Saturday, October 6, 2007


It’s not unusual for an objective to be initially defined vaguely for any number of reasons. It may be a first-time objective. It may not have been thought through all the way and it’s your assignment to flesh the objective.

Do not make the mistake of accepting a project that has a vague objective(s)!

In fact, even if the objective seems straightforward, I think it’s a good idea to check it against your SMARTs. This familiar technique—you can google it easily—ensures that the objective is really clear. If it doesn’t pass your SMARTs, then you have to push back and insist on further clarification.

Remember, you have to clarify it before you accept it.

SMART is a mnemonic (ne-mo-nic) for the five standards that must be met by your project objective.

Specific + Measurable + Agreed-upon + Realistic + Time-bound

Here are the details.

An objective must have enough specific detail so you know what the final product or service is supposed to resemble.
Quantify the objective and use an objective standard if possible and desirable. Reduce subjectivity since it leaves too many things open for conflict.
The standards of performance must be established before the project gets underway. This is especially important when there are numerous stakeholders.
Negotiate. Exploit the flexibility of the triple constraints. Frequently, a project seems too difficult or impossible because of the project’s constraints. If the constraints are negotiable, risk is lessened and the likelihood of success improves.
A deadline motivates action. A lack of urgency tempts people to procrastinate. Always have a time constraint.

Additional Remarks:

The SMART process is iterative, i.e., it uses successive rounds to zero in on the most precise solution. Be forewarned that this is a time-consuming process. On the other hand, time-consuming as it is, you can be sure that it will save even more time by preventing (or at least minimizing) the chance that you will have to re-do the project.

Try to meet all stakeholders at each round of the process. Do this for everyone’s sake. Stakeholders who are neglected or even just feel left out frequently tend to put pressure elsewhere on your project. Invite them since you need to protect their self-esteem and sense of participation.

Summarize and paraphrase each stakeholder’s input until the stakeholder agrees that you, the PM, understands.

At the end of each round, prepare a draft statement of the negotiated objectives and circulate it. Invite feedback and discussion.

You’ll know that the objective is clear when it passes the SMART test and is accepted by all stakeholders. Ideally, this group should include even those stakeholders whose objectives were eliminated. This group may not like the final decision but the important thing is their acknowledgment of the fact that their objectives will not be in the final project. Remember: the objective has to pass the SMART test and is accepted by all stakeholders.

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