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SMART
Frans Riemersma, 06 Jan '16

Defining SMART Goals - What Does the SMART Acronym Stand For?

How to define SMART goals? Here is a quick and easy overview of the different variants. Discover your favorite and formulate perfect SMART goals in minutes. 

There is an inconvenient truth about SMART goals. Everybody knows SMART, many people claim to use SMART, but nobody really knows how to use SMART correctly.

Of the people who use SMART goals, less than a third of the goals are typically SMART in practice. A real pitty, because our focus should be on achieving clear goals. Instead, our focus is distracted by incomplete and unclear goals.

Be honest. Did you ever feel uncomfortable when writing SMART goals? I did. I never quite knew when goals were formulated the SMART way or not. “Somehow, SMART is not so smart”, a marketer once told me. True.

Just think of the confusion about what the letters of the acronym stand for. Is it the A of “Assignable” or “Attainable”? Does the T stand for “Time-bound” or “Track-able”?

Despite this confusion, the frustrated marketer in question continued to use SMART goals. It shows the need for clearly defined goals is deeply rooted. The convenient truth about SMART is that clearly defined goals lead to better results.

Stop the confusion and unproductiveness

Unclearly defined goals lead to poor results, confusion and even unproductiveness. 71% of the marketing objectives are incomplete. There is no way the activities related to those objectives contribute positively to the strategic goals.

The symptoms of poorly defined objectives are easy to detect in daily life: teams end up in frequent last minute meetings going through spreadsheets and E-mails to figure out that the initial goal was in the first place. Or should I mention internal discussions about whether the team goals are met or not?

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We had a close look on what the different SMART definitions look like and how they are used. The outcome is a simple “agile style” checklist. Just imagine completing a simple checklist ensures your objectives are automatically formulated the SMART way. You create SMART goals without even thinking about the letters. How cool is that?

This would help tremendously to create a more productive and motivated team. No more discussions.

What does the SMART acronym stand for?

In 1981 a paper by George T. Doran was published in Management Review. It was called “There's a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management's goals and objectives”. SMART goals and objectives as we now know them were first used in this article, according to research. 

According to George T. Doran making objectives SMART means they need to be: Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic and Time-related. Completing the elements ensures you have got the basic goal definition right. They are not a guarantee for success, but unspecific objectives are a guarantee for suboptimal results.

• Specific – target a specific area for improvement.

• Measurable – quantify or at least suggest an indicator of progress.

• Assignable – specify who will do it.

• Realistic – what results can realistically be achieved, given available resources.

• Time-related – specify when the result(s) can be achieved.

SMART goals made difficult

Over time some of the SMART letters were changed by different authors. Below are some examples. For a complete up to date list of acronym variants have a look here.

The result is that the acronym is harder to remember when defining goals. It is not clear and self-explanatory anymore. It requires extra discipline to write proper SMART goals.

In my opinion, the current practice of SMART goal setting is not intuitive enough. Goals are not trivial, but goal setting itself should be effortless. Defining a clear goal should happen in a matter of seconds. It should be un-upscrewably easy to define a marketing goal or objective.

SMART goal checklist for marketing goals and objectives

In collaboration with other marketers, and drawing from our previous research, we developed a SMART checklist for marketing goals & objectives. The research revealed which information should go into a marketing goal or objective. The SMART acronym enables us to systematically structure our goal formulation.

Specific – Target a specific area for improvement.

• Define achievement – What result needs to be achieved?

• Define customer – What is the audience, segment or Persona?

• Define proposition – What is the service, product or offer?

Measurable – Quantify or at least suggest an indicator of progress.

• Define metric – What is the value and unit to track progress?

Assignable – Specify who will do it.

• Define owner - Who is accountable for delivering the output?

Realistic – State what results can realistically be achieved, given available resources.

• Define deliverable - What is the deliverable or output to achieve the result?

• Define effort – What are the resources required and available to deliver the output?

Time-related – Specify when the result can be achieved.

• Define date – When will the result (note: not output) be achieved?

Goal setting made un-upscrewably easy

The SMART goal checklist combines key marketing goal elements with the SMART acronym. If we put the checklist into an “agile” like syntax, we get a SMART goal syntax for marketing objectives.

In a previous blog post we shared the Definition of Success syntax. See the generic syntax and example below. If you specify owner and effort additionally, you will have an easy to remember checklist to make every marketing goal or objective SMART.

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Take any marketing objective and run it through the Definition of Success. Once you have done the first one, you can’t stop. It is time to get smart...


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