What is the SMART Criteria?

SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time Bound. It is most often used to guide the setting of objectives and goals.

The principal advantage of using the SMART criteria when creating outcomes, objectives and goals is that it adds clarity. This means that they incorporate all of the necessary criteria required to help focus efforts. This increases the chances of achieving them.

There are many variations of the SMART acronym. This creates confusion and unnecessary complexity which makes it difficult to apply in a consistent manner.  For the sake of clarity and simplicity, we will stick to the original definition. George T. Doran first introduced this in the November 1981 issue of Management Review. The title of the article was “There’s a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management’s goals and objectives”.


Clear and well-defined goals that explain the importance and method of accomplishment are essential to ensure everyone involved knows what the goal. This means that the SMART goal should unambiguous so that there is no room for confusion or misinterpretation. A specific goal should answer the questions “What?”, “Why?” and “How?”. As a result,  the goal is precise so everyone involved knows why it is important and how to accomplish it. By making goals specific, individuals and teams can focus their efforts and resources on the most important tasks. This which can increase the likelihood of success and improve motivation and commitment to the goal.


Measurability is an important concepts in the SMART criteria, as goals or objectives need to be measurable to track progress and evaluate success objectively. This means that specific criteria must be included in a goal. As a result, SMART measurements can be used to evaluate progress and determine whether the goal has been achieved. Measurable goals can help to motivate individuals or teams by providing a clear sense of progress and accomplishment as they work towards the goal. Measuring progress can also help to identify areas for improvement or adjustment, so that individuals or teams can stay on track and make necessary changes along the way.


Achievable refers to the concept that a SMART goal is realistic and attainable given the available resources, knowledge and skills. In other words, it should be possible to achieve the goal without requiring extraordinary effort or a significant change in circumstances. The SMART criteria’s Achievable element ensures that the goals can be accomplished within a reasonable timeframe. It also means that they are practical enough to be achieved with available resources. This can increase the likelihood of success and improve motivation and commitment to the goals. An achievable goal can be challenging but not so difficult that it becomes impossible to achieve, demotivating or discouraging for the individuals or teams working towards it.


Relevant refers to the concept that a SMART goal is important and aligned with the broader objectives of the organisation. This means that the goal should have a clear purpose and be relevant to the current needs or priorities of the organisation. In other words, it should make sense within the context of the organisation’s overall strategy. It should also help move the organisation closer to achieving its overall mission and vision. Setting SMART goals ensures that they are relevant. This means that organisations can prioritise their efforts and resources on the things that matter most. As a result, it can improve efficiency and effectiveness.


The concept of having a specific timeframe or deadline for completion is what this element of the SMART criteria refers to. This helps to provide a sense of urgency and motivate individuals or teams to take action towards achieving the goal. By setting a specific deadline, individuals or teams can focus their efforts and prioritise their tasks. It also ensures that the goal is completed on time. The time-bound element of SMART goals also make it easier to track progress. This allows adjustments to be made along the way, as there is a clear endpoint in sight. Additionally, setting specific deadlines can help to avoid procrastination and increase accountability. This is because individuals or teams know that they are working towards a specific timeframe.


The SMART criteria is a useful framework that can be used to set effective goals and objectives. By making sure that goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound, individuals and organisations can improve their chances of success and increase motivation and accountability. Setting clear and actionable goals is important for any individual or organisation that wants to achieve its desired outcomes. Using the SMART criteria can help to ensure that everyone involved knows what they are working towards. It also allows progress to be tracked and evaluated effectively. Overall, the SMART criteria is a simple and effective tool that can help to drive success and progress in any setting.


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