SMART: How to set clever goals

With a new assignment, new goals need to be set in order to bring a project to a successful conclusion. Without clarity, goals are just vague ideas or wish lists that cannot be meaningfully implemented or reviewed. They can be interpreted differently by different people, which can lead to work being done in different directions. It is therefore important to set clear and precise goals to ensure the effective use of smart technologies. The use of SMART is beneficial in this regard.
A light bulb drawn from crumpled yellow paper and white lines on a blue background.


The five dimensions

SMART criteria are a proven tool to achieve specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound goals. 
1. specific

Specific goals are clearly defined and describe exactly what is to be achieved. They are focused on the job or project and do not allow for vague wording.
2. measurable

Measurable goals can be objectively quantified, whether by deadlines, numbers, percentages or metrics, so that success or failure can be evaluated.
3. achievable

Achievable goals can be reached with the available skills and resources. They should not be unrealistic or overly simplistic, as neither will be motivating. In general, the scope of the project should be taken into account to ensure that the objectives are developed within the scope of the project and therefore remain achievable.
4. realistic

Realistic goals offer added value and are aligned with overarching goals and strategies. They are closely linked to achievability. Even if a goal is considered achievable, this does not automatically mean that it is realistic. If too many resources are needed to achieve the goal, it is not realistic.
5. time-bound

Time-bound goals provide a clear timeframe for their achievement, which makes planning and monitoring easier. 
The application of SMART criteria ranges from the definition of objectives for projects, work packages and tasks to the organisation of personal work and the regular review of the achievement of objectives. By applying these criteria, goals can be effectively formulated, monitored and achieved.

How to formulate SMART goals

Objectives are never set in isolation, but always in the context of planning a project, workshop or similar initiative. Management systems often have their own guidelines for setting objectives, but these may be in line with the SMART criteria. It is advisable to check how this is done in your own organisation before formulating objectives.
Before setting objectives, it is important to gather all relevant information, e.g. from the project description. Based on this, you should consider who should be involved in formulating the objectives, e.g. clients, users and experts.
The next step is to consider which objectives are to be achieved in order to formulate them more clearly according to the SMART criteria. It is important to keep checking whether the original objectives already meet the SMART requirements or whether they need to be adapted. Let's start with an example:
A poorly worded objective that leaves too much room for interpretation would be: increase sales.
To arrive at a goal that is well-formulated according to SMART criteria, you would now examine the individual criteria and try to reformulate the goal in this direction
Specific: You want to increase sales by a certain percentage.
Measurable: The increase in sales should be 15 %.
Achievable: An increase of 15 % is ambitious, but achievable through targeted marketing campaigns and optimisation of the sales strategy.
Relevant: Increasing sales is an important goal for the company and supports the long-term growth strategy.
Time-bound: The objective should be achieved by 31 December.
A well-formulated objective could look like this, for example:
Increase sales by 15 % compared to the same quarter of the previous year through targeted marketing campaigns and optimisation of the sales strategy by 31 December.
It may be possible to meet only some of the SMART criteria. For example, if a project objective is for everyone to provide regular status updates, it is not possible to set a fixed date for achieving the objective, as this will need to be done throughout the project. Nevertheless, the criteria should be met as far as possible to achieve the objectives in the best possible way.

Advantages of SMART goals

A common understanding of the objectives promotes efficient collaboration and motivates employees, as they know what needs to be done and how they can help the company.
This transparency about strategy and implementation enables project success. The pre-defined objectives make it clear whether the goals have been achieved and how successful the strategy and implementation have been Regular reviews are also carried out during the project to ensure that the project is on the right track. This can be done, for example, through weekly project status reports. 
It is also possible to determine what percentage of the desired objectives have been achieved in the end. This can be used to decide whether the next objectives need to be adjusted to ensure that they are neither too easy nor too difficult.

Examples of SMART goals in project management

SMART criteria can be used in both professional and personal contexts. To illustrate how much clearer goals become through the use of SMART, here are a few examples.
A poorly formulated goal: Improve customer satisfaction. 
This raises a number of questions: How should customer satisfaction be improved and by how much? 
It is better to formulate the objective as follows Increase customer satisfaction by at least 10 % by reducing the response time to customer enquiries by 50 % and resolving at least 90 % of customer enquiries on first contact by the end of the next quarter.
A poorly formulated goal: Develop a better software application.
The following questions might arise: What information should be used to improve the software and how many improvements are needed?
The resulting SMART goal is: By 30 June, release an updated version of the software application that fixes at least three critical bugs reported by users and implements at least two new features in line with stakeholder requirements.
A poorly formulated goal: Increase team productivity.
Questions might include: How can the team's productivity be increased and how should this be measured?
This could lead to: Increase the productivity of the development team by 20 % by the end of the next quarter by introducing weekly targets, holding regular feedback meetings to identify bottlenecks and organising training to improve the skills of team members.


Having a clearly defined goal that meets the SMART criteria is crucial to the success of a project. By scrutinising the objectives and ensuring they are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound, a clear guideline is created for all stakeholders to work together towards the project goal. This promotes effective collaboration and maximises the chances of success.

SMART - the IAPM logo
Author: IAPM internal
Keywords: Project management, SMART

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