S.M.A.R.T Goal Setting Practices for Project Managers

S.M.A.R.T Goal Project Managers

Goal setting is an indispensable part of project planning. Effective project managers understand the importance of setting the ‘right’ goals and milestones to successfully deliver projects and impress clients and stakeholders.

With projects getting bigger and complex, project managers have to look beyond the usual requirements, timelines, and budgets and start emphasizing on setting SMART goals.

SMART Goals in Project Management

It is getting increasingly difficult for project managers to collect all the missing pieces of the puzzle (project) and then put them together to define the project objectives. Now, the question arises what kind of goals should be set up? What should be the guidelines to be followed while creating SMART goals?

The answer to the above question can be easily found out by decoding the mnemonic S.M.A.R.T where every alphabet is synonymous with a parameter or guideline that could help you demystify the art of SMART goal setting.

In project management, SMART is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound.

It mainly refers to the criteria of setting goals and objectives in a way they can be easily achieved. The whole idea behind this concept is to increase the effectiveness while adhering to the SMART criteria. Therefore, when planning a project’s objectives make sure the following objectives are met:

1. Specific: Make sure your goals are clearly defined

have specific goals

Project goals must be well-defined and easy-to-comprehend. As multiple members are working on a project, it’s normal for each one of them to have a different understanding of the objectives. Thus, project goals should be such that they answer the five W’s (who, what, when, where, and why) regarding the project. Take a look at the two examples below:

Goal 1: Gather more traffic to the website.

Goal 2: The organic traffic must be 2,000 visitors per day.

Clearly, the second goal is very specific and to the point. The goal is to increase the traffic to 2000 visitors and is more likely to generate better results as compared to the first goal.

2. Measurable: Make sure your goals are trackable

Measurable and trackable goals

A measurable goal comes with many benefits. Having a numeric measure of the overall progress indicates your actual standing in the progress chart and how much of work is left to do. Before calling it a day, it is helpful to see the work you’ve accomplished on a specific day as it could boost the morale of team members and encourage them to work harder.

Goal 1: To reduce the loading time of a website by 30 seconds to improve customer experience.

Goal 2: To reduce the loading time of the website.

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Unlike the second goal, the first goal sets a parameter that can be easily measured. Project management software like that of ProofHub can be used to plan goals and tracking the overall project progress.

3. Achievable: Make sure your goals are attainable

Achievable goals

Every project manager should set goals that are actually achievable and mutually agreed upon by team members. Being a project manager, it’s helpful to have the knowledge of strengths and weaknesses of team members so that you know what should be assigned to whom. You can either let them work on what they want to or categorize it as per their strengths so that it can be delivered on time.

Goal 1: The requirements of the product are vaguely discussed in a meeting.

Goal 2: The project manager and team members know the deliverables and has given a tentative completion date at the meeting.

The second goal is mutually agreed-upon by team members involved and can be easily achieved in the desired time-slot.

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4. Realistic: Make sure your goals are practical

Realistic: Make sure your goals are practical

Setting unrealistic expectations could lead to frustrated teams and failed projects. All the goals, objectives, and milestones included in a project should be doable. It’s essential to consider factors like constraints of time, resources, costs and unexpected risks. It is better to keep some extra time for final testing before handing over the product to the client(s).

Goal 1: There should be no lags, bugs, and other issues in the application.

Goal 2: The number of critical errors should be zero and minor bugs should be less than 5.

Clearly, the former goal stands nowhere close to a realistic goal and is bound to invite a lot of discussions and arguments between stakeholders and project manager.

5. Time-bound: Make sure your goals have a deadline

Every project goal has to have a deadline because goals without deadlines are mere wishes. Making tasks or goals time-bound creates an urgency to not breach the timeline and deliver results in the desired time-frame. Make sure that there is proper resource management so that deadlines don’t suffer.

Goal 1: Let us fix all the open bugs.

Goal 2: Fix critical bugs by the end of this weekend by all means.

Of course, the second goal is clear, time-bound and has clear targets which will encourage team members to work accordingly and deliver by all means.

Goal setting isn’t limited to just jotting your goals down on a paper or a project management software and assigning them to team members. Rather it is a complete process which comprises of multiple other factors as well. So, project managers take note of the following things while setting SMART goals:

Get the right people onboard

A project is as good or bad as the project members as they are the ones who carry the responsibility of a project on their shoulders. Apart from having skilled and enthusiastic team members, make sure to groom them with the relevant skill training and certifications to make them valuable assets and smart working professionals. As a project manager, it’s your duty to equip them with the required skills such as conflict-resolution and handling scope-creep to execute project plans successfully.

Build an effective framework

If smart project goals are the first step that determines the success of a project, then having a solid framework is the second step that could actually seal the deal for a successful project. Build a clear framework that facilitates transparent communication regarding the progress of goals in the form of tasks. Moreover, having a framework provides a structure that keeps team members on track and not lose the sight of the overall picture.

Identify high-impact initiatives

Once the goals are set and created, it’s important to identify the sub-goals and tasks that have the most value and weightage. It will help you align high-impact initiatives with the long-term goals and vision of the organization.

Otherwise, spending time on the tasks that aren’t adding any value –

directly or indirectly isn’t going to produce anything constructive for the project. So, make it a rule to identify and include high-impact tasks while defining and setting goals in the first place.


What differentiates an effective project manager from an average one is his ability to set smart project goals. Just like other skills, it does require a reasonable amount of practice and hit-and-trial approach to see what works the best for you and projects of the company.

We would love to know your ‘smart’ approach that you follow while setting goals. If you think that there are any other practices of goal setting which should not be missed, leave your ideas in comments.

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