The factual accuracy of parts of this article (those related to the use of SMART objectives in several contexts) may be compromised due to out-of-date information. The reason given is: The article needs updating to include evidence either supporting or criticizing the use of SMART objectives in various contexts (e.g. health improvement, employment, sports) and to remove sentences that imply such goals are effective without supporting evidence. (November 2022)
S.M.A.R.T. is a mnemonic acronym, giving criteria to guide in the setting of goals and objectives that are assumed to give better results, for example in project management, employee-performance management and personal development. The term was first proposed by George T. Doran in the November 1981 issue of Management Review. He suggested that goals should be SMART (specific, measurable, assignable, realistic and time-related).
Since then, other variations of the acronym have been used, a commonly used version includes the alternative words: attainable, relevant, and timely. Additional letters have been added by some authors.
Those who support the use of SMART objectives suggest they provide a clear road map for both the person setting the goal and the person evaluating their progress (e.g. employee and employer, or athlete and coach). The person setting the goal is said to gain a clear understanding of what needs to be delivered and the person evaluating can then assess the outcome based on defined criteria. SMART criteria are commonly associated with Peter Drucker's management by objectives concept.
Often, the terms 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 (AMA Forum) 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 which 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 perhaps the most commonly used criteria today 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), aggressive|
|R||Relevant||Realistic, resourced, reasonable, (realistic and resourced), results-based|
|T||Time-bound||Trackable, time-based, time-oriented, time-limited, time/cost limited, timely, time-sensitive, timeframe, testable|
Although SMART goals are widely used and often recommended, their effectiveness is widely debated. The meaning of "SMART" can vary in practice, such as SMARTS goals that adds "self-defined" or SMARTER goals.
A review of the evidence on the SMART acronym to increase physical activity found that its use is not based on scientific theory, is not supported by evidence, and has potentially harmful effects. In contrast, a growing body of evidence suggests that non-specific and open-ended goals (e.g. "see how fast I can run 5 km" or "see how far I can walk in 3 hours") may be more effective to increase physical activity. In the context of physical activity, research suggests that specific goals are no more effective than vague goals and vague goals may be advantageous for the physically inactive. Research suggests that challenging goals are more effective than specific goals. Swann et al note that the paper introducing SMART lacks a theoretical framework or empirical evidence, in contrast to the literature on goal setting.: 4
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.
- CLEAR: Collaborative; Limited; Emotional; Appreciable; Refinable
- PURE: Positively stated; Understood; Relevant; Ethical
- CPQQRT:  Context; Purpose; Quantity; Quality; Resources; Timing
- ABC: Achievable; Believable; Committed
- Doran, G. T. (1981). "There's a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management's goals and objectives" (PDF). Management Review. 70 (11): 35–36.
- "A Brief History of SMART Goals". Project Smart. Retrieved 2022-07-08.
- Bogue, Robert. "Use S.M.A.R.T. goals to launch management by objectives plan". TechRepublic. Retrieved 10 February 2018.
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- Why SMART objectives don't work.
- Yemm, Graham (2013). Essential Guide to Leading Your Team: How to Set Goals, Measure Performance and Reward Talent. Pearson Education. pp. 37–39. ISBN 978-0-273-77244-6. Retrieved 2013-07-05.
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- Blanchard, Kenneth. One Minute Manager.
- Mentioned as an alternative in Yemm, Graham (2013)
- Mentioned as an alternative in Piskurich, George M. (2011)
- "Goal Setting For Life" (PDF).
- Mentioned as an alternative in Lawler, John; Bilson, Andy (2013)
- "SMART Requirements Definition and Management". www.esterline.com. Retrieved 2017-05-31.[dead link]
- Swann, Christian; Hooper, Andrew; Schweickle, Matthew J.; Peoples, Gregory; Mullan, Judy; Hutto, Daniel; Allen, Mark S.; Vella, Stewart A. (2020-03-01). "Comparing the effects of goal types in a walking session with healthy adults: Preliminary evidence for open goals in physical activity". Psychology of Sport and Exercise. 47: 101475. doi:10.1016/j.psychsport.2019.01.003. ISSN 1469-0292. S2CID 149646978.
- Swann, Christian; Jackman, Patricia C.; Lawrence, Alex; Hawkins, Rebecca M.; Goddard, Scott G.; Williamson, Ollie; Schweickle, Matthew J.; Vella, Stewart A.; Rosenbaum, Simon; Ekkekakis, Panteleimon (2022-01-31). "The (over)use of SMART goals for physical activity promotion: A narrative review and critique". Health Psychology Review. 17 (2): 211–226. doi:10.1080/17437199.2021.2023608. ISSN 1743-7199. PMID 35094640. S2CID 246429452.
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