Goal setting is a fundamental part of the project planning process. This has never changed, but thanks to advances in technology and the increasing complexity of most projects, you literally have to be SMARTer about it.
SMART is both an acronym and an industry buzzword at the moment. It stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely, all criteria that managers need to strive for when they establish goals for their projects.
A Closer Look at SMART goals
These days, what differentiates a successful manager from an average one is their ability to create and set SMART goals. Let’s take a closer look at what that means, along with some SMART goal examples for managers.
- Specific: When something is too vague, it lacks definition and becomes more difficult to understand and accomplish. It’s also dangerously open to interpretation, which could cause individual team members to produce results that are nothing like you intended. A nonspecific goal might be: “Increase the magazine subscriber count” while a specific goal would be “Sign up 50 new subscribers per day for the next three months.”
- Measurable: Once you’ve defined a specific goal, it’s time to decide how its success will be measured. Measurement doesn’t have to be quantitative: it only has to clarify how you will know when you’ve achieved the desired outcome. A goal that’s difficult to measure might be “Reduce the length of time a customer has to wait on the tech support line.” Reduce by how much? A measurable goal is “Reduce customer wait time to no more than three minutes.”
- Achievable: SMART goals must be achievable. This means that you know what the deliverables are and have been given a tentative completion date by the client or upper management. When discussions about project requirements are too vague, you and your team have nothing to work with. It’s important that to have goals that can actually be accomplished so that you’re not affecting team morale.
- Realistic: Goals must be practical, as unrealistic expectations can create overall frustration and cause a project to fail. When determining how realistic a goal is, think about constraints like resources, time, costs, and possible risks. If any task or milestone doesn’t appear to be doable, it’s time for a discussion with the client.
- Timely: As the saying goes, goals without deadlines are only wishes. When a goal becomes time-bound, there’s a sense of urgency that galvanizes the team to gather resources and deliver it on schedule. An open goal like “We need to sell all of our old stock to make room for the new shipment” is less effective than “Hold a sidewalk sale all next week so that we move old stock before the new items come in.” In the second instance, there is a clear target and well-defined time frame that sets the team up for success.
SMART Goals in Action
Now that we’ve seen what attributes make a goal SMART, let’s review some real-world examples of how the approach can be used to improve project results in different industries. Many of these steps can be converted into project milestones in a project management tool such as Toggl Plan.
The management of a popular automotive brand has informed the marketing team that they want to attract more traffic to the company blog, so that consumers can learn more about the features and benefits of its vehicles. How can this directive be translated into a SMART goal?
- Specific: Increase traffic to the blog to 2,000 visitors a day
- Measurable: The web team will monitor blog stats and provide the team with a report at the end of each day.
- Achievable: Company dealerships have agreed to tell their new and existing customers about exciting new features planned for the blog. The company will also be sending out an e-newsletter to its subscribers.
- Realistic: The blog presently receives an average of 800 visits a day. By profiling new customers, providing answers to frequently asked questions, and occasionally running competitions for a free upgrade, increasing the count to 2,000 appears to be reasonable.
- Timely: Work will begin at the beginning of November, with the goal being 2,000 visitors a day at the end of January.
The sales team for a popular electronics chain wants to increase its sales of the new XYZ tablet. To make this goal SMART, they would lay it out in the following way:
- Specific: Sell 200 of the XYZ tablet at each store during the week before Christmas.
- Measurable: Collect inventory information from the store manager to ensure sufficient quantities are in stock when the holiday rush begins. Have the manager submit sales totals at the end of each week.
- Achievable: During the holidays, people tend to visit the company stores with the intention of spending money. With demo models available and a generous warranty, shoppers will feel safer making a purchase.
- Realistic: The holiday season represents approximately 28% of the company’s annual sales. Right now the stores are selling an average of 60 XYZ tablets per week, which is 30% of the 200-unit target. With sufficient marketing during the month leading up to Christmas, the goal may be attainable.
- Timely: In-store and online promotions will begin the week after Thanksgiving and carry on until December 24th.
Taking SMART goals further
Professor Robert S. Rubin of Saint Louis University wrote an article about SMART goals for The Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology. He believed that the acronym should be updated to emphasize efficacy and feedback while others recommended expanding it to SMARTER to include Evaluated and Reviewed.
As you can see from these SMART goal examples, SMART is a strong and effective tool that lends you the focus, clarity, and motivation needed to create achievable project goals. It can also transform the way that you and your team work together to complete tasks, milestones, and deliverables. The result is a collaborative environment that challenges everyone and inspires them to work on projects that succeed.
Rose Keefe is an author and technical writer who has over ten years’ experience in supporting project managers in the manufacturing and construction sectors. One of her primary responsibilities was developing product manuals that supported efficient use of industrial equipment. She continues to write on the subject of time management and commercial productivity for trade websites and publications.