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SMART Goals

~ By Duncan Haughey

Blackboard with the SMART Goal definition written on it

Once you have planned your project, turn your attention to developing several goals that will enable you to be successful. Goals should be SMART - specific, measurable, agreed upon, realistic and time-based.

A goal might be to hold a weekly project meeting with the key members of your team or to organise and run a continuous test programme throughout the project.

The acronym SMART has several slightly different variations, which can be used to provide a more comprehensive definition of goal setting:

S - specific, significant, stretching

M - measurable, meaningful, motivational

A - agreed upon, attainable, achievable, acceptable, action-oriented

R - realistic, relevant, reasonable, rewarding, results-oriented

T - time-based, time-bound, timely, tangible, trackable

This broader definition will help you to be successful in both your business and personal life.

When you next run a project take a moment to consider whether your goals are SMART goals.

To quote renowned American philosopher and writer Elbert Hubbard:

Many people fail in life, not for lack of ability or brains or even courage, but simply because they have never organised their energies around a goal.

Elbert Hubbard

SMART Goals

Specific

  • Well defined
  • Clear to anyone that has a basic knowledge of the project

Measurable

  • Know if the goal is obtainable and how far away completion is
  • Find out when you have achieved your goal

Agreed Upon

  • Agreement with all the stakeholders what the goals should be

Realistic

  • Within the availability of resources, knowledge and time

Time-Based

  • Enough time to achieve the goal
  • Not too much time, which can affect project performance

Download our free SMARTER Goals template


Comments (23)

Topic: SMART Goals
4/5 (23)
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9th September 2017 9:13am
Klinkehoffen (Nelson) says...
SMART was coined by George Doran in the USA for a company he was assisting, and published in 1981 (Doran, G. T. (1981). There's a S.M.A.R.T. way to write managements's goals and objectives. Management Review, November, 70(11) 35-36). The original five were: specific, measurable, assignable, realistic and time related. Interesting, isn't it!
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19th December 2016 5:45pm
Mark Shell (Lanham) says...
I still consider SMART, but really changed the way I create goals for performance reviews. Keep in mind I manage IT and Marketing, so our goals are different than say sales goals. What I did was create a set of goals where I can use the same set of goals for each person regardless of their position. I made the goals things they could control, vs. could not control. Here's an example:

Education/Training/Skills Gaps (10%)
Continuous training and education is important to the IT department, the Credit Union and to the employees. The intent of this goal is to encourage employees to explore new training opportunities in order to continue to advance their knowledge as well as their careers. Training comes in many forms, from formal training courses, to webinars, books, videos, articles, conferences, certifications, and much more. In addition to the training itself, it’s also important to demonstrate how this training was applied to improve things.

5 — Consistently Exceeds Expectations: – Consistently demonstrates a desire to learn by participating in training activities. Demonstrates a desire to help others by conducting training or presenting out concepts that you have learned. Consistently applies knowledge and skills learned through training to support continuous improvement. Consistently demonstrates mastery of knowledge and skills through certification, pursuit of a degree, group presentations, or public speaking. Acts as a champion to get others interested in training and knowledge.
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10th November 2016 7:49pm
Thobile (Durban) says...
This is food for thought. You have shaken our heads with this powerful and informative topic. Goal setting and the acronym 'SMART' are indeed powerful. I have seen the great need for me to fit it in my daily life starting by setting goals for my course. Another interesting part is that of 'rewards'. This is really going to push me to meet my deadlines in no time. Thank you guys for all your thoughtful inputs.
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26th July 2016 11:41pm
Ty Palmer (Cairns Qld Australia) says...
Thank you for all contributions and previous comments. I was just looking for a reminder of SMART, however, now feel the benefit of those excellent observations one and all!
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14th June 2016 12:49pm
Idris Sabo Inuwa (Kano) says...
Time bound stills stands for stipulated period of time, but I do prefer "Timely" for it seems much more motivational.
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28th January 2017 10:55pm
Goddy (Toronto) says...
While timely is good, I prefer time bound, which is measurable. In time can be interperated differently. On time speciifies a date. Time can be adjusted when, upon review, certain landmarks are not met. What is your comment about being on time and bring in time?
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14th May 2015 7:14pm
John Smith says...
In the SMART that I learned, A stood for Attainable, so the goal is not impossible
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10th June 2015 9:25am
John Crockett (Barcelona) says...
I have also seen attainable used, but if you have attainable, realistic seems to suggest the same thing, so I have heard of the use of relevant.
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10th December 2016 3:04am
Justin Thresher (Pocatello) says...
A and R are practically the same by definition of words such as attainable and realistic. Or relevant and agreed upon. Achievable and reasonable. I think the acronym is amazing but R is not needed. Unless I'm missing something.
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1st February 2017 8:43pm
Alejo AC (Spain) says...
I see a lot of value on the R.

  • Agreed upon, or Relevant, answers the question: "Why achieving this goal is important?"
  • Realistic, or Attainable, answers the question: "Can we achieve this goal with the resources we have available?"
Both answers are very useful when defining a goal.

For example, considering my thought processing for "writing a reply" as a SMART goal:

I want to write a reply to Justin where I explain why A and R are different things, both valuable in a SMART goal. It must fit in less than 2000 characters (limit for comments) and provide an example. At least one person should find value on my reply. I can do this because I have worked with SMART goals previously and it's relevant to me because I want to help others. I enjoy exercising with the model and it can help to define myself as an authority on goal setting (I provide some coaching services for game designers). It should take me less than 10 minutes, then I'll go to prepare the dinner.

Find in the example:
I can do this because...(defines Realistic/Attainable)
It's relevant because...(defines Relevant/Agreed upon)
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2nd February 2017 6:20am
Stefan Breisch says...
I think the R is needed. I learned that R stands for relevant, which means that the goal should be relevant to you and your values.
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14th April 2015 5:31pm
Jeremy (Northampton) says...
SMART works well for us in my organisation when setting individual's objectives - either to achieve their part of the strategy for the group, or for their own personal development and we use it more as a tool to facilitate the discussion between the line manager and their direct report.

They will use the SMART framework to challenge each other on the specificity of the objective and gain agreement on details - or to agree to be more specific and add more detail before going ahead to progressing the objective. I've not seen it considered as a tool for projects before. Does anyone have experience of using this against projects? Is it a good tool to use?
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6th May 2015 12:29pm
Stuart Kirkham MAPM (Salisbury) says...
In answer to Jeremy, I would say that every tool has a place, and using SMART is one. It is extremely useful in helping define and establish project objectives. Your strand / theme / work package leads need to really think about applying the definitions, and this for me is one of the main benefits; that real thought is given to the tasks or activities under consideration. However, if I may also suggest, this only gives half of the answer because you should also identify the benefits that will accrue, and how those benefits should or will be exploited. This is fundamental to project (and programme) success.
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17th March 2015 5:50am
Steve (Kuwait) says...

I’ve just read people questioning the usage of the phrase time-bound. While broadly in agreement with their sentiments it is important to understand that one of the primary definitions of a project is that it should have a start and end date. There should be a clear time frame whereby a project is undertaken otherwise it becomes business as usual, so the theory of being time constrained or time bound is right. I would suggest the phraseology is a little wrong otherwise the sentiment is correct in my opinion.

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10th April 2015 2:15pm
Marilyn Boake (Nepean) says...
I think the concept of time-bound or timely (as someone else has suggested) is important when one is aiming for something quite lofty. Relates particularly to social work or government projects. Breaking the 'lofty' goal into smaller pieces allows assessment at timely intervals to determine if the project is moving in the right direction. When using scarce public resources, just working towards a worthy objective may not be good use of funds if it is not efficient and effective. Time-bound sets a frame for what needs to be measured and when.
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27th February 2015 5:54am
Jayne (Boise) says...
The SMART acronym is only TRULY "smart" if you reassess while on your goal path. When I began my Multidisciplinary Studies degree (then known as the "General Studies"), I was operating from a frame of reference much different to the one I have today.

It had been 20 years since I attended school, and I was daunted, feeling very unsure of what I would be able to do in academics, after all, that time had passed.

We set these goals with the SMART principles, so they were all well defined, clear for anyone to understand (who was familiar with what I was doing, going back to school) so that covered the "S" of specific. Next, were my goals "M" measurable? I kept it very simple – the obtainable part was the WHAT of what I was setting goals for, and that was graduation at a certain pace, while continuing my life, and preparing for a life AFTER graduation. Moreover, getting to graduation would be the how and when I would achieve my goals – that's all I set my sights on – getting to graduation.

The "A" of agreement was a simple contract with myself (and, of course, my instructor as I set these goals for the assignment), plus the people involved – my support staff if you will. One thing you can't do is get the future to agree with what you plan! And although my goals were "R" realistic at the time (I had NO IDEA what I would be able to do/to NOT do). I should have reset these goals after the first successful semester after my intro course.

I set my "R" waaay to low; I was able to do so much more in the "T" time-based frame I was setting these goals in. I gave myself JUST enough time to have too much time left – so I failed in that aspect. I should have pushed myself to do and be more at school, but I was afraid of changing my life too much. And then, it happened: I got hurt at work and foolishly didn't report it, because I didn't want to make the boss mad – so I'm now hurt, out of work, finishing school and wanting to go to Grad school, and I'm completely unprepared.

Goal 1: the resume, did that one the first year. Goal 2: maintain current income level. I gave it my best, but what I was doing didn't work out, and now I'm a little worse off (I was able to increase hours from another source). Goal 3: keep up the work in Mtn Home, which, as I explained I increased. Goal 4: maintain my GPA and SAP plan – done deal, exceeded, and I believe that I could have done MORE if I had reassessed. Finally, Goal 5: conducting the informational interviews PRIOR to enrolling – this goal proved to be one that I couldn't use. Although I'm conducting interviews now it's for some input about my future, not the classes - there were only a few available with my requirements.

"Smart" the word is defined as a "quick-witted intelligence." I needed to move more quickly and have confidence when setting realistic goals.
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4th November 2014 10:47am
Mohammad (Beirut) says...
I think all our goals and objectives must be set in accordance with SMART. However, it is more important to think of practical tools for implementation, follow-up and review to give useful feedback that touches the set and planned objectives or goals.
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25th April 2015 5:17pm
Marcus (Birmingham) says...
I agree, a very important and often overlooked aspect of smart objectives is the review and feedback. Reviewing projects after they have been completed can really help with the planning of future projects.
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31st December 2016 7:57pm
Biloba Shakapanga (Solwezi) says...
SMART has helped both at work and in my private life projects. Being specific in what we want to attain is a plus, resources allocation and feedback all co-ordinate well. Too low a goal will often be postponed due to little motivation. Too many goals within the same timeframe could be disastrous especially with a sole trader or with limited resources.
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23rd June 2014 2:20pm
Peter Ridgway-Davies (Stafford) says...
The time-bound description is perfect for Agile projects using sprints and time-boxes.
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27th May 2014 8:48pm
Ken Butcher says...
Maybe it's a difference between British and American English, but "time-bound" doesn't sound right to me. For me, that would mean that someone had tied it up (bound it) in ties made of time. ("Bound" being the irregular past participle of "to bind".)

I would have used "bounded", the past participle of the regular transitive verb "to bound" something, meaning to set bounds or boundaries on it.

(My wife suggested that something "time-bound" might be on a journey towards time.)

Otherwise, very useful stuff, and much appreciated.
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27th May 2014 10:23pm
Duncan Haughey (London) says...
I've always read "time-bound" as tied to a specific time period, not open ended. Perhaps "time-based" is better.

I prefer "timely", because it adds a sense of urgency to achieving your goals.

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