Developing SMART Objectives

By Don Ardiel


There are a number of tools used in the strategic management process. Each tool analyses a different set of facts and collectively this analysis gives us a complete picture of the current situation of the organization, the resources that it has available to it , the opportunities and threats that the organization faces and a sustainable vision of where the of how and organization believes it can survive and thrive in the future. The resulting analysis of each of these tools provides another piece in the"what should we be doing?" puzzle. From that puzzle we can then establish clear objectives. At this point some people may get wrapped up in the semantics of what is a goal, what is an objective, what is a short term, medium or long term goal or objective. I don't worry about it. Our mission tells us our organization, our customers our stakeholders why our organization exists. Our vision is a narrative describing the future we see and our place in it. Our objectrvives give us a clear description of what that future will be like when we get there.

SMART objectives give us a framework for that description. What is SMART?

S - specific
M - measurable
A - achievable
R - relevant
T- time related

If you search the strategic management books and the web, you will find variations on the SMART Acronym. In general, the process of creating these objectives using a framework identified by this acronym, will get you will get results you want; a clarity in the description of our goal.

In his book, Project Management: A Systems Approach to Planning, Scheduling and Controlling, Harold Kerzner outline his framework for establishing objectives in discussing project conflict (pp 380):

• Specific, not general

• Not overly complex

• Measurable, tangible and verifiable

• Appropriate level, challenging

• Realistic and attainable

• Established within resource bounds

• Consistent with resources available or anticipated

• Consistent with organizational plans, policies and procedures.

Following along with the story included in the Strategic Planning lesson, the establishment of a new institution to deal with a virulent disease variant, lets look at what the SMART objectives could be for that institution.

Our Mission:

"To remove the threat of this new disease by arresting its spread, curing those with the disease and prevent the spread of this disease in the future."

Our Vision:

"This new disease variant, left unchecked, will have a devastating impact on the individuals infected with this disease and their families, on the financial resources of our health care system and on the very aspect of our economy and society. Fear of an uncontrolled, and possibly uncontrollable, disease will create detrimental change in the publics confidence in government and health organizations to deal with threats to their safety and security .

Once unleashed, this disease may never be iradicated, but the threat it represents to people, families and communities can be mitigated or eliminated before there is irreparable damage to the society and the economy. This institution will provide a proactive, collaborative and coordinated response to that end. "

Our Objectives: (Only one potential objective is featured here)

(Specific) Establish an information gathering and analysis system to facilitate the exchange of information between care givers, researchers, the media and other stakeholders (Measurable) to become the primary information resource for all individuals and organizations, (Achievable) constructed of established, accessible systems and technologies that take advantage of existing formats and frameworks (Relevant), that focused on the providing information needed for effective stakeholder decision making (Time related) as soon as possible.

Strategies do not often directly relate to one specific objective but are cross -functional in nature and relates to multiple objectives. So, one objectives that could address this strategy would be:

Our Strategy:

Identify primary and secondary stakeholder and develop collaborative relationship, exploring needs, resources, capabilities and potential role.

Some of those stakeholders may have resources, such as information technology systems, capable of being "borrowed" on very short notice or decision support tools easily adapted to this situation.

From these strategies come projects. Someone, hopefully a trained project manager, then has to develop a project plan to identify stakeholder needs in a decision support system, is it viable to adapt an existing system, what work is needed to adapt an existing system, who will do that work, by what deadline, for how much money and what other systems it will have to integrate into.

Now consider this...

What if the objective above was somehow misinterpreted to reflect a desire for a state-of-the-art system using the latest technological innovation? Perhaps the individual with the authority over the project resources doesn't believe that there are existing systems that can be adapted and doesn't want to waste precious time in fruitless explorations. Perhaps this is seen a rare source of new funding with few strings attached and limited oversight. The project manager(s) may find that they are out of step with the organization and stakeholders, though no fault of their own. Referring back to the Strategic Planning lesson, the project manager needs to be able to differentiate project problems from context problem.