S.M.A.R.T. is a mnemonic acronym, giving criteria to guide in the setting of goals and objectives for better results, for example in project management, employee-performance management and personal development. The term was first proposed by George T. Doran in the November 1981 issue of Management Review. He suggested that goals should be SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-related).
Since then, other variations of the acronym have been used, a commonly used version includes the alternative words: attainable, relevant, and timely. Additional letters have been added by some authors.
The principal advantage of SMART objectives is to give a clear road map for both the employee and the evaluator. The employee to have a clear understanding of what needs to be delivered and the evaluator to assess the outcome based on defined criteria. SMART criteria are commonly associated with Peter Drucker's management by objectives concept.
Often, the term S.M.A.R.T. Goals and S.M.A.R.T. Objectives are used. Although the acronym SMART generally stays the same, objectives and goals can differ. Goals are the distinct purpose that is to be anticipated from the assignment or project, while objectives, on the other hand, are the determined steps that will direct full completion of the project goals.
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 – Attainable and not impossible to achieve.
- 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. Practicing 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. There is some variation in usage, but perhaps the most commonly used criteria today are:
|S.||Specific||(Strategic and specific)|
|A.||Achievable or attainable||Assignable (original definition), Agreed, action-oriented, ambitious, aligned with corporate goals, (agreed, attainable and achievable)|
|R.||Relevant||Realistic, resourced, reasonable, (realistic and resourced), results-based|
|T.||Time-bound or time-limited||Trackable, time-based, time-oriented, time/cost limited, timely, time-sensitive, timeframe, testable|
Choosing certain combinations of these labels can cause duplication, such as selecting 'attainable' and 'realistic'. They can also cause significant overlapping—as in combining 'appropriate' and 'relevant'. The term 'agreed' is often used in management situations where buy-in from stakeholders is desirable (e.g. appraisal situations).
Some authors have added additional letters giving additional criteria. Examples are given below.
- Evaluated and reviewed
- Evaluate consistently and recognize mastery
- Exciting and Recorded 
- Exciting and Reach – A goal should excite and motivate an athlete, and make them "reach" by stretching their abilities and pushing them past their comfort zone.
- Ethical & Resourced, as mentioned in "Project Management Lite"
- Trackable and agreed
- Realistic and relevance – 'Realistic' refers to something that can be done given the available resources. 'Relevance' ensures the goal is in line with the bigger picture and vision.
- A social goal or objective which demonstrates "Impact"
Other mnemonic acronyms (or contractions) also give criteria to guide in the setting of objectives.
- Doran, G. T. (1981). "There's a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management's goals and objectives". Management Review. 70 (11): 35–36.
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- Blanchard, Kenneth. One Minute Manager.
- Mentioned as an alternative in Yemm, Graham (2013)
- Mentioned as an alternative in Piskurich, George M. (2011)
- Mentioned as an alternative in Lawler, John; Bilson, Andy (2013)
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