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3 (Slightly Different) Ways to Define SMART


Over the past few weeks, I've been catching up on Michael Hyatt's This is Your Life podcast - as recommended by Jennifer Heikkinen, my friend and change management kindred spirit. This morning on my drive to work, I listened to his episode #36: How to Develop More Discipline. His first step, "determine your goal," uses the same SMART framework I do - with a slight variation. Which got me thinking: how many variations of SMART are there and which one should I use?

First things first - a brief reason to define goals, using the SMART framework or any other.

Clearly defined goals enable an individual to focus on results and a team or company to align around collective results. If the cliché is to get everyone in the boat to row in the same direction, we'd better define where the finish line is. I personally use the SMART framework with internal departments, project teams, and external clients to build granularity, stability, and manageability into goals.

0 1   M Y  D E F I N I T I O N  OF  S M A R T

Since I'm most familiar with the definition I learned during my MBA, I'll start here. Here is how I defined it in Harvard University's Strategic BIM Roadmap.

Specific Goals clarify expectations and clearly identify "why" and "what"
Measurable Goals are trackable. How will the team know if it accomplishes its goals?
Achievable Goals are realistic despite technology, team, and project constraints.
Relevant Goals matter to the team, are worthwhile, and matches other efforts and needs.
Timebound Goals include a commitment to a deadline. What is our timeframe?

I like and use this because it covers all bases. John Wachter, of Wachter Consulting, a facilitator that I often work with, defines the "T" as Trackable instead of Time-bound. My sense is that Trackable is covered in Measurable, so I have stuck to Time-bound.

0 2   M I C H A E L  H Y A T T ' S  D E F I N I T I O N

I enjoyed learning a new definition of SMART from Michael Hyatt.

Specific ● Goals identify exactly what you want to accomplish.
Measurable ● Goals include a number because you "can't manage what you can't measure".
Actionable ● Goals should begin with a verb.
Realistic ● Goals should push you "north of your comfort zone, south of your delusion zone."
Timebound ● Goals without a date aren't a goal; they are an aspiration.

The biggest difference in Michael's difference is the use of the word actionable - starting goals with a verb. I can definitely see using this variation, especially with strategic goals and change management goals:
  • Establish a baseline for meeting effectiveness by January 1, 2014 and improve meeting effectiveness by 10% by June 1, 2014 (and yes, this is one of our corporate goals)
  • Reduce non-discretionary change orders by 50%, as compared to an industry baseline
While it could fit with project goals, I don't know if its entirely necessary.

0 3   O R I G I N A T I O N  O F  S M A R T

Lastly, I turned to Wikipedia to read more about SMART, which identified George Doran's 1981 article There's a SMART way to write management's goals and objectives in Management Review as the origin of SMART goals.

Specific ● target a specific area for improvement.
Measurable ● quantify or at least suggest an indicator of progress.
Assignable ● specify who will do it.
Realistic ● state what results can realistically be achieved, given available resources.
Time-related ● specify when the result(s) can be achieved.

Again, the biggest difference here is "A" as Assignable instead of Achievable. While I like the sense of accountability, there is a need to balance individual assignment with a sense of collective results.

Wikipedia lists even more alternates for each of the letters, including adding "ER" at the end to create continuous improvement. I typically don't use "ER" because I use SMART goals as part of the first step within another framework - the Deming cycle for continuous. More on that another day.

I'd love to hear about how you are defining goals in the comments below. Do you use the SMART framework? What variation have you found the most helpful? Or are you using another way?

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