target applies only when people have all three properties at the same time (‘and’).


Qualifiers is a decomposition Tool.

This whole method of using qualifiers in a plan is, in other words, a method for ‘decomposing’ the plan into smaller parts.


Prioritizing Qualifier Combinations Early

One advantage of decomposing a plan is that we can select the qualifier sets with the highest value, and prioritize delivering their performance levels early. This is competitive value-planning in practice.

We not only can sequence the more-valuable sets of stakeholders early; but because we have decomposed things into much smaller (example 1/50 of all possibilities) units, the cost and time to do something early are much less.


Decomposition to Experimental Size

Another attribute of this decomposition is that the smaller units of value delivery, are better suited for ‘experiments’ and ‘pilots' in value delivery.

If we fail entirely in the ‘pilot,' we have the option of not repeating the failed strategies for other qualifier conditions (the 49/50 rest of the combinations).

And whether we get success, problems, or total failure, for a value delivery experiment, we will have learned from valuable experiences, which can be applied as we move forward, to attack other qualifier combinations.

We might have even learned which qualifier combinations are smart or dumb to do, next.


“There is no such thing as a failed experiment, only experiments with unexpected outcomes.”

Richard Buckminster Fuller (US engineer and architect, 1895-1983 )

TIME Magazine Cover: R. Buckminster Fuller –
Jan. 10, 1964. Cover Credit: BORIS ARTZYBASHEFF


Practical Tip: Smart [qualifiers]

  1. Select a set of qualifiers which gives low risk for failure and high value of early delivery.
  2. Implement it early.


Policy: The Smart Differentiation Policy.

Specify objectives,

  1. by detailing clear ideas of ‘when,’ ‘who,’ ‘what’ and ‘If,’
  2. to maximize our short-term value delivered
  3. and longer-range competitiveness.



  1. To avoid delays to urgent selected stakeholders
    1. Delays caused by working on less valuable stakeholders, before delivery to the more-valuable stakeholders.
  2. To slice up into do-able short-term action
    1. So that low-risk experiments are possible.
  3. To force ourselves to think more clearly, and in more detail about our important stakeholders, and what they need, and how fast it is worth ‘getting the value delivered’ to them.

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