SMART is a mnemonic acronym, giving criteria to guide in the setting of objectives, for example in project management, employee-performance management and personal development. The letters S and M usually mean specific and measurable. Possibly the most common version has the remaining letters referring to attainable, relevant and time-bound. However, the term's inventor had a slightly different version and the letters have meant different things to different authors, as described below. Additional letters have been added by some authors.
The first-known use of the term occurs in the November 1981 issue of Management Review by George T. Doran. The principal advantage of SMART objectives is that they are easier to understand and to know when they have been done. SMART criteria are commonly associated with Peter Drucker's management by objectives concept.
The November 1981 issue of Management Review contained a paper by George T. Doran called There's a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management's goals and objectives. It discussed the importance of objectives and the difficulty of setting them.
Ideally speaking, each corporate, department, and section objective should be:
- 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.
Notice that these criteria don't say that all objectives must be quantified on all levels of management. In certain situations it is not realistic to attempt quantification, particularly in staff middle-management positions. Practicing managers and corporations can lose the benefit of a more abstract objective in order to gain quantification. It is the combination of the objective and its action plan that is really important. Therefore serious management should focus on these twins and not just the objective.
Each letter in SMART refers to a different criterion for judging objectives. Different sources use the letters to refer to different things. Typically accepted criteria are as follows.
|S||Specific||(Strategic and specific)|
|M||Measurable||Motivating (Source: One Minute Manager)|
|A||Achievable||Agreed, attainable, action-oriented, ambitious, aligned with corporate goals, (agreed, attainable and achievable)|
|R||Relevant||Realistic, resourced, reasonable, (realistic and resourced), results-based|
|T||Time-bound||Trackable (Source: One Minute Manager), Time-based, time limited, time/cost limited, timely, time-sensitive, timeframe, Testable|
Choosing certain combinations of these labels can cause duplication, such as selecting 'attainable' and 'realistic', or can cause significant overlapping as in combining 'appropriate' and 'relevant'. The term 'agreed' is often used in management situations where buy-in from stakeholders is desirable (e.g. appraisal situations).
Some authors have added additional letters giving additional criteria. Examples are given below.