SMART Problem and Goal Statements

SMART Problem and Goal Statements for a Project Charter What Question(s) Does the Tool or Technique Answer? What is the most succinct description of the project’s goal and problem statements? SMART helps you to
  • Communicate a clear, concise, complete description of a project’s goal
  • Identify the problem it addresses When Best to Use the Tool or Technique During the planning stage that establishes and defines a project, use this technique to better communicate its main points and goals.
Brief Description The SMART acronym stands for Specific-Measurable-Achievable (but Aggressive)-Realistic-Time-bounded. Some literature defines the SMART acronym with the “A” representing Agreed to or Achievable, but Aggressive or Attainable and the R as Relevant to the business, therefore it is agreed to by management/sponsor. In summary, the acronym translation is fluid, but the key elements remain constant—specific, measurable, time-related and some combination of aggressive, but realistic. The following options include bolded terms to indicate the more common translation:
SMART Problem and Goal Statements for a Project
  • S—specific, significant, stretching
  • M—measurable, meaningful, motivational
  • A—achievable, but aggressive, attainable, agreed to, acceptable, action-oriented
  • R—realistic, relevant, reasonable, results-oriented
  • T—time-bound, timely, time-based
This technique is applied to both a project’s goal statement and its problem statement to ensure that both contain the essential elements to succinctly communicate their vital elements.
Specific describes precise, concise language. Measurable requires a metric, target, or unit of measure. Achievable but Aggressive describes the objectives, which are Realistic. The last element, Time-bounded or Timely takes on different dimension for the goal and problem. With respect to the goal statement, time-bounded seeks a specific date (day, month, year) that the project targets for its completion. Vague language providing the month, quarter, or year that the project intends to achieve its objective leaves room for ambiguity and misunderstanding between the project team and its sponsor. Ambiguity leads to improper expectation setting, wherein the project team could intend the end of a month, or worse yet a quarter, while the sponsor anticipates completion at the beginning of the month, or quarter.
Misalignment leads to frustration, disappointment, and at times more serious consequences. If the project completion date slips, the team is better off communicating that to the sponsor and why, rather than hoping for a miracle. The time element for the problem statement describes the duration of the problem. It defines how long this pain has persisted—is it a onetime event or a systemic problem. The time dimension bolsters the team’s case for change when trying to secure project funding and resources and implementing and sustaining the improvement. It adds a sense of magnitude and is best accompanied with a control chart or run chart illustrating the key metric plotted over time.
The problem statement describes what is wrong over time. Alternatively, at times the problem statement is replaced by an opportunity statement that describes the possibilities. An example of a problem statement for a restaurant might be
The number of restaurant patrons have declined over the last six months, the number of restaurants in the area have increased, and food costs have increased 7% over last year.
The goal statement is part of a larger purpose, as a key element of a project charter. It articulates the team’s improvement objective—project success criteria and duration (how long it should take to achieve). It determines when the project team knows it has achieved its mission and gauges what “good” looks like. However, it is not the solution or the answer on how to achieve the desired state. An example of a goal statement for a restaurant might include
Within the next two months, increase the number of services offered that can yield last year’s 15% target profit margin.
The example is specific (= increased offerings), measurable and achievable (= prior year’s 15% profit margin), time-bounded (= within in next two months), and relevant to the business (= restaurant services). However, the time element ideally should be more specific and give a specific target date the new services would either be identified or implemented.
The same example rewritten more tightly is:
By May 20, 2008, recommend new services offerings (with a business plan) showing how they can help us achieve last year’s 15% target profit margin within two months of launching them. Upon approval, new services to be operational by July 1, 2008.

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