SMART Objectives in Project Management

Instructor: Bob Bruner

Bob is a software professional with 24 years in the industry. He has a bachelor's degree in Geology, and also has extensive experience in the Oil and Gas industry.

SMART is an acronym used in project management to define certain objectives which, when applied to the goals of a project, allow the project run more smoothly and lead to successful project closure.

Project Management Headaches

If you have ever acted as a project manager, you know that delivering on a project's goals can be very stressful. This pressure can come from many directions; contractual obligations, resource constraints, upper management dictates, and lack of management commitment to the project are common sources of pressure. In some cases, factors that seem to be outside your immediate control are significant pressure points. However, in almost every case, a ''smart'' project manager can rely on the application of SMART objectives during both project planning and execution in order to relieve such pressures.

First, let's take a look at what SMART actually stands for. While there are a few variations in use, a common definition for this acronym would be the following: Project plans and goals should be Specific, Measurable, Agreed Upon, Realistic, and Time-based. In each section below, we will take a closer look at what each of these means and provide a couple alternative definitions that might apply to your own project.

Specific Goals

A specific goal is one that is well defined. By well defined, we mean that any work item should be clear to everyone who will be delivering any part of the work and to the project stakeholders. Tasks or work items should be as concise as possible, while still conveying all the information that is necessary to deliver on the stated goal. In some cases, a team may not have all the specific information that is required prior to starting work on a goal. In such a case, any remaining ambiguity should be removed in a systematic manner as the work progresses. (Also: Significant, Stretching)

Measurable Goals

Measurable goals are quantifiable, meaning there is a way to assess and determine the progress being made as the work is being delivered. Defining the measurements that will be applied to delivery of the project goals can also help to remove ambiguity during the planning process. Most importantly, measurable goals provide a definitive way to state that a particular goal has been completely delivered and does not require additional effort. (Also: Meaningful, Motivational)

Agreed Upon Goals

An agreed upon goal is one that has buy-in, not only from the team, but also from the stakeholders or sponsors of a project. Again, important details that might otherwise remain hidden may be uncovered by obtaining formal agreement before starting work on any specific delivery item in the project plan. Agreed upon goals should be formally captured and signed off on by all participants who have a say in approving the project deliveries. Obtaining this buy-in ahead of time helps to prevent disagreements that can arise over ongoing project payments and allows for successful closure of the project in a timely manner. (Also: Attainable, Acceptable)

Realistic Goals

It seems to go without saying that the goals of a project should be realistic. However, many goals that appear to be valid may not be truly realistic when compared to the overall constraints of the project. It is important that the goals of any project are realistic in terms of the well-known triple constraint of project management, consisting of scope, schedule, and resource. In addition, any uncertainty in the delivery plan might indicate certain goals are, in fact, unrealistic within the original constraints of the project. (Also: Relevant, Reasonable)

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