The Issue with SMART Objectives

SMART objectives (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound) is a test or technique that helps achieve realistic goals within a specific timeframe.
SMART Objectives of SMART Goals
SMART Objectives

Defining the project goals and objectives often takes place during the initiation phase of a project life cycle, when writing the project charter to be precise (PMBOK 5).
It is challenging to define the project objectives as accurately as suggested by the SMART technique because of the nature of the initiation phase, which is by definition a phase that does not necessarily involve thorough analysis and detailed planning.

In most cases, it is arduous, not to say impossible, to attempt to produce objectives that are specific, measurable, achievable and time bound during the initiation phase because of the limited understanding of how complex the solution you are attempting to design would be.

Usually, you would not be able to determine a date by which you would attain an objective within the life cycle of the project because such a determination would involve thorough scheduling analysis; you can only guesstimate up to a point.  Likewise, you would not be able to determine whether an objective is realistic/achievable until you conduct further technical and resource analysis during the following planning phase.

Some and some have concluded that SMART goals are dumb,  inadequate or "down right dangerous" as Terry Schmidt stated here . I would say that the reason behind such a reaction stems from the fact that SMART objectives are not being used as they were intended when they first were constructed. This technique was designed for managing organizational growth (Doran 1981) by setting clear and definite goals for the organization to achieve in a given period of time. This, in fact, does make sense when we consider that developing the  strategic plan of an organization does not necessarily involve the four (or so) common project management phases and does not require defining SMART objectives before comprehensive analysis had been conducted.

PMI suggests that the project objectives be determined as an input for the project charter (PMBOK 5). However, the project management team could agree to determine the high-level goals and the objectives associated with them during the initiation phase, then elaborate them to SMART objectives when doing further analysis in the planning phase.  Alternatively, the project team could define objectives as SMARTly as possible for the charter, then agree to complete missing SMART components  during the following phase.  

Doran, G. T. (1981). There’sa S.M.A.R.T. way to write management’s goals and objectives. Management review70(11), 35-36.

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