Chapter 5 – Project Life Cycle, Scope, Charters, Proposals

5.7. S.M.A.R.T. Goals in Projects

Setting Project Objectives in the Initiation Phases

The project initiation phase is the first phase within the project management life cycle, as it involves starting up a new project. Within the initiation phase, the business problem or opportunity is identified, a solution is defined, a project is formed, and a project team is appointed to build and deliver the solution to the customer. A business case/proposal (sometimes called a feasibility study) is created to define the problem or opportunity in detail and identify a preferred solution for implementation. The business case/proposal includes:

  • A detailed description of the problem or opportunity with headings such as Introduction, Business Objectives, Problem/Opportunity Statement, Assumptions, and Constraints
  • A list of the alternative solutions available
  • An analysis of the business benefits, costs, risks, and issues
  • A description of the preferred solution
  • Main project requirements
  • A summarized plan for implementation that includes a schedule and financial analysis

SMART Project Objectives

In the early 1980s, George T. Doran introduced the SMART set of criteria for projects, goals and objectives. SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-Related/Timely. The smart criteria have been applied in many different areas of management, including project management. Let’s take a look at each of Doran’s criteria as they apply to project management.

SMART goals: specific - what do you want to do? Measurable - how will you know when you have reached it? Achievable - is it in your power to accomplish it? Realistic - can you achieve it? Timely - when do you want to accomplish it?
Figure 5.2: Smart Goals by Fanshawe College, CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 (click to enlarge)
  • Specific – A project needs to be specific about what it will accomplish. Unlike many organizational goals, the goal of a project should not be vague or nebulous. An organization may want to ‘make London, Ontario a great place to live’, but its projects need to focus on a specific goal. For example, a more specific goal would be to build a downtown farmers’ market. A project that is specific is one that can be clearly communicated to all team members and stakeholders. A specific project goal will answer the five ‘W’ questions:
  1. What do we want to accomplish?
  2. Why are we undertaking this project?
  3. Who is involved or will be affected by the project?
  4. Where will this project be conducted?
  5. Which constraints (scope, time, money, risk, etc.) have been placed on our project?
  • Measurable – How will project progress and success be measured? What will be the measurable difference once our project is completed successfully? These measures should be quantifiable.
  • Assignable – Who will do the work? Can people be identified who have the expertise in the organization to complete this work? Or can the expertise be hired from outside of the organization?
  • Realistic – Is it realistic that the organization can achieve this project, given its talents and resources? This is a very important consideration for businesses of all sizes. Yes, it would be great to produce a new driverless car, but is that realistic, given the resources that the organization has available?
  • Time-related – when will the project be completed, and how long will it take? These criteria can be very useful when defining a project. If the description for a project does not meet all these criteria, then it is time to go back to the drawing board and make sure that what is being described is really a project rather than a program or strategic goal.
Despite achieving the project goal of the “finish the lap as fast as possible,” Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher crashed 21 laps later and did not finish the race (top); Renault’s Jarno Trulli celebrating his win at the 2004 Monaco Grand Prix (middle); Jenson Button took his Brawn GP car to pole position at the Monaco Grand Prix with a lap time of 1 min 14.902 sec. He also went on to win the race, even though he did not achieve that lap time during the race (bottom).
Monaco 2004” by Cord Rodefeld is licensed under CC BY 2.0 (top); “Jarno Trulli” by ph-stop is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 (middle); “Jenson Button” by Evoflash is licensed under CC BY 2.0 (bottom)

For example, an objective of the team principal (project manager) of a Formula 1 racing team may be that their star driver “finish the lap as fast as possible.” That objective is filled with ambiguity.

How fast is “fast as possible?” Does that mean the fastest lap time (the time to complete one lap), or does it mean the fastest speed as the car crosses the start/finish line (that is, at the finish of the lap)?

By when should the driver be able to achieve the objective? It is no use having the fastest lap after the race has finished, and equally, the fastest lap does not count for qualifying and, therefore, starting position if it is performed during a practice session.

The ambiguity of this objective can be seen in the following example. Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher achieved the race lap record at the Circuit de Monaco of 1 min 14.439 sec in 2004. However, he achieved this on lap 23 of the race but crashed on lap 44 of a 77-lap race. While he achieved the fastest lap and therefore met the specific project goal of “finish the lap as fast as possible,” it did not result in winning the race, clearly a different project goal. In contrast, the fastest qualifying time at the same event was by Renault’s Jarno Trulli (1 min 13.985 sec), which gained him pole position for the race, which he went on to win. In his case, he achieved the specific project goal of “finish the lap as fast as possible” but also the larger goal of winning the race.

The objective can be strengthened considerably if it is stated as follows: “To be able to finish the 3.340 km lap at the Circuit de Monaco at the Monaco Grand Prix in 1 min 14.902 sec or less, during qualifying on May 23, 2009.” This was the project objective achieved by Brawn GP’s Jenson Button.

4.2. Strategic Alignment” from Essentials of Project Management by Adam Farag is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.


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Strategic Project Management Copyright © 2022 by Debra Patterson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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