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How to Create Opportunities and Drive Results: 8 Examples of SMART Goals for Project Managers
Have you ever sat through a company goal-setting session and come out feeling less motivated that you did going in?
Maybe you came up with a list of personal goals that looked something like this:
- Network more.
- Be a better communicator.
- Stop going over budget all the time.
When you shared the goals, everyone approved. They seemed to demonstrate a commitment to succeed as a project manager.
Except they’re the exact same goals you set the previous year. And even though you may have attended some networking events, and read a book about listening skills, you feel as though you haven’t made any significant progress toward achieving any of them.
It’s discouraging to set goals that lead to nothing but dead ends, stagnation and zero growth.
If they never worked in the past, then how can you muster the motivation to try again? Aren’t goals supposed to enable growth and advancement? To shine a path to innovation and possibility?
The truth is, they can do all of these things. The secret lies in how the goal is written in the first place.
Are you a project manager who aspires to level up a career, build a team and improve output? Then this is your guide to creating SMART goals to get you there.
The Skinny on SMART Goals
“SMART” is a goal setting process that provides a framework for creating goals that generate momentum and drive results. The process emphasizes specificity and metrics. The name is an acronym for: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound.
How does this process work, exactly? Let’s break down each of the five parts.
The first step to a SMART goal is specificity. This means being crystal clear around what is to be accomplished. It sounds pretty basic, yet this characteristic is oftentimes omitted from goals, making them worthless and ineffective. It’s impossible to achieve something that’s unclear or undefined.
Being specific means answering these key questions:
- What needs to be accomplished?
- Who is involved?
- Where does the work take place?
- What are the limitations on the work?
This fist step means clearing away ambiguity by fleshing out all the details around the goal.
This is about setting metrics to determine when a goal has been achieved. Depending on the nature of the goal, the metric may be a number, a percentage, a measurement of time or a dollar amount.
For example, a team may have the goal to increase gross sales. A measurement to clarify this goal might be: increase gross sales by 15% over the previous year’s sales. Or a team might have a goal to increase rapport. A measurable goal for this might be to spend the fifteen minutes before every meeting in casual catch-up conversation.
Metrics boost momentum. They provide something specific to aspire to, and allow a team to identify when a goal has been achieved, or how close they are.
If a goal isn’t measurable, this is a sign that it needs to be revised.
Goals are all about stretching and aspiring. This step, however, is about taking a reality check and figuring out if the goal really is possible.
An unrealistic goal is a set-up for discouragement and burnout.
Taking a close look at the company’s constraints around budget, resources and time helps to determine a realistic and achievable goal.
This step should probably be first, as it’s about clarifying the “why” of a goal. This means identifying the benefits a goal brings to the organization, the client, the team or the individual.
In order to determine if a goal is relevant, list the benefits created by the achievement of the goal. Next, align these benefits to the client’s requests or the company’s mission statement to see if they align.
Projects rarely follow a linear path, and having clarity around the “why” makes it possible to adapt, twist, pivot and turn, yet still remain on track to achieve the goal.
This goal is similar to measurable; it means placing a goal within a time-frame. You may have a goal to read Vanity Fair, but you don’t want it to take seven years. This step further sharpens the goal to clarify just when it’s slated to come over the finish line.
A due date gives everyone clarity about what they need to do, and when they need to do it. It’s about efficiency, conserving resources and saving time.
One way to determine a reasonable time frame for a project is the critical path method. Once the critical path is determined, a project manager can incorporate efficiency tactics like crashing and fast tracking to ensure the team reaches the goal by the scheduled date.
Benefits of SMART Goals
These five criteria allow a team to create a realistic goal that achieves growth. SMART goals benefit a team in several key ways:
SMART goals are focused on creating benefits for the client and the team.
Whereas a vague goal can zap a team’s energy, a SMART goal stretches people to expand their skill sets and grow.
With a goal like “make more money,” a team doesn’t even know what it’s set out to achieve, nor how to achieve it. A goal with a clear finish line, however, provides the team something specific to work toward, as well as the drive to get there.
A SMART goal measures results. This makes it easy to identify processes and behaviors that work, and those that don’t. Once a team comes up with a winning formula for improving output, it’s able to use it again in other projects.
With this explanation, let’s now take a look at some examples of SMART goals that allow a project to soar!
8 Examples of SMART Goals for Project Managers
Ready to level up in your career? Here are eight examples of common goals for a project manager. First, we’ll look at a weak goal then reframe it using the SMART formula.
1. Improve Communication Skills
Projects are made up of so many moving people and parts that strong communication skills are a must. This is particularly the case with remote teams, as communication breaks down so easily without person-to-person interaction.
Setting a goal around communication may entail sitting down with the team and pinpointing what isn’t working. Listening to feedback identifies areas to improve, whether it’s a new meeting agenda or improved status reports.
Weak Goal: Become a better communicator.
This goal is weak in part because it fails to explain how the goal is to be achieved, nor does it include any desired benefits.
SMART Goal: The goal is to clearly communicate performance expectations to all team members during the upcoming project, utilizing video messaging and email. Accomplishing this goal will increase project efficiency, eliminate rework, and allow us to meet the scheduled deadline.
2. Eliminate Scope Creep
Scope creep feels like an inevitability in every project. There’s always add-ons and adjustments, and before long the project manager is writing change orders. Can it be eliminated entirely?
Weak Goal: Stop scope creep in upcoming projects.
This is a weak goal, in part because it’s probably unrealistic. Rather than stop scope creep altogether, a more reasonable objective might be to take measures to minimize it.
SMART Goal: The goal is to minimize scope creep, first by clearly fleshing out all project requirements during the planning phase, at a MoSCoW meeting with all stakeholders. Secondly, monitor the project at weekly meetings to ensure deliverables are made to specifications and show no signs of gold-plating. This goal aims to rein-in costs and set accurate work expectations for the team.
3. Increase Team Collaboration
Teams that like and support one another produce better deliverables. Yet building a team with strong rapport is no small feat.
Weak Goal: Increase rapport with team building activities.
Although this goal does include some specificity, it fails to mention the when, why, or how of the goal.
SMART Goal: The goal is to increase rapport within the team over the next quarter with the aim to build trust, unleash potential and improve output. We’ll build this rapport by creating a virtual break room that holds weekly giveaways and one hourly AMA session.
4. Reduce Project Risks
Some project managers would just as soon deal with issues as they transpire. Others know from experience that anticipating risks and issues ultimately saves time, money and resources.
Weak Goal: Implement a risk management plan in the upcoming project.
Although this is good in that it’s intended for a specific project, the goal fails to clarify any benefits or metrics.
SMART Goal: In order to save time and money, and eliminate rework, develop a risk and issue management plan for the upcoming project. At the planning meeting, identify all of the project’s assets, identify threats and vulnerabilities, and put a plan in place to either avoid, transfer, accept or mitigate each threat. Revisit the plan every two weeks to identify any key upcoming threats or vulnerabilities.
5. Stay in Budget
This goal is kind of a no-brainer; it’s at the top of the list for any project manager.
Weak Goal: Use cheap labor to stay on budget.
Although this does incorporate specifics, it fails to clarify the benefits. What if quality decreases by using cheap labor? Then the goal hasn’t been achieved at all.
SMART Goal: Stay within the project’s cost constraint and deliver a product that meets all requirements.
Work with the procurement team to develop a plan that utilizes resources and labor within the given budget. Revisit the procurement plan every two weeks for the upcoming quarter to ensure the project is proceeding according to plan. This goal aims to save resources and increase profit for the team.
6. Improve Quality of Deliverables
Without a system for quality control, it’s so easy for embarrassing gaffes and slip-ups to end up in the final deliverable.
Weak Goal: Perform rigorous testing to reduce errors in deliverables.
This goal lacks metrics, nor does it explain the relevance of the goal.
SMART Goal: Develop a definition of done to improve quality control. Create a checklist that covers all testing and proofing of each deliverable before it goes live. Allocate time within the production process for completing this checklist.
Implement this process over the next six months, then improve the process upon review. This goal aims to eliminate rework, and deliver products that meet all requirements.
7. Build Professional Contacts
Project management can be isolating. Rubbing shoulders with other people who have earned their stripes in the field provides an outlet to learn from others and air concerns.
Weak Goal: Reach out on Linked in and connect to other project managers.
This goal is excellent in that it provides some specifics in how it’s to be accomplished, but it doesn’t offer any metrics or benefits.
SMART Goal: Build a supportive professional community and a space to air concerns and questions. Over the next nine months, attend one professional Meetup each month and reach out to five contacts each week on Linked in.
8. Find New Opportunities to Expand Skill Set
As we all know, doing is the fastest way to learn. Growing as a project manager means finding opportunities to stretch skills and lead new teams.
Weak Goal: Showcase work online and connect on social media in order to find new work.
This is an auspicious start, but unfortunately this goal doesn’t have any metrics or a timetable.
SMART Goal: In order to expand skill set and professional experience, showcase projects online and connect with a professional community over the next nine months. Reach out to ten contacts each week on Linked in and post to Linked in feed once a week. Open an Instagram account, and post images of projects at key stages, with before and after photos. Include hashtags that reach out to the project management community.
These examples demonstrate how to shape realistic objectives that improve both a working environment and a professional career.
Conclusion: As Good as Your Goal
You wouldn’t think that the phrasing of a goal makes much of a difference. But as it turns out, it really does. It’s a game changer, even.
An unfocused goal limits what you achieve, and it can even discourage and demotivate a team. A SMART goal, on the other hand, has an unambiguous and attainable objective with clear benefits. It energizes and motivates people.
What are your long-term and short-term SMART goals?