Team Productivity

SMART Goals Explained: Examples & Template

Brett Harned
June 3, 2021
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It’s clear: Goals are necessary for growth—in our personal lives, careers, and daily work. But, as it turns out, we’re bad at goal setting.

According to a 2017 study by the Project Management Institute, 17% of projects fail. That’s no small number in a wide business world made up of projects. More interestingly, of the projects in that study that didn’t fail outright, 32% missed their goals. 

Add to that a study done by the University of Scranton that found a staggering 92% of people don’t meet their New Year’s goals, and you start to see a trend.

Why is that? Are we pressing too hard to have a goal, just for the sake of having one? Are we not tracking goals? Are the goals not clear enough? 

There are so many reasons teams and individuals miss the mark. But one is that many of us set a goal without thoroughly exploring and benchmarking it.

You might even set goals and completely miss them because they weren’t clearly articulated. That doesn’t mean your work was all for nothing or that you’re not good at your job. You probably just need to get SMART about goal-setting.

What are SMART goals?

SMART goals are objectives that meet the 5 criteria of the SMART acronym: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound.

These criteria help you clarify your goals and set boundaries around them so you can set a lofty goal, while also thinking through tactics to help you better achieve them.

How to write SMART goals

SMART goals provide a framework that not only helps you write a measurable and achievable goal. They also clear up any confusion about what should be done, how long it should take, and when you can celebrate hitting that goal. 

In fact, by doing a little extra work to focus on specifics, SMART goals enable you to set expectations around your accomplishment and plan a path toward meeting it.

The most important thing to understand when developing SMART goals is how to think about the 5 key criteria as you work through them. Here’s how to use each one to write solid SMART goals of your own.

S stands for Specific

There’s no doubt that when you’re specific about a goal—and you do the work to uncover any possible detail—you’ll clear away any ambiguity that might stand in the way of you meeting that goal. 

Determining your goal’s specifics will help you ensure it’s well-defined, well-intentioned, and unambiguous. So this is your opportunity to dissect the goal and get granular about it. 

The following questions can help you or your team get to the details:

  • What needs to be accomplished?
  • Why do you want to achieve this goal?
  • Who’s involved in the goal? Who’s responsible?
  • Where will this work need to happen?
  • Are there any limitations on the work? 

Thinking through these questions will help you arrive at a more realistic goal that you’re comfortable acting on and discussing with your team, stakeholders, and management.

M stands for Measurable

A well-crafted goal isn’t just specific about what’s intended. It’s also easy to quantify. 

So figure out the best way to measure or track success. You can do this by tracking a total number of actions, a percentage, a dollar figure, or some other number that shows movement toward your goal.

Having trouble coming up with a number? You might need to rethink the goal.

A stands for Achievable

Most experts will tell you, “Go for the gold!” While setting lofty goals isn’t terrible advice, don’t get too far ahead of yourself. After all, it’s awful when you don’t meet a goal, but even worse to miss a goal because it was never achievable in the first place.

This step is a reality check to make sure what you’ve outlined is actually within reach. Look at your goal, and run it through the lens of reality to make sure you aren’t setting yourself up for failure before you even start. 

That’s not an easy thing to do, especially if you want to be aggressive but aren’t sure just how successful you’ll be. To assess your goal’s achievability, explore all possible constraints or limitations that could impede progress. These might include:

  • Time/availability and workloads
  • Team size
  • Technology/tools
  • Budget
  • Resources
  • Required partners and related work

There’s a lot to consider here to ensure you’re setting yourself up for success. What’s most important is to dig deep and make any potential risks or issues clear. That way, if they do become a reality you can revisit the goal without stress.

R stands for Relevant

Chances are, you’ve already touched on the reason you’re taking on your goal in previous steps. But this is your opportunity to fully express why the goal is important to you or your organization.

Identifying a key outcome provides clarity on why you’re doing work and how it will benefit you, your project, or your organization. Having that single guiding light also helps you make decisions or adapt to change through the course of your work.

T stands for Time-bound

Like most projects, goals are finite, and if you miss your deadline, you weren’t successful. 

Goals can be impacted by so many outlying factors, like related projects, events, and teams. That’s why it’s smart to set a deadline for meeting your goal. This not only keeps your goal measurable and realistic. It also keeps everyone involved aligned on what needs to be accomplished and when.

Here’s the thing: You can probably meet most goals with a little more time. But if you can’t do it within a specific timeframe, you might be focused on the wrong tactics to meet that goal. Having a time-based constraint on your goal helps you push toward success and get creative with those tactics.

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SMART goal examples for project managers 

So what does a good SMART goal look like? Goals will vary among projects, teams, and individuals. But seeing some SMART goal examples can help you think about how you phrase your goals. 

For instance, this sample SMART goal structure might work for you:

The goal is to [specific, measurable objective] by [date]. [Responsible party or parties] will meet this goal by [tactics to be planned and acted on]. Accomplishing this goal will [result or benefit] for [stakeholder(s)].

The way you write your goals will be personal to you or specific to your organization and how you communicate, so don’t feel like you have to stick to a specific formula. Feel free to make your goal unique and give it some personality—but DO be sure to explicitly cover the SMART criteria so it’s 100% clear. 

If you’re a project manager, you can use these example SMART goals to inspire your own goal-writing.

SMART goal example 1: You want to increase your team’s output to contribute to overall company revenue

If you work with a team that delivers any kind of product or commodity, the amount produced can tie directly back to metrics like profit.

So let’s say your team makes widgets and you’ve been asked by management to reasonably increase that number. Here’s an example of what your SMART goal might look like:

Our goal is to make more widgets available to our top 10% of customers by the end of Q3 this year. To meet that goal, the widget development team will modify production and increase operations to deliver 20% more product, which equates to 200,000 new widgets produced. Accomplishing this goal will gain the company an additional $2 million in revenue this year.

SMART goal example 2: You want to share your project management knowledge to build your resumé

Personal career goals for project managers can be lofty, but it’s never a bad thing to think outside the box to level up! One way to do that is to begin sharing your ideas and networking with the greater PM community. 

Of course, there are many ways to do this, but your SMART goal might look something like this:

I’m going to create one 45-minute keynote presentation about project planning to be recorded and shared on YouTube by the end of this year. This opportunity will help position me as an expert in planning and will likely provide future networking and job opportunities.

SMART goal example 3: You want to develop formalized process documentation for your company

Project managers are often tasked with non-project work that helps shape organizational operations. These things take time, and often that time is crammed between meetings, planning, and stakeholder requests.

Using the SMART framework can help you determine what you’ll do and, more importantly, think through what you can accomplish. Here’s an example of how you might handle something that will likely take a phased approach:

The project management team will create a detailed process guide that outlines how we work and why—from project initiation to post-mortem. In total, this guide will take 6 months to complete, with deliveries taking place every 2 months. The team will formulate a plan to create a Table of Contents and assess all content needed, then assign writing, editing, and review tasks per section. Upon completion, the company will have a go-to guide to educate our team and stakeholders on how we work. This will be used in new employee onboarding, stakeholder education, and sales and will be central to how our projects operate.

Set SMART goals of your own with our free template

If you’re already writing goals, you’re on the right track! Our free SMART goals template can help you follow the SMART structure and continue on the trajectory to success. 

Just think: You can be part of the 8% of people who actually meet goals—and it doesn’t have to be all that painful! 

Use our template and examples to develop SMART goals for your projects, team, organization, or career. By thinking through your objectives with a lens on the details, you’ll set yourself up for success!

Download our free SMART goals template!