Often when we set goals, we aim so far forward we can’t even grasp how we will accomplish them. Most New Years resolutions fail for this reason. When we set a goal like “I want to lose weight” or “I want to get a new job”, we are giving ourselves such a large target we never know exactly when we are finished.
In 1981, George Doran wrote an article “There’s a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management’s goals and objectives” and describes a simple acronym for defining effective objectives for managers. He writes that S.M.A.R.T. stands for
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.
By following these rules about objectives, we narrow the target to the point we can form a few different solutions that will allow us to get to the goal. Now you may set a goal such as “I want to lose 10 pounds in 3 months” or “I want to interview at 4 companies that meet my criteria in the next year.”
Recently I started to question some of the goals my team has been setting for themselves for our Sprint. The goals set were Specific, we set the amount of work we wanted to be done. It was Mensurable, we specified the number of Story Points we wanted to complete. The team Assigned itself for the goal. It was Realistic based on the team’s velocity. It was set to be complete for the two weeks Sprint.
Although the goal was S.M.A.R.T. by Doran’s definition, I started to question it. The goal was setup for us to achieve it and that didn’t sit well for me. Goals should have some chance of failure, they should not be easy wins or else they really are just a chores list for you to do. Additionally I began to realize that from an outside perspective the goal was vague and lacked meaning. There is a good discussion about who the Sprint Goals are for and I will leave that for another day.
What I did begin to realize is that S.M.A.R.T. provides a structure for how you want to define your goals, and that Doran’s definition isn’t the only combination of qualities your goals should have. Instead each letter may represent what is the most important aspect you need to be focused on right now.
- S - specific, significant, stretching
- M - measurable, meaningful, motivational
- A - assignable, attainable, achievable, acceptable, agreed upon
- R - realistic, relevant, reasonable, rewarding
- T - time-based, timely, tangible, trackable
As you can see, some of these words can represent that same meaning. When choosing your definition of S.M.A.R.T. it is best to choose qualities that do not share the same meaning or your target will still be too large. Such as if you chose Significant, Meaningful, Acceptable, Relevant, and Tangible, you only get one true quality for your goals. Where as if you chose, Stretching, Meaningful, Attainable, Rewarding, and Trackable, you will have five distinct qualities for your goals.
S.M.A.R.T. is a great tool to help begin defining goals for yourself and your team, but you should always be providing yourself with room to fail.