Has your organization identified an inspiring goal on the horizon? On the road to its completion, has your itinerary seemed hazardous? In order not to get lost and waste resources during their progress, a decision-maker needs a clear map to guide his team to success. The SMART Criteria is a tool, simple, yet concrete, to track your progress along the way and adapt your objective to changing currents. 

The SMART criteria were first developed as a management instrument for program and project managers. However, due to its advantages, it is now used across sectors of activity. 

In 1954, Peter F. Drucker, a business management consultant, coined the concept of management by objectives (MBO) in his book Practice Management. His reasoning served as the backbone of the SMART criteria. His method required setting quantitative and qualitative objectives within a time-scale. Such objectives had to be measurable to ease a continuous adaptation and evaluation effort. Peter F. Drucker’s philosophy paralleled that of many management professors in the United States. Together, they tried to establish the profile of the ideal decision-maker. They settled on a straightforward definition: a good leader sets goals and realizes them. It is not until 1981 that this definition of leadership was given a rule-book with the introduction of the SMART criteria. Created by George T. Doran, in 1981, in the article entitled There’s a S.M.A.R.T Way to Write Management’s Goals and Objectives, the SMART approach referred to the 5 criteria an objective must follow if it wants to be smart. The standards are given by the acronym: smart, measurable, attributable, realistic, and time-bound. The SMART criteria can be used to set objectives as well as smart indicators (Key Performance Indicators KPI).

The SMART criteria in details:

  • A Specific Objective

The objective must be translated into operational terms and made visible: the organization must have been informed. Each department of an organization can set up its own objectives. Likewise, within the units, each actor can also set his personal objective with the SMART criteria. This collaborative effort proves to be a great foundation for teamwork and the circulation of shared values. An objective is not a vague or broad declaration of intent. It must be narrow and focus on the actor responsible for its realization, as well as the sector of intervention.  

  • A Measurable Objective

To be sure of the concrete quality of the objective, it needs to be measurable. Concerning qualitative objectives, the process might be complex. However, this step is crucial:  the team will gain clear indicators to track their progress. One solution is to quantify the benefice of the objective. For instance, if it is hard to quantify the objective Improve the online image of the Brand, it is easier to do so with the benefice of its realization. A smart indicator could be the increase of engagements on social media, in percentage. 

If one cannot measure the objective, progress cannot be determined objectively and limited resources might go to waste. This criterion requires two capacities: first, to have sufficient, available, and pertinent data on the objective, second, to have the competence or capacity to aggregate and analyze data.

  • An Attribuable Objective

The actors responsible for the completion of the objective must be formally identified and accountable for its realization.

  • A Realistic Objective

Your objective must not appeal to an ideal projection but draw from a concrete situation, outlined by needs and capacities. A concrete situation will be easier to achieve. This criterion makes it necessary to consider the organization’s capability or means. The objective must be achievable with the organization’s current means. Easily accessible means can also be considered. 

If your objective requires tools out of the team’s reach, then, it might lower motivation and involvement. Your objective is not a challenge, but an achievable, realistic project. Thus, the SMART Criteria must be built collectively. 

  • A Time-bound Objective

Without time markers, the objective or indicator loses concreteness. It becomes impossible to track and achieve. An objective is realized in several steps, and most importantly, it has a deadline. 

The following table summarizes the elements of the SMART criteria, complete the last column with your own objective! 


Use the SMART Criteria to turn abstract ideas and wishful thinking into effective action



Additional resources on the SMART criteria: 

A deeper dive into the SMART approach:

A SMART criteria case study: 

On the limits of the SMART criteria: