Chapter 2. Strategy, Objectives, and Project Selection
2.2 SMART Objectives
All the business cases, projects, project deliverables, activities, and milestones are characterized with objectives that describe what is expected to be achieved at the end. The information provided in this subsection can be used not only for business cases but also for projects and their components. Successful organizations are intentional about the actions they take to fulfill their vision and mission. These organizations analyze their external and internal environments to understand the opportunities and threats present in the environments in which they operate (see Chapter 3 – Project Initiation). An organization also must analyze and work within its own strengths and weaknesses. This analysis directly refers to a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis. These analyses can be used to inform the decision-making that follows.
The primary goal of a business case and a project and their objectives must be clearly defined, must contain a measure of how to assess whether they have been achieved, and should be realistic. A commonly utilized guideline to create this kind of objective is to follow the SMART protocol. SMART is an acronym that represents the criteria of being specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based. SMART objectives also serve as performance metrics to monitor the progress of a project and decide whether the outcomes are successful and can be accepted by the client or customer. Thus, the project manager can monitor and control these performance metrics.
Let’s use a scenario to explicate each SMART criterion. Consider that our organization which is a regional office of a government agency (Department of Environment), named as Smalltown Office, has experienced some problems in providing quality service to the citizens in that region. We, as a team, were assigned to examine the problem and offer some solutions to overcome this quality problem.
We should develop unambiguous objectives that all our stakeholders can understand what we want to achieve. Thus, these objectives should be well-defined, specific, and written in clear, concise, and understandable terms. While creating an objective, we should ask “What do we want to accomplish?”, “What do we intend to impact?”, “Why is this goal important?”, “Who is responsible for carrying out the action?”, and “Who is our target audience/population?”. Such questions would help us create specific objectives.
Based on our regional office’s quality service problem, the business analyst created one of the business requirements as follows:
“The Smalltown Office affiliated with the Department of Environment in the State X will provide quality improvement training to the staff.”
This objective can be considered specific as it addresses the primary objective by referring to the target population and responsible organization, and we want to achieve. However, it still lacks other elements of SMART.
The success of a project relies on measurable quantitative criteria that must be met to achieve the objectives. If we don’t use any metrics to measure the progress and performance, we can never be sure if we are on the track and can accomplish the targets when we finish the tasks or a project. These quantitative measures can indicate a number, percentage, or any standard unit. By means of measures, we can know that change has occurred how much, and in what direction. Besides, we should consider the source of verification and the data to prove the target is met. In our example, we can quantify the objective by adding the percentage of employees who are expected to receive this training.
“The Smalltown Office affiliated with the Department of Environment in the State X will provide quality improvement training to at least seventy-five percent of the staff members who communicate and interact directly with the citizens.”
Sometimes, it is not possible to directly measure the performance or achievement. Quality improvement training could be an effective method to increase the quality of the services provided to the citizens. However, it is of high importance to ask directly the citizens using interviews or surveys about their satisfaction level with the services they receive. Therefore, we can support this objective with another objective as below:
“The satisfaction level of the citizens who receive service from Smalltown Office will increase by 25% according to a survey replied by at least 500 citizens.”
In order to measure the improvement of 25%, the average satisfaction level of the citizens before the training is delivered should be measured, which would constitute the baseline. We also make this objective specific by adding the target audience who are at least 500 citizens.
The last letter of the SMART acronym refers to “time-based” objectives. The SMART protocol doesn’t necessarily impose an order of letters to follow while creating SMART objectives. However, discussing the time-based criterion can be more practical taking into consideration the nature of time as a measure itself. While assessing this criterion, we can address the issues such as how long to expect a project to take, and how much time for different success metrics to be met.
“The Smalltown Office affiliated with the Department of Environment in the State X will provide quality improvement training to at least seventy-five percent of the staff members who communicate and interact directly with the citizens by the end of July 2022.”
“The satisfaction level of the citizens who receive service from Smalltown Office will increase by 25% according to a survey replied by at least 500 citizens by the end of December 2022.”
While we create these objectives, we should also consider if the performance measures and deadlines are realistic (achievable).
We should also consider the factors that may affect the achievability of objectives. These factors include the evaluation of resources, knowledge, and time that are available to carry out the tasks to achieve the objectives. Therefore, in order to clarify achievability, it may be helpful for our team to explain who will deliver this quality improvement training to Smalltown Office employees, the availability of funds that can be allocated to the trainers, and the availability of an adequate number of employees that can serve the citizens in a timely manner while others receive the training. We should also clarify if the time to achieve these objectives is realistic. Can Smalltown Office provide this training to at least 75% of the staff by July 2022? Or do we need to reassess the percentage and the deadline? Constraints that may affect the achievement of these objectives should also be taken into account.
As can be seen here, SMART is an iterative process through which each criterion should be evaluated constantly considering the impact of each of them on other criteria.
The last criterion that needs to be considered is the relevance of these objectives with higher-level organizational goals such as strategic objectives, mission and vision statements, and the goals of programs or portfolios that the business need or project is affiliated with. This alignment can ensure that the business case or project would have a higher chance of approval from the organizational leadership and greater buy-in from the stakeholders.
In our example for Smalltown Office, we should check the strategic plan of the Department of Environment. We need to see if there is an objective for the quality management and improvement that is planned for the organization as a whole, or the departments and regional offices. The review should not be limited to the strategic plan, but also other projects, programs, and portfolios since there may be a planned or ongoing project regarding quality management. Therefore, we can also avoid duplications and redundancy, and save time and budget.
Case Study 2.1: SMART Objectives for Grocery LLC’s Mobile-Commerce Scenario
We started working on a case study in Chapter 1 as regards a grocery chain, Grocery LLC, with fifty branches across five states. There were two business needs for this scenario:
- Long lines form in front of the current check-out stations where the cashiers work.
- Declining sales in markets since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Let’s work on the second business need to develop SMART objectives. The primary objective is to create solutions for customers who purchase goods and services from our grocery stores through their smartphones. Based on the business case, it was decided to produce two solutions which are the optimization of the mobile website for Android and IOS, and a smartphone application. Objectives in line with these two solutions have been determined as:
- To redesign the website in 2 months so it’s responsive and easier for the customers to place orders on their smartphones.
- To create a new mobile application in 2 months that can work in both operating systems (Android and IOS).
These two objectives can be considered specific as both describe what is intended to achieve for which audience. Besides, both are time-based. So, we know when we can have both solutions operational for the online customers. But we need more to evaluate other criteria (measurable, achievable, and relevant). Let’s create another objective that supports these two objectives:
- In three months after the mobile website and the new mobile application go live, online sales will increase at least 25%, customer satisfaction will increase at least 20%, and we can retain our loyal customers.
This objective provides us with the quantitative measures to evaluate the effectiveness of the two solutions. Both help us understand if the customers do online shopping and if they are happy with their online shopping experience. Besides, we can ask our loyal customers if they also buy online, and thus they don’t often prefer other stores and e-commerce websites to substitute for the physical shopping they used to do in our grocery markets. To verify these measures, we should have reliable sources as detailed below:
- Online sales figures before the mobile solutions are introduced and three months after they go live will be compared.
- Two surveys (before the mobile solutions are introduced and three months after they go live) will be conducted by a market research company to measure the satisfaction level of customers.
- The customers who have bought items from our company for the last three years will be interviewed to understand if they still do their shopping at our grocery markets and on new mobile solutions.
We also should answer these questions to assess if these objectives are achievable and relevant?
- Does the grocery chain have the time, budget, and resources to conduct and finish the whole project?
- Are these objectives in line with the grocery chain’s mission statement, and strategic objectives?
- Are there any conflicts with other ongoing or future projects? Is there a need to cooperate with other projects to share and assign resources or to synchronize some activities and deliverables?