Project managers have the responsibility to ensure that proper project goals are in place that meet project objectives. Way back in 1981, George T. Doran introduced the “SMART” system as the best way to set goals during the planning stage so there is clear direction leading to project success. Setting SMART goals as a project manager is a sure way to bring your teams together for effective work, as well as improve your own projects.
We’ll look at what a SMART goal is, then look at some examples of this popular work breakdown structure that examine each element of this process.
What is a “SMART” goal?
SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable or Achievable, Relevant or Realistic, and Timely or Trackable. Let’s look at each of these.
The first step of a SMART project goal is that it is specific. Specific means that it is a clear goal with a defined final result. Without a clear objective to strive for, a goal is an aimless action that never really ends or accomplishes much. Begin by deciding the right goal or outcome you would like to achieve, and if possible, put in numbers or some other method of precision.
Good example: To complete an industry certification in Lean Six Sigma.
Bad example: To learn more.
Along with being specific, a SMART objective must be measurable. This takes the specificity of the goal a step further; only when you can measure the outcome and track progress towards it can you fully understand how close you are to reaching the goal.
Good example: To convert all 5,000 inventory records to the updated standards in twelve months.
Bad example: To update our inventory network.
If your set goal is practically impossible to reach, then you are setting yourself and your team up for failure and certain discouragement or disillusionment. SMART criteria will help to make sure that you create achievable goals. It may take some extra effort, but make sure you have a realistic chance of getting there.
Good example: To listen to two industry podcasts each week.
Bad example: To read a 1000-page business textbook every week.
Your goal must also be relevant to your job or your overall life or business goals. In other words, the actions you take to reach a project management goal shouldn’t be unrelated to the other things you’re already doing.
Good example: To increase customer loyalty through rewards programs.
Bad example: To grow business by opening offices in 20 new markets.
Deadlines are vital – without a true deadline, the goal can never be fully reached. Set a clear ending marker for your SMART goal to make your progress toward completion trackable.
Good example: To practice for running a marathon in 20 weeks.
Bad example: To become a runner.
Examples of SMART Goals for Project Managers
#1 Example: Acquire New Client
To acquire a new enterprise client in six months by contacting regional offices and requesting sales presentations around our management solutions, then pursuing conversations as necessary.
S: The specific objective is to gain a new enterprise-level client.
M: The goal is to gain one new client – which may seem obvious, but one client is still measurable.
A: Gaining one new major client in six months is likely doable.
R: Gaining that new client should provide a good deal of new business.
T: The time frame is six months.
#2 Example: Improve Productivity of Myself and Team
I will improve my team’s productivity by implementing a cloud-based file-sharing system to allow easier access to team resources. I will pull a project team of four employees to review vendors and make a selection in the next three months.
S: The goal is to improve productivity and purchase a new file-sharing system.
M: Setting up a team of four employees is a measurable goal.
A: Improving productivity through better file-sharing is doable.
R: File-sharing software should directly help with productivity.
T: Three months is the intended timeline for this project.
#3 Example: Increase Communication on Team
I will increase communication on my project team by setting up a messenger channel on our Teams platform for easier check-ins and by instituting a weekly Zoom meeting to catch up on each person’s work.
S: The goal is to increase team communication.
M: Activity on the Teams channel can be reached, and the weekly Zoom meetings are measurable as well.
A: These two action steps are not too much to ask of the team.
R: These two action steps should lead to better team communication.
T: There is no end date for this work, but the weekly timetable is trackable in that way.
#4 Example: Increase Project Management Skills
I will increase my project management skills by joining my local PMP chapter and attending monthly education workshops, plus their annual conference for recertification.
S: The goal is to increase project management skills.
M: Chapter membership and monthly workshops are measurable steps.
A: Although it does entail a time commitment, this goal is reachable.
R: Participating in an industry association and attending their events should help with increasing subject matter knowledge.
T: The monthly and annual scope of events is trackable over time.
#5 Example: Deliver Project On Time and On Budget
I will deliver our current project on time and within the specified project budget by reviewing our project calendar each Friday afternoon, then communicating our progress to the team on the next weekly meeting and asking them to make adjustments as necessary.
S: The objective is to come in on time and on budget.
M: Weekly checks and meetings are a measurable step.
A: This goal is definitely doable.
R: Regular reviews and check-ins are one of the best ways to keep everyone on the right pace.
T: Weekly meetings are a good tracking point, and the project deadline is the end goal.
#6 Example: Understand New Strategic Goals for the Company
I will work with senior management to understand the new strategic goals and core values for the company by requesting time with each of the five department managers to review new materials over the next month.
S: The goal is to understand the company’s new strategic priorities.
M: Meetings with five individuals is the measurable project milestone.
A: Five meetings in a month is not out of the ordinary.
R: These meetings should help understand the strategic goals better.
T: One month is the time frame for this goal.
#7 Example: Develop Process for Regular Check-ins and Transparency with Superiors
I will be more transparent with my superiors by preparing a monthly report on my team’s progress over the prior month and by setting up a monthly meeting with my direct manager to check in on active projects.
S: The goal is to become more transparent with senior management, who in this case may also be the project sponsors.
M: The report and meeting are the measurable steps each month.
A: One summary report and one meeting are not too much to ask for this kind of check-in.
R: These check-ins will provide much better transparency over time.
T: The monthly check-ins provide a trackable project timeline.
#8 Example: Develop New Talent for Team
I will hire three new team members over the next two months by conducting peer application reviews in our weekly meetings, then selecting the top eight candidates for in-person interviews.
S: The project objective is to hire new team members.
M: Eight overall candidates will be selected from the peer interviews, then the top three will be hired in two months’ time.
A: Hiring three new team members is a good expansion, but not too much.
R: The interview process should lead to finding the right candidates.
T: Two months is the overall timeframe.
#9 Example: Explore Additional Technological Tool to Improve Productivity/Effectiveness
I will select a new project management software vendor in the next three months to improve productivity and effectiveness with our team. I will listen to at least four sales pitches, then present the summary prospectus reports to the team for review before making a final selection.
S: Here, the manager is using his goal setting technique to find a new project management software vendor.
M: The sales pitches and review meetings are the measurable action steps.
A: Picking a new vendor in three months should be doable.
R: Listening to the sales pitches and holding the review meetings should lead to the right decision.
T: Three months is the timeframe.
#10 Example: Review Existing Processes to Streamline and Revamp
I will hold a process review workshop to assess where we can streamline and revamp our processes. This four-hour workshop will look at our operational and communication processes, and I will submit a ten-page report on the team’s behalf one week after completion.
S: The goal is to host a review process workshop.
M: The four-hour workshop can be measurable.
A: An intensive workshop should help the team reach the goal.
R: The accompanying report will outline the next action steps to be taken.
T: The one-week reporting deadline after the meeting will keep the manager on task.
#11 Example: Plan One Morale Boosting and Teambuilding Event(s) This Quarter
I will plan and schedule a team-building retreat this quarter by soliciting feedback on how to improve team operations, then work with the deputy manager to find the right venue and format for the event.
S: The goal is to set up a team-building event.
M: The initial feedback survey and project planning will be the trackable measures.
A: Setting up a team-building event during the current quarter is probably manageable.
R: Getting feedback on creating an effective event will be helpful.
T: The end of the quarter is the deadline for this type of project.
#12 Example: Read Top Three Trade Magazines Each Week
I will read the top three trade magazines each week by blocking off 20 minutes during my daily lunch breaks to review the key articles from each publication.
S: The goal is to read top trade magazines.
M: Setting a 20-minute timer during daily lunch breaks will help measure the amount of time spent reading.
A: This is an achievable goal in any given week.
R: Setting aside the time should help the manager read the trade magazines.
T: The weekly timeframe allows for trackable progress.
#13 Example: Assess and Solve for Process Bottlenecks
I will assess and solve for bottlenecks in our process by asking about holdups and roadblocks in our weekly staff meetings, then set aside some problem-solving time in our monthly department meetings.
S: The goal is to solve bottlenecks.
M: The measurable steps are making the assessments every week, then presenting findings each month.
A: This extra time during existing meetings does not add too much extra work.
R: The fact-finding and reviews should help remove bottlenecks.
T: The ongoing weekly and monthly meetings are the trackable timetables.
#14 Example: Locate Additional Inventory Suppliers
In order to boost our on-hand inventory, I will interview up to six local and regional suppliers to satisfy our corporate procurement policies, then make a selection in two months’ time.
S: The goal is to find a new inventory supplier.
M: Six meetings with potential suppliers is measurable progress.
A: Holding these six vendor meetings is not too much for this high priority.
R: Going through the review and interview process should help to find the right vendor.
T: Two months is the project timetable.
#15 Example: Decrease Service Call Response Time
I will decrease our service call response time by an average of 20% by routing requests directly to the technician pool instead of the project coordinator to allow for voluntary ownership of the response and also setting up biweekly check-ins to see how many calls were answered.
S: The goal is to decrease call response time.
M: The biweekly check-ins and process updates are the measurable steps.
A: This change is doable for all team members.
R: Removing a process layer should help decrease the response time.
T: The biweekly check-ins can track progress toward the goal.
#16 Example: Select New Cloud Storage Vendor
I will select a new cloud storage vendor by the end of the quarter by working with our team software expert to review and test at least four solutions, then presenting our recommendations to senior management.
S: The specific goal is to select a new vendor.
M: Four vendor review sessions will track progress toward finding the right one.
A: This goal is doable for the two people directly involved.
R: This review process should lead to finding the right vendor.
T: The end of the quarter is the timetable, and can serve other long-term goals as well.
#17 Example: Relaunch Client-Facing Website
I will relaunch our client-facing website in four months by setting up a two-person content review committee. Then pilot test their work with our five biggest clients for usability.
S: The goal is to relaunch the client-facing website.
M: The content review team and beta testers are the measurable steps.
A: This work should be doable in the time allotted given the outlined process.
R: The pilot testing should help with launching the new website with the right content and features.
T: Four months is the deadline.
#18 Example: Pursue Industry Certification
I will pursue the next level of project management certification by the end of this year by attending two industry conferences for continuing education, then taking a practice test each month for the next eight months in advance of the final exam.
S: The goal is to get an advanced industry certification.
M: The industry conferences and practice tests are measurable goals for action.
A: This workload is aggressive but doable given what is typically required for such a certification.
R: This extra study and education will help tremendously with taking the final exam.
T: The end of the year is the deadline for the final certification exam.
#19 Example: Align Reports to Corporate Formatting Requirements
I will align our future reports to current corporate guidelines by spending one hour reformatting our existing weekly reports (until the new templates arrive in three months) then submitting them to a writing expert on our team for a final check.
S: The goal is to reformat existing reports to match new guidelines.
M: The initial review and team member review are the weekly steps taken.
A: This is a little extra work, but not unmanageable.
R: These reviews should ensure that all reports meet the new guidelines.
T: The new templates will arrive in three months.
#20 Example: Reduce Staff Meeting Time
I will reduce our weekly staff meetings from two hours to one and a half hours to help improve productivity and prevent meeting burnout and will circle back with our team in six months to see how they feel about the change.
S: The goal is to reduce staff meeting time.
M: Reducing each weekly meeting by 30 minutes is the measurable action step.
A: This goal is definitely doable – it gives everyone extra time in their workday.
R: This goal has an action that can easily solve the problem.
T: A six-month test period should give an idea of whether the change was effective.
#21 Example: Improve Effectiveness of Staff Meetings
I want to make our staff meetings more effective, so I will circulate a meeting agenda and standard outline so that everyone knows who is presenting and for how long. I will send this out the day before each weekly meeting, and then I will check in with the team leads in two months to see how they like the new format.
S: The goal is to make staff meetings more effective.
M: The agenda and outline are the measurable action steps a day before each meeting.
A: The extra step of creating a standard meeting outline is not too much work overall.
R: These steps should help make meetings more effective by creating a clear expectation of the content and topics.
T: Two months is the end of the test period.
By using the SMART project management process, project managers can set clear project management goals for their teams and themselves. To follow their progress throughout the various project milestones, various project management tools are available such as the Gantt chart. Try crafting a SMART goal today to help you with your own workflows, your team’s effectiveness, your communication structures, and much more.
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