It is helpful to know what success is before you can accomplish it.

Last weekend I took a safety class to get my motorcycle license.  At the end of the class you must take a multiple choice test and a riding test.  The class instructors held back the bar of success in both tests even when asked by other students.  We went into both tests blind to what exactly we had to do to pass.  In the case of the multiple choice test there was 50 questions.  It wasn't until they were finished grading them that they told us you had to get at least 40 correct.  If you even half way paid attention during the class videos you would pass with flying colors and everyone in the class did. 

But in reality the multiple choice test was actually the least of our worries.  All weekend the class had been practicing curving and U-turns in a small box(as well as many other skills).  It was just a beginners class so these were hard tasks to accomplish.  When the time finally came to take the riding test we were told each of the tasks that we must accomplish.  We were told what we could do in each task to lose points, but we were never told how many points you could for each incorrect move, or even what kind of scale the points are judged on.  This made it really hard to figure out how good or bad you were actually doing during the test.  The whole way through students were clueless and afterwards they just told you if you passed or failed, which was a surprise to a lot of people.

Some students asked for more information about the point system and how it worked out but the instructors said it was for own benefit that they did not tell us, it would relieve us of stress.  In this specific case it wasn't a big deal to me to have the information withheld, I wasn't very worried about passing or failing.  Though on principle I think they were dead wrong in doing it.  Some students could have spent more time practicing things that were worth more points, or made different decisions in the tests.  For example, was it better to make a wider U-turn then instructed or was it better to put a foot down during the turn?  Both will cost you points, but no one could judge the actual value of the tradeoff in their mind.

The ability to always know exactly what I am being judged on is important to me at work. 

On a macro scale we have a set of commitments that are assigned to everyone depending on their level.  An example for me would be:

Hit all intra-milestone dates (plan complete, code complete, ZBB, RTO) or clearly adjusted expectations of the feature team and manager in a timely fashion.

Assigned features were test complete, with zero defects by the end of the milestone.

On a micro scale I am given a large task that I can break down into work items as needed.  At the end of each work item I say what will and will not be done.  Once everyone agrees on the schedule I just execute on it.  If things get shaky during the task I look at the overall goal and can adjust exactly what needs to happen.  I can make tradeoffs where needed. 

Without this vision of success, it is impossible to make an acceptable plan, you end up 'shipping when it is finished' or working hard in a direction that will not help you grow your career.