Do you know the number 1 reason why projects fail? Scope creep/lack of scope definition. In project management, it’s crucial to set objectives and goals. This article looks at SMART objectives and how we use them.

Projects form from ideas, responses to demand, changing situations & legislation.  These drivers solidify into projects and many projects are initiated with urgency; Project Managers start to grapple the project before they are truly ready, baked, defined.

Often pressure from senior managers or customers means that the Project Manager has to start work before there is clarity of scope. One of the highest priorities for any Project Manager is, therefore, to lead the organisation through the scope definition phase, knowing that if this is skipped, rushed or ignored they are very likely to fail.

When running training courses we often look at a couple of standard Project Management documents; the Project Brief and the Project Initiation Document (or Project Charter and PMP depending on your preferred Body of Knowledge). One of the first sections of the Project Brief is titled “Project Objectives: list the objectives this project aims to achieve”.

People can really struggle to clearly define objectives (for projects or general work) and the result is often a long paragraph of waffle that attempt to be a catch-all. It is at this point that we lean on a simple technique.

What are SMART objectives?

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

There are a number of variations on this theme. I do prefer Simple instead of Specific and Realistic instead of Relevant but either way we are trying to make sure that listed objectives comply with our SMART criteria.

Let’s look at a couple of quick examples:

“New payment processing software is working successfully”

“Online credit card payments successfully complete the required testing and are deployed by the 20th of October”

A simple example (that was one of my objectives) but clearly the second statement is much clearer and measurable. Did we achieve success? The second statement provides a simple “yes” or “no” answer whereas the first is open to interpretation, which means misunderstanding, which means different expectations between the Project Manager and the Sponsor.

Clarity of what is being undertaken and “what does finish look like” is an essential ingredient for every successful team, starting with SMART Objectives.