S.M.A.R.T. is a mnemonic acronym, giving criteria to guide in the setting of goals and objectives, for example in project management, employee-performance management and personal development. The letters S and M generally mean specific and measurable. Possibly the most common version has the remaining letters referring to achievable (or 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 know and understand when they have been done. SMART criteria are commonly associated with Peter Drucker's management by objectives concept.
Often, the term S.M.A.R.T. Goals and S.M.A.R.T. Objectives are used. Although the acronym SMART generally stays the same, objectives and goals can differ. Goals are the distinct purpose that is to be anticipated from the assignment or project, while objectives, on the other hand, are the determined steps that will direct full completion of the project goals.
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. There is some variation in usage, but the typically accepted criteria are:
|S.||Specific||(Strategic and specific)|
|A.||Achievable or attainable||Assignable (original definition), Agreed, action-oriented, ambitious, aligned with corporate goals, (agreed, attainable and achievable)|
|R.||Relevant||Realistic, resourced, reasonable, (realistic and resourced), results-based|
|T.||Time-bound or time-limited||Trackable, time-based, time-oriented, time/cost limited, timely, time-sensitive, timeframe, testable|
Choosing certain combinations of these labels can cause duplication, such as selecting 'attainable' and 'realistic'. They can also 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.
- Evaluated and reviewed
- Evaluate consistently and recognize mastery
- Exciting and Recorded 
- Exciting and Reach – A goal should excite and motivate an athlete, and make them "reach" by stretching their abilities and pushing them past their comfort zone.
- Ethical & Resourced, as mentioned in "Project Management Lite"
- Trackable and agreed
- Realistic and relevance – 'Realistic' refers to something that can be done given the available resources. 'Relevance' ensures the goal is in line with the bigger picture and vision.
- A social goal or objective which demonstrates "Impact"
Other mnemonic acronyms (or contractions) also give criteria to guide in the setting of objectives.
- Positively stated
- Doran, G. T. (1981). "There's a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management's goals and objectives". Management Review. 70 (11): 35–36.
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- Mentioned as an alternative in Yemm, Graham (2013)
- Mentioned as an alternative in Piskurich, George M. (2011)
- Mentioned as an alternative in Lawler, John; Bilson, Andy (2013)
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