What Are SMART Goals and How to Use Them?

Iva Krasteva

Iva Krasteva

Content Creator Expert | Agile Practitioner | Kanban Certified

Table of Contents:

SMART goals are well-known goal-setting guidelines that help to determine objectives statements with expected results and achieve them. The acronym SMART provides guidance on what goals should be - specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.

The effectiveness of the SMART tool lies in its purpose - to help people set comprehensive and meaningful goals and by that, accelerate their accomplishments. The main benefits of the SMART goals approach are the focus and clarity it brings to setting goals.

Thanks to the clarity and easy-to-use guidelines of the SMART goals, the technique can be utilized in every context and industry for setting achievable objectives.

SMART goals can be beneficial for achieving individual development, team improvement, or organizational and strategic advancement objectives.

What Do SMART Goals Acronym Mean?

"SMART" is an acronym meaning specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timely goals.

The elements are explained below.

1. Specific

A specific objective should be clear and meaningful. It should not be abstract. These objectives should make it easy to understand the steps required to achieve them. They should answer questions such as:

  • What should be accomplished?
  • What are the necessary steps?
  • Who is responsible?

2. Measurable

Objectives should be measurable to give them a tangible dimension. Setting up quantifiable goals ensures you can measure your progress and understand how close (or far) you are from achieving them. Measurable objectives allow you to create benchmarks to evaluate how you and your team are doing and take corrective actions if necessary. Measurable goals answer:

  • How will I track progress?
  • How will we measure success?
  • How do we determine if our goal is accomplished?

3. Attainable

Attainable goals ensure that your and your team's efforts are focused on achieving possible results. Goals should be realistic and answer questions like:

  • Can my team achieve this goal? Is it doable?
  • How reasonable is it to achieve this goal now?
  • Do we have the required resources?

4. Relevant

Relevant goals ensure that the objectives are important and contribute to a broader vision. They should answer questions such as:

  • Does the objective align with your company values and company vision?
  • Does it align with your long-term goals?

5. Time-bound

SMART goals are also time-sensitive. Scheduling a target date for the completion of a goal brings higher motivation, creates a sense of urgency, and highlights what steps should be addressed first. It's critical that the time constraints are also realistic. SMART goals should give a clear answer to questions like:

  • When are we supposed to achieve our goal?
  • When should the smaller steps of our goal be completed?

How to Write SMART Goals?

The first prerequisite for success using the SMART goal-setting technique is to ask the right questions to the right people.

Involving everyone in the formulation of the goal statement will help you set specific, attainable, and time-based objectives. This will ensure that your efforts and steps are synchronized with ongoing work, skills, and resource availability.

Can You Use Kanban to Write SMART Goals?

Yes, you can use the Kanban method to set your SMART goals. One of the core and very simple practices that make Kanban such an efficient workflow management method is the visualization part.

Using Kanban ensures that there is transparency over the specific tasks pertaining to a project and the progress of each project in real-time. It also highlights the alignment between the work in progress and the business objectives on a company level.

Another main characteristic of the Kanban method is its humane approach and the focus it puts on people and collecting feedback. Kanban uses cadences, e.g., regular meetings, to gather important information about ongoing projects or processes.

This feedback is an essential ingredient to spark a culture of evolutionary improvement based on experiments. Therefore, applying Kanban and its cadences can be used for setting and tracking progress on SMART goals. 

A Kanban system also allows you to distinguish between strategic objectives, deliverable projects, and executable tasks and, at the same time, establish the exact relationship between them.

Therefore, Kanban allows you to connect your business objectives to the teams responsible for their accomplishment and layout the individual steps to be executed - a key prerequisite for putting your SMART goals in action. 

Where Can SMART Goals Be Used?

The SMART goal-setting approach can be applied to a wide range of business fields as well as on a personal level.

Strategic management, business leaders, and professionals alike can use SMART goals to determine and achieve business objectives, improve processes or performance. Individuals can use the approach to stay focused and motivated while accomplishing certain goals.

What Are the Examples of SMART Goals?

Setting objectives using the SMART technique is a practice that finds multiple applications. Find a few examples of SMART goals utilized in different fields.

1. SMART Goals Example for Project Managers

"Implementing an automated document management system by creating a 2-months intensive training program for staff. The program includes scheduled daily simulations and Q & A sessions and will end with a test to ensure that staff can process 20 documents per day."

  • Specific: What should be accomplished?

Implementing an automated document management system through intensive 2-months employee training.

  • Measurable: How will progress be measured?

The program will include Q & A sessions to ensure staff is progressing. Staff should be able to process 20 documents per day by the end of the training.

  • Achievable: How is the goal doable?

The scheduled daily simulations and Q & A sessions make the goal attainable.

  • Relevant: Is the goal aligned with bigger goals?

The goal contributes to the implementation of a new automated document management system.

  • Time-bound: When is the goal due?

The program should take 2 months to complete.

2. SMART Goals Example for Personal Development

"I will attend a job networking event in October and speak to 5 representatives to learn more about the company culture and development opportunities in search of a new role. I will update and leave 5 copies of my resume to 5 companies."

  • Specific: What should be accomplished?

Attend a job networking event in October and speak to 5 reps.

  • Measurable: How will progress be measured?

Speaking to and leaving resumes to 5 potential employers.

  • Achievable: How is the goal doable?

The event is scheduled to take place in October, so I'll be able to update my resume and research the exhibiting companies. 

  • Relevant: Is the goal aligned with bigger goals?

The goal contributes to finding a new job opportunity.

  • Time-bound: When is the goal due?

The event is scheduled for October.

3. SMART Goals Example for Students

"I will complete the first part of the training program I enrolled in before the Christmas holidays, so I can start the next chapter in January. To do this, I will dedicate 3 hours of study per week. I will create a schedule and set reminders so I don't miss my study hours."

  • Specific: What should be accomplished?

Complete the training program before Christmas.

  • Measurable: How will progress be measured?

3 hours per week dedicated to the program.

  • Achievable: How is the goal doable?

Having a schedule and reminders in place helps make the goal attainable.

  • Relevant: Is the goal aligned with bigger goals?

Completing the first part of the training is a prerequisite for successfully completing the entire course.

  • Time-bound: When is the goal due?

Before the Christmas holidays.

What Are the Advantages of SMART Goals?

There are a number of advantages of using the SMART goal-setting method. A list of the critical ones is provided below.

  • SMART goals bring clarity and mutual understanding over expected results.
  • SMART goals narrow down a development plan and give direction.
  • They bring focus and resources to the most important goals.
  • They help to organize better and accomplish goals.
  • SMART goals provide the means to measure progress.
  • SMART goals motivate people to strive to achieve more.
  • They bring alignment with the wider business goals.

What Are the Disadvantages of SMART Goals?

The drawbacks of using SMART goals are listed below.

  • SMART goals without realistic timing can lead to failure.
  • Setting unrealistic goals can have a discouraging effect.
  • Lack of ways to track progress can render SMART goals inefficient.
  • Confusing goals with detailed steps to achieve them leads to confusion.

What Is the Difference Between OKRs and SMART Goals?

While both methods are used by individuals, teams, and companies alike, there are three main differences you need to consider when comparing OKRs vs. SMART goals. Let's explain them below.

1. Context: The first difference between the objectives and key results (OKRs) and the SMART goal-setting approach is the context they are applied to. While SMART goals are more specific, narrow, and useful on a project, team, or personal level, OKRs aim to bring focus and alignment with the long-term, strategic goals on a company level and describe their relation to the organizational hierarchy.

2. Measurement: While SMART goals allow the use of both quantitative (such as performance results) and qualitative measurements (such as increased employee motivation), the OKRs framework highlights the key results types that show the progress towards reaching the objectives. The key results must be quantitative metrics that are measurable and verifiable.

3. Purpose: One of the main characteristics of the objective in OKRs is to be a bold and inspirational statement of your goal, such as "Expand business overseas". On the other hand, a SMART goal's main trait is its attainability, so it has to be realistic enough. As such, it may not sound so inspirational but more specific, which resembles the "key results" in the OKRs tool. While the OKRs give a sense of a long-term development path, SMART goals can be perceived as a more tactical approach to goal accomplishment.

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Iva Krasteva

Iva Krasteva

Content Creator Expert | Agile Practitioner | Kanban Certified

With a background in Intellectual Property, SEO, content writing, and training in Lean, Agile, and Kanban, Iva is an enthusiastic Agile practitioner who embraces collaboration and flexibility every step of the way. Driven by constant learning and knowledge and fascinated by people's creativity.