Is your project SMART or STUPID?

Any project or plan needs a bit of preparation, a bit of structure to ensure that everyone and everything is aligned.

SMART goals are often discussed, usually positively, occasionally less so. It usually comes down to their interpretation. For starters, the nemonic isn’t fixed – many interpretations feature duplication and have their own built in limitations.

Specific: What are you looking to achieve? If this isn’t clearly defined then the hard work could be all wasted. Without a specific goal it is too easy to be distracted along the way. “Conquer space” is vague, “Put a man on the moon” is specific. Put a man on the moon and bring them back alive might be better still.

Measurable: How will you be able to gauge completion and success? Will it be enough to place a footprint on lunar surface or will it need a photograph of someone holding a flag against a black and starry background. In most businesses, this is more likely to be a numerical target: output to 25giga widgets

Achievable: The first of the contentious points. What defines achievable? Why is it important? If it is too hard will people be demoralised from the start? The risk here is that you use past performance as a guide to what is achievable – “We’ve done 22giga widgets so 25 is achievable.”

The problem is that is very limiting. Putting a man on the moon wasn’t something that had been done before – not even close. It wasn’t the previous goal with a 10% increment. provides an example of when a stretch goal is needed to bring in new thinking.

What both of those projects, rockets and trains, demonstrate is a willingness to take bold new steps and that the collective investment was sufficient in terms of people and resources.

Relevant: Where does this goal sit in the scope of your overall mission? Putting a man on the moon was a huge scientific and explorational achievement. It was also highly political at the time, potentially the only reason it got the funding necessary and why we haven’t put a foot on the moon since 1972.

While many lists put realistic here that seems to close to achievable to be worthwhile.

Timebound: When would this need to happen? “I’ll paint the shed” might be specific but if it is followed with “when I get around to it” it isn’t likely to happen in this lifetime. Putting times & dates in place doesn’t automatically mean that is when the project will be completed – breaking it up in to chucks with an option to review can increase the success rate as it enables changes mid project to be accounted for. Third party suppliers or even the weather can add delays.

In 1961 “end of the decade” was good enough for JFK. End of the quarter might be more appropriate for your next project.

So how do you avoid being STUPID?

Spontaneous: Ah, that knee jerk reaction to something that doesn’t get thought out properly. Don’t let people convince you that this is a good thing by calling it Agile. Even Agile methods have a clear structure.

Traumatic: If you don’t ensure your team are happy with the project you are likely to find you are doing this alone.

Unplanned: Even if the next step is to plan this properly it is a plan. Fail to plan, plan to fail.

Peacemeal: Don’t rush into something without considering what will happen next. There may be discovery along the way, especially so with new goals but it should still form part of a bigger plan or mission.

Insular: Otherwise known as working in silos. Where one team makes great changes without considering the effect on others. Or where huge amounts of work are duplicated, probably with a few tiny details that make merging the projects impossible.

Doomed: The result of STUPID goals.

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