Whether you work on projects, manage projects or manage people, setting goals is an essential part of your job. An employee’s goals define his or her role within the organization and demonstrate the employee’s value to senior leaders. At the project level, goals define the purpose of each project and determine how success and failure will be measured.
Many organizations encourage their employees and project teams to use the S.M.A.R.T. framework when setting goals. S.M.A.R.T. goals have five qualities to help ensure that each goal is aligned with the company’s business needs, and that goals give employees and teams the direction they will need in order to be successful. S.M.A.R.T. itself is an acronym for “Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time Bound.”
Here’s a quick look at the process of setting S.M.A.R.T. objectives.
Many organizations use broad language when communicating their high-level objectives. Setting a goal to be the best vendor in your industry, for example, is perfectly reasonable if it’s part of a mission statement or a long-term strategic objective. At the project level, however, vague language is a recipe for failure. When project teams don’t know exactly what success should look like, they’re very unlikely to achieve it.
Setting specific goals can dramatically improve employee engagement and team success. Try to define each goal in as much detail as possible, including the reasons for setting the goal, what you hope to accomplish and who should be involved.
Ask yourself who will determine whether or not a goal has been met, and what criteria they will use to make the determination. These questions are especially important when creating project scope documents, as the answers will be used to evaluate the project’s final deliverables. Whenever possible, try to incorporate objective criteria in defined units, rather than subjective judgements.
Unrealistic goals are devastating for employee morale. While many managers believe that an “aim for the sky” approach will be motivational, the reality is that unreachable goals make team members feel helpless and disengaged. If you find yourself in the position of having to define a goal that you know cannot be met, it’s time to revisit your project plan and address the underlying issue.
Enterprise projects involve hundreds of ongoing tasks and activities, but not every one of them should be defined as a goal. As a project manager, review your project plan or work breakdown structure and try to identify the tasks that will have the most direct effect on the eventual success or failure of the project—those are the activities around which you should build your goals.
What’s the point of choosing a measurable goal if you’re never going to reach a point at which you measure your success? S.M.A.R.T. goal setting is only possible if you attach meaningful timeframes to your objectives. Here again, it’s important to remember that goals should be attainable—unreachable deadlines will set off a chain reaction of quality issues and schedule delays throughout the entire project.
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