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How to systematically evaluate goals by using the CARVER Matrix

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Scott Miker is the author of several books that describe how to use systems and habits to improve.  This free blog provides articles that to help understand the principles related to building systems.  

How to systematically evaluate goals by using the CARVER Matrix

Scott Miker

There are countless books on setting goals.  They tend to take a somewhat unique but familiar stance on goals and either explain why you should set goals, why specific and measurable goals are the key, how to stay motivated to reach goals, or how to develop more goals.  

But in my experience one of the keys to success is to focus.  This means that instead of taking all of your goals and working on them simultaneously it means determining which to work on first.  The benefit of systems and habits thinking is that you can start to adjust the habits associated with a goal and move towards success automatically.  Once the new positive habit becomes automatic your mind is free to explore other goals.  But you still need to stay focused in order to get the new habit to stick.  

In a previous post I mention a quote from Steve Jobs regarding focus.  Tony Robbins also believes in the importance of focus and has said “One reason so few of us achieve what we truly want is that we never direct our focus; we never concentrate our power.  Most people dabble their way through life, never deciding to master anything is particular.  

The more we dabble instead of focus, the more we fall short of our goals.  We have to be able to stay focused and understand what is important.  Lou Holtz, the famous football coach, used to use a system to remind him and his players to stay focused called WIN.  WIN stands for What’s Important Now.  

But how do you know which goals to go after?  We can make a list based on importance to our overall lives.  Or we can make a list of the easiest.  Or we can determine which are the most impactful.  Or we can decide which ones match our current skill set.  The reality is there are numerous factors that all matter.  We can argue their importance but we really can’t ignore any of them.  

Years ago I read a book that talked about a tool used by United States Special Operation Forces, Department of Energy, Department of State, Department of Homeland Security and others.  It was called the CARVER Matrix.  They used the CARVER Matrix to evaluate targets and threats.  This would give them a clear picture of which they should address first.  This would give them the focus needed to align resources with the highest value missions and objectives.

Here is a thorough explanation of a CARVER matrix with an example chart.  

Several others have found ways to incorporate this for us to use with our personal goals.  Instead of using what is important for those groups you can modify how they use the matrix.  Here is how they use the matrix.

  1. They have 6 factors which they feel important enough to consider.  They are Criticality, Accessibility, Recuperability, Vulnerability, Effect and Recognizability.  
  2. Next they determine various targets.
  3. They complete the matrix by ranking each target with each factor on a scale of 1-5
  4. They total up each target to get a cumulative score which can then be used to rank the targets

I have used this methodology for many different areas over the years.  I used it to vet expert resources to include in a project that our organization was undertaking to assist startup businesses.  I used this to determine which goals in my personal life I should attack first.  I even used it to evaluate job opportunities prior to my latest employment.  Each time I replaced the CARVER factors with 6 factors that I felt were important.  Surprisingly when I did this it usually helped me to better understand each goal, target, resource etc. and make decisions based on an objective system rather than emotionally or intellectually.  

Here is an article that goes further into how to incorporate the CARVER Matrix in your personal life.  

The CARVER Matrix is a useful tool which provides a systematic process to evaluate goals and stay focused.  If you find yourself with competing priorities pull out this tool and replace the CARVER characteristics with the most important factors for your situation.  This will give you a clear order in which you can then systematically focus your efforts.