The acronym SMART (which stands for Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic, Time–related) was first coined by George Doran in an article in a 1981 issue of Management Review entitled There’s a S.M.A.R.T. Way to Write Management’s Goals and Objectives. It has since been adopted by most consultants as a common framework for getting jobs done.
The SMART framework is especially interesting as it is one of only a few that help the completion of an assignment or project. Most frameworks are about solving tactical or strategic problems.
George Doran, the inventor of the acronym, argued that objectives need to have the following criteria if they are to be successfully fulfilled:
Specific. The key to the management of objectives is to be specific about what needs improving. This is familiar ground for anyone who has explored other frameworks where focus is almost always critically important. Arguably this is the most difficult part of the framework as it requires an understanding of what is the problem and what needs accomplishing. A good situation analysis is likely to be a help.
Measurable. What can be measured can be managed. Measurements allow us to determine what progress is being made towards the achievement of the objectives.
Assignable. This means that if tasks are to be completed somebody has to be assigned with that responsibility. Of course, we would hope that the person or people who are assigned are trained and capable of performing the tasks.
Realistic. Objectives must be achievable with the time and money that is available. We are all familiar with optimists who have their head in the cloud and dream of object is that can never be met and pessimists who set the bar too low. A realistic objective means that whoever sets it must have a very good understanding of the conditions which are likely to be met.
Time related. Objectives must be achieved within a specified timeline. Again, this timeline must be entirely realistic given the scale of the task and the resources available to complete it.
As is often the case with acronyms, there have been a number of suggestions as to how it could be improved. A common alternative changes the third and fourth words ie:
The SMART template has been widely adopted because it provides an easy mnemonic for defining and managing objectives. It is used most often for short term rather than long-term goals, providing everyone in a project with an understanding of their responsibilities and what is to be achieved.