SMART goals in strategy planning

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Initially created by George T. Doran in the Management Review, SMART is the acronym for the tool: Specific Measurable Assignable Realistic and Time-related[1]. The main purpose of the tool was to create something that every manager or team member could follow thereby making it an effective tool used in setting goals and objectives for a task. This is why this tool is more effective in strategies as it helps pay the way for new ideas that can be implemented in different projects.

Although the tool has different purposes and meanings where it can be implemented; it is still used as the most efficient tool in goal setting. The scope and use of the tool are enormous in ways that they can easily be combinable with other methodological project management tools like Gantt charts, SWOT tools, FMEA, etc., and having a flexible application regardless of the project size is another reason for its popularity. Additionally, a S.M.A.R.T.E.R goal-setting approach for improved strategies is also discussed and its effects are evaluated during the course of the project.

This article will go over the basics of the Goal setting tool and its main understanding whilst focusing on its implementation in strategies, applications in real-time projects, and Limitations of tools.

Why Goal Setting

The practice of creating goals has existed for centuries; the earliest examples may be found in philosophic works, where they take the shape of personal goals and aspirations. A scientific article published by Harvard University states that setting clear and measurable goals is essential for achieving success in personal and professional endeavors. Therefore, by providing clarity and focus, motivation, accountability, increased productivity, and better decision-making, goal setting can help individuals and organizations achieve their desired outcomes. Hence this step is usually defined as the most crucial step in a project as unclear goal-setting can hinder continuous progress within the organization.

Goals, in general, can be seen as short-term and long-term, and are worked on an overall vision. They are set after the scope of a project, program or portfolio has been developed and are further described in the planning phase, the 2nd stage of the project management process[2]. Developing the right goals represents a crucial part of project management as it promotes accountability by establishing clear expectations and responsibilities for individuals. However, from the traditional approach of applying goals at the start, it is also encouraged to be done on an ongoing basis, as circumstances change and new opportunities arise. Overall, goal setting usually depends on the individual or organization's preferences and needs. Regardless of the timing, the key is to establish clear, specific, and actionable objectives that are aligned with overall values, vision, and mission.

Framework and Application

Certain studies have shown that the SMART goals technique is valuable due to its requirement for specificity. As mentioned above having specific or clear goals, respectively, increases persistence and self-efficacy. Moreover, it reduces the influence on individual workloads, and the time constraint of SMART goals helps facilitate a fast work pace environment compared to undefined deadlines. Due to its great scope of application possibilities, SMART goals can be utilized throughout the project management process[3]. However, the main aspects of the application in project management are planning, performance management, and monitoring.

Figure 1: SMART goals

In the following subsections, the basic understanding of the SMART model will be elaborated. For further understanding, an example with a problem statement is mentioned below:

Problem statement: The company AZB wishes to increase its market value and footprint among its competitors and wants to increase profits through sales of organically made substances.


Specific: Being specific to the problem statement and setting Goals should be clear and well-defined; Answering the questions of who, what, where, when, and why can help determine the right questions addressing the specificity of the problem. An example of a question with solutions is provided as a reference below

Question Answer
What do I want? To increase the company footprint
Why is it important? To grow more in the market
Who is involved? Marketing, R&D , sales
When to increase the sales? By next quarter


Measurable: Goals should be quantifiable and include specific metrics to track progress. It represents a crucial part of goal setting as it strongly influences the project flow. This can also involve setting specific targets or milestones that should be reached and can be tracked using KPIs. For example, if the goal was to increase online sales by a margin of 20% %, the KPIs should include the average sales, pricing, order values, etc to track progress.


Achievable: Goals should be realistically achievable with the available resources and skills. It has to be noted that one should not get carried away while setting goals as too easy or too difficult types of goals can be demotivating. Therefore one must find the right balance during the process of setting goals. For example, if the organization has only 20% profits and wants to increase its profits to 50% within the next quarter but has limited resources, it will not be achievable. So they must look into realistic possibilities to help develop their sales; Such as asking the right questions using what/how can they use the resources at hand to reach the profit scale.

Question Answer
How can I attain the goal? If necessary internal resources are available


Relevant: Goals should be aligned with the overall strategy and objectives of the organization. This is prime in importance as setting goals that are not relevant to the organization's mission can be a waste of time and resources. For example, if the organization's mission was to generate profits by promoting the use of organic materials sustainable, sales of other products such as non-organic would not be relevant as it does not fit with the mission statement.


Time-bound: Goals should have a clear deadline for completion. Having a sense of urgency and focus is always essential in a strategic approach to any company which wishes to grow in market value. So naturally, it is essential to set deadlines based on the priority and complexity of the goal, and should be communicated clearly to all stakeholders. For example, if the goal still remains to increase online sales by 20%, a deadline made 3 months prior and approved by all would be vital to setting a focus toward the target.

Question Answer
Do we have time to increase online sales by 20% ? Yes a deadline has been made 3 months prior and approved by all
Does the current external circumstances allow it? Yet to conclude

How SMART changes while applying in strategies

Strategic planning is a mandatory idealogy that must be followed for a company's success. In strategic planning, the SMART tool can be used to ensure that the goals set are aligned with the organization's overall vision and mission. The specific goals set through the (SMART) tool should be tailored to fit the strategic plan, focusing on outcomes that are achievable and measurable within the given timeframe. Thus making sure that the organization is moving forward in the right direction.

Additionally, the SMART tool can also be used to prioritize goals in strategic planning. By evaluating each goal based on its level of specificity, achievability, relevance, and timeliness, the organization can determine which goals are the most critical and require the most resources to achieve. This ensures that an organization's limited resources are allocated to the most important goals, leading to more effective strategic planning and implementation.

1) Clarifies Objectives: The SMART tool provides an organized strategy for creating clear and defined objectives. By combining the tools from SWOT analysis which can be applied with the SMART Tool; Companies may use the "S(Strengths)" and apply to the SMART criteria to verify that their objectives are well-defined, actionable, and in line with how they can provide focusing upon the vision and purpose. Another way of using the tool with the 'S' in SWOT is by implementing the actionable plan in departments through small rollouts, where people can implement the changes in their organization. This can impact people to improve training and support, creating vital parts that mitigate drawbacks.

2) Sets Achievable and Realistic Goals: By using ideas from the SWOT model and focusing on the "O(Opportunities) T(Threats)", The SMART tool encourages businesses to define objectives that are both achievable and practical based on the opportunities they can build upon. A crucial point in implementing change is to understand there are risks; this helps to keep firms from establishing unrealistically high targets that are demotivating to the organization.

3) Improved progress: Progress of the firm is measured using the SMART method, which requires businesses to define quantifiable objectives that can be tracked and monitored over time. This enables businesses to track their progress and adapt their strategy and tactics accordingly.

4) Improves Accountability and Decision-making: The SMART tool assists businesses in establishing accountability by establishing time-bound objectives and outlining clear responsibilities for meeting them thus giving a clear framework for evaluating different options and selecting the most appropriate course of action improving the overall decision-making process in time.

Implementation with other tools

Given the scope of application possibilities, as discussed prior the SMART tool can be combined with other project management tools to create a more comprehensive approach to goal setting and achievement. One such tool is the use of the GANTT Chart, SWOT analysis etc. [4].

Figure 2: SMART with Gantt charts

For example, With the likes of a visual tool, combining the SMART tool with the Gantt chart can help to create a more structured approach to project management. Assuming a team is working on a strategy to increase their sales through a product that is to be launched in the upcoming sales quarter. The team can use the SMART tool to define the goals that help with the strategic planning process, and once the goals are set; the team can create a GANNT chart to plan and schedule the tasks needed to be met to achieve these goals. The chart would include the start and end dates for each task and the interrelation between each task. This can help the team to craft a perfect strategy and identify any potential roadblocks and adjust the schedule accordingly. Thus, this can help increase the success rate of the project and minimize the risk of financial issues or delays.

Limitations of the tool

Despite its wide popularity, SMART Goals is not an instant recipe for success. SMART Goals will rely on a strategy that is properly formulated since the SMART Goals provided no guidance in determining whether the goal is wise. For that reason, the SMART acronym does not stop a company from doing the wrong things right. While the SMART tool has numerous applications, including project management and strategic planning, it does have significant limits which exist due to human failure which are applicable to many methods throughout project management and some through the method's natural characteristics.

1) Can Encourage Short-Term Thinking: The SMART tool's focus on short-term goals may sometimes discourage long-term planning and strategic thinking.

2) May Lead to Narrow Focus: The SMART tool may lead to a narrow focus on achieving a specific goal, at the expense of broader organizational objectives.

3) Focuses on Quantitative Measures: The SMART tool tends to focus on quantitative measures and may not fully capture the qualitative aspects of a goal.

4) Limited Scope: The SMART tool is not always useful with complex goals ie. that require a broader and more holistic approach due to its narrow focus, thus limiting the range on which it can be applied to a whole unit.

To sum up, even though the SMART tool may be useful for goal setting and strategic planning, its key limitations should be noted and solutions focusing on the tool's flexibility with use with others should be considered to ensure that all elements of a project or strategy work together for efficient results.

Can SMART strategies become SMARTER ?

As discussed earlier, the acronym S.M.A.R.T. to describe goals was created to help people improve the way they approach, set, and pursue goals. However, even though the term has evolved in various ways, there is always room for improvement; and the set goals must be revised and evaluated to fit new objectives and strategies developed by companies. This is where the updated version of S.M.A.R.T.E.R comes into the broader picture. The acronym S.M.A.R.T.E.R stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound, Evaluated, and Reviewed. [5].

The E in SMARTER refers to ensuring that the goals set are Evaluated, ethical, and align with the organization's improved strategic values and principles. It requires that goals should move beyond goal characteristics and into goal interaction whilst not compromising ethical or moral standards and must be achievable in a timely manner. This stage should always happen after milestone markers that depend on how the team tracks goals. For example: If the management sets a new strategic goal. The target should be evaluated and broken down to achieve parts at least monthly. If you set quarterly goals, then meet at least quarterly. Thus this helps improve time management and pushes the employees towards adjusting the action plans if necessary.

Set goals aren’t always perfect, and neither are situations. The R puts emphasis on Reviewing, and facilitates feedback, and learning during the goal achievement process. It is to be noted that revision happens during evaluation, so these two stages go hand-in-hand. As you evaluate in general, you need to evaluate whether goals should be revised. Thus through this way, we ensure better results can be developed over time.

Overall, These two attributes are another way to mitigate the potential flaws of the original tool and can help the strategic goals remain attainable over due course.


In conclusion, the SMART tool is a great tool for project management. It gives a systematic technique for establishing clear and explicit objectives, which can assist to guarantee that the project is well-defined, feasible, and connected with the general goals and strategies of the business. The topic of whether or not SMART objectives contribute to effectiveness cannot be answered due to their varying nature and how it is implemented based on ideas worked around their limitations. Nevertheless, the SMART technique can assist project managers to monitor progress, identify difficulties or hazards, and take remedial action by creating quantifiable, time-bound targets. The addition of E and R leads to revisions to help improve overall growth and development in the organization and how projects are done, thus increasing the chances of project success and the overall success of the company.

Annotated Bibliography

1) George T. Doran (1981). There's a S.M.A.R.T. way to write Management's goals and objectives. Management Review George T. Doran focuses on the problem that writing goals can be a stressful task that managers are sometimes not capable of doing, even though it is recognized as an effective goal and can give the company a sense of direction. He contends that setting goals must become whole in one's behavior and that managers need to receive training on how to do so in the workplace.

2) Project Management Institute. “A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide)”-2017. The Project Management Institute's "A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide)-2017" is a comprehensive guide to project management. It covers the entire project management process, from initiating a project to closing it out. The guide is divided into five process groups: initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and closing. It also covers knowledge areas, including project integration, scope, time, cost, quality, communications, risk, stakeholder management, etc. The PMBOK Guide is widely recognized as a standard reference for project management practices and is used by project managers across a variety of industries and sectors.

3) Setting Goals: Who, Why, How?: This scientific article published by Harvard University demonstrates the overall results of effective goal setting. It supports the written paper by explaining the benefits of some SMART goals and traits such as specific and relevant. It also elaborates on the limitations and explains that there is no one tool solution for all problems and no tool can guarantee applicability in any scenario.


* The images are directly linked to websites developed by different authors

1. T. Doran (1981). There's a S.M.A.R.T. way to write Management's goals and objectives. Management Review,

2. [Project Management middle five stages,,]

3. [ Duncan Haughey (2014), A Brief History of SMART goals,,]

4. [Richard Miller (2012) , Smart goals and goal setting for career enhancement. JALT Journal,,]

5. [Quantum Workspace,How to make your SMART goals even SMARTER.,]

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