SMART Objectives

  • September 28, 2021

SMART is an acronym used for building research objectives that stands for “specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound” Creating objectives using these parameters reduces the likelihood that objectives will be vague, thus reducing the chances of the proposal being funded. But what does SMART really mean in detail?

  • S = Specific: The objective must be specific: Many objectives leave out key information, making the objective vague or confusing. Specific objectives should detail what outcomes are sought, how the objective will be achieved and strategies to increase the likelihood of success, who will be responsible for carrying out the activities, and when the objective will be completed. The specific aspect of the objectives is best described using verbs: Analyze, create, determine, identify, investigate, perform, etc.

  • M = Measureable: SMART objectives are measurable: Measurement allows the team to determine if an objective has been achieved. Success for each objective should be definable by an actual number. Evidence used to determine this number should be obtained from a listed procedure with tracked and recorded outcomes. When writing the objective consider how you will know a change has occurred and how you will measure that change.

  • A= Achievable: The objective must be achievable: To determine if the objective is achievable, the resources needed to complete the objective must be compared to the existing available resources the project team has access to. This means the team must elaborate upon who will carry out the actions required and if they have the skills to complete the work and resources including non-equipment resources such as personnel and time.

  • R= Realistic: SMART objectives are realistic: You are probably not going to achieve 100% accuracy in a proof of concept prototype preliminary trial. Set objectives that are realistic. To determine if an objective is realistic, review similar studies to determine what the average successful result is for that type of test. Ensure the test includes a realistic time frame for obtaining these results.

  • T= Time-bound: SMART objectives are time-bound: Objectives should include the timing associated with performing and measuring the objective. Each objective should have a reasonable deadline that accounts for all necessary project activities the objective requires. Allow enough time to complete all activities but not so much time that there is a decreased sense of urgency.

Notes on objectives

Objectives are specific, measurable, time-bound metrics that prove feasibility and success, but there are a lot of things they are not. Objectives are not goals. This is one of the primary mistakes we see clients make. They will list “objectives” such as “provide proof of concept for this prototype product” or “determine if product X outperforms the industry standard”. These are NOT objectives, these are goals. Objectives similarly are not milestones. Milestones are targets the team can use to ensure the project is on the right track. Milestones are usually part of a project schedule, and often part of the schedule of each objective, but they are NOT objectives.

Overall, objectives seem to be one of the most difficult components our clients face in proposal preparation. Understanding the difference between goals, milestones, and objectives can be confusing but the payoff of crafting SMART objectives for your proposal is enormous. Reviewers are much more likely to fund a project with objectives that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound than a project with vague objectives or proposed objectives that fail to meet the mark of what an objective should entail.


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