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SMART is a mnemonic acronym, giving criteria to guide in the setting of objectives, for example in project management, employee-performance management and personal development. The letters S and M usually mean specific and measurable. The other letters have meant different things to different authors, as described below. Additional letters have been added by some authors.
SMART criteria are commonly attributed to Peter Drucker's management by objectives concept. The first-known use of the term occurs in the November 1981 issue of Management Review by George T. Doran. The principal advantage of SMART objectives is that they are easier to understand, to do, and then be reassured that they have been done.
The November 1981 issue of Management Review contained a paper by George T. Doran called There's a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management's goals and objectives. It discussed the importance of objectives and the difficulty of setting them.
Ideally speaking, each corporate, department, and section objective should be:
- Specific – target a specific area for improvement.
- Measurable – quantify or at least suggest an indicator of progress.
- Achievable – specify goals that are reachable.
- Realistic – state what results can realistically be achieved, given available resources.
- Time-related – specify when the result(s) can be achieved.
Notice that these criteria don’t say that all objectives must be quantified on all levels of management. In certain situations it is not realistic to attempt quantification, particularly in staff middle-management positions. Practising managers and corporations can lose the benefit of a more abstract objective in order to gain quantification. It is the combination of the objective and its action plan that is really important. Therefore serious management should focus on these twins and not just the objective.
Each letter in SMART refers to a different criterion for judging objectives. Different sources use the letters to refer to different things. Typically accepted criteria are as follows.
|S||Specific||Significant, stretching, simple, sustainable|
|M||Measurable||Motivational, manageable, meaningful|
|A||Achievable||Appropriate, agreed, assignable, attainable, actionable, action-oriented, adjustable, ambitious, aligned with corporate goals, aspirational, acceptable, aggressive|
|R||Relevant||Result-based, results-oriented, resourced, resonant, realistic, reasonable|
|T||Time-bound||Time-oriented, time-framed, timed, time-based, timeboxed, time-specific, timetabled, time limited, time/cost limited, trackable, tangible, timely, time-sensitive, timeframe|
Choosing certain combinations of these labels can cause duplication, such as selecting 'attainable' and 'realistic', or can cause significant overlapping as in combining 'appropriate' and 'relevant' for example. The term 'agreed' is often used in management situations where buy-in from stakeholders is desirable (e.g. appraisal situations). The first column of terms provides an adequate starting structure.
Some authors have added additional letters giving additional criteria. Examples are given below.
|This section may contain improper references to self-published sources. (June 2014)|
|This section relies largely or entirely upon a single source. (June 2014)|
Paul J. Meyer describes the characteristics of S.M.A.R.T. goals in Attitude is Everything.
The criterion stresses the need for a specific goal rather than a more general one. This means the goal is clear and unambiguous; without vagaries and platitudes. To make goals specific, they must tell a team exactly what's expected, why it's important, who’s involved, where it's going to happen and which attributes are important.
A specific goal will usually answer the five 'W' questions:
The second criterion stresses the need for concrete criteria for measuring progress toward the attainment of the goal. The thought behind this is that if a goal is not measurable it is not possible to know whether a team is making progress toward successful completion. Measuring progress is supposed to help a team stay on track, reach its target dates and experience the exhilaration of achievement that spurs it on to continued effort required to reach the ultimate goal.
A measurable goal will usually answer questions such as:
The third criterion stresses the importance of goals that are realistic and also attainable. Whilst an attainable goal may stretch a team in order to achieve it, the goal is not extreme. That is, the goals are neither out of reach nor below standard performance, since these may be considered meaningless. When you identify goals that are most important to you, you begin to figure out ways you can make them come true. You develop the attitudes, abilities, skills and financial capacity to reach them. The theory states that an attainable goal may cause goal-setters to identify previously overlooked opportunities to bring themselves closer to the achievement of their goals.
An achievable goal will usually answer the question How?
The fourth criterion stresses the importance of choosing goals that matter. A bank manager's goal to "Make 50 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches by 2pm" may be specific, measurable, attainable and time-bound but lacks relevance. Many times you will need support to accomplish a goal: resources, a champion voice, someone to knock down obstacles. Goals that are relevant to your boss, your team, your organization will receive that needed support.
Relevant goals (when met) drive the team, department and organization forward. A goal that supports or is in alignment with other goals would be considered a relevant goal.
A relevant goal can answer yes to these questions:
The fifth criterion stresses the importance of grounding goals within a time-frame, giving them a target date. A commitment to a deadline helps a team focus their efforts on completion of the goal on or before the due date. This part of the SMART goal criteria is intended to prevent goals from being overtaken by the day-to-day crises that invariably arise in an organization. A time-bound goal is intended to establish a sense of urgency.
A time-bound goal will usually answer the question