How to Set Project Management SMART Goals (+ Examples)


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Key Takeaways

  • SMART goal stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.
  • SMART goals are the long-term, primary goals, while SMART objectives are the short-term, smaller steps taken to achieve the main goal.
  • SMART goals make it easy for project managers to communicate to team members the desired project outcome, measure productivity, and meet deadlines.

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Many successful project managers utilize project management SMART goals as a means of increasing employee engagement, strengthening team morale, and maximizing productivity. Read on to find out more about the SMART framework, project management SMART goals, how they differ from SMART objectives, and how they help streamline the typical project management process for everyone involved.

What are SMART Goals?

The SMART goal acronym stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. 

This framework requires project goals and objectives to address specific needs or activities with a hard deadline or end in place, allowing project managers to optimize the typical project workflow while also providing the team with clear benchmarks for success.

SMART goals vs SMART objectives

While the two phrases are sometimes used interchangeably, SMART goals and SMART objectives are actually two distinct project management concepts. Use the handy chart below to compare the most significant differences between the two.

SMART goalsSMART objectives
Primary goalSmaller steps to meet the goal
Collective effort by the whole teamDivided into less complex tasks for smaller groups of people
Follows a general strategyMore tactical, on-the-fly adjustments

In summary, SMART goals focus on the end result while SMART objectives provide the means of getting from start to finish. However, both are developed with the overarching SMART framework in mind—meaning everything needs to be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.

Our Free Downloadable SMART Goal Template for Project Managers

Guide to Creating SMART Goals for Projects with SMART Objectives

Both SMART goals and SMART objectives are employed during project planning. If you are planning to integrate this framework into your project, here’s a guide you can use.

Make objectives specific

Make all of your objectives clear and understandable. Don’t rely on your teammates to fill in the blanks, as this might not result in the desired project quality. Make everything as clear and concise as possible. Specific objectives comprise the “what” and “who” of your project. For best results, keep these tips in mind:

  • If you’re having trouble thinking of specific objectives, ask yourself how you want the project accomplished or how you want individual tasks to be completed, as this is a good starting point.
  • Use only one action verb for each objective. Multiple action verbs imply multiple activities, which can cause confusion.
  • Clarify the expected outcome. If project team members need to finish their assigned tasks by a certain date, for example, make sure to specify the exact date and time.

By establishing clear objectives from the very start of your project, you leave very little room for error amongst your team. You’ll also give them a specific end date to look forward to, which motivates them to work as efficiently as possible.

Make objectives measurable

To achieve this, consider the amount of progress or change expected at every step. It’s impossible to gauge project success without quantifiable activities, objectives, and goals, so take your time here to make sure that everything can be measured, not only by senior-level project leaders, but also by all project team members.

Quantifying your objectives in this manner also reinforces project analytics and reporting. Real numbers, facts, and statistics are easily interpretable, and they provide objective viewpoints into productivity.

You can also use these quantifiable objectives to help forecast future needs. By having an accurate picture of the resources used, time spent, and money invested into past projects, your teammates will have a better idea of their resource needs for future projects.

Make objectives achievable

When setting SMART goals and objectives, make sure the end result is actually achievable. Consider the reality of the situation as you decide on what you hope to achieve . Is your project team smaller than you expected? Is your allocated budget less than what you thought? In cases like this, you might have to scale back your objectives in favor of something that is more feasible.

Setting unrealistic or unachievable objectives will hurt your team in more ways than one. Not only will your finalized project fail to meet the standards of your company, but your team members will likely suffer from decreased morale as a result. Continuously missing goals and objectives in this manner will cause any team to lose motivation and burn out.

But the opposite is also true. Repeatedly meeting—or surpassing—goals and expectations will fill your team with a strong sense of pride. In turn, this leads to improved motivation, morale, and productivity when tackling future projects.

Make objectives relevant

Your objectives also need to be relevant, either to the current project at hand or to your company’s overall business objectives. If your team’s objective is to launch a new program within a month, for example, you need to make sure that your organization is currently interested in launching that kind of program within the next 30 days.

While SMART templates make it easy to come up with generic objectives, you’ll want to take some time to consider objectives that relate directly to the project. You can customize the template you have or create new SMART objectives from scratch to achieve this.

Make objectives time-bound

Projects that are created without an end date in mind are often never finished, while projects that have tight time constraints will only cause employee stress and fatigue. For best results, establish an end date that gives your team plenty of time to succeed without making your key stakeholders wait too long.

When managing long-term projects, set milestones at various periods. By defining what you want to achieve at the halfway point of your project, for example, you give everyone a tangible date to work toward. Depending on the length of your project, you can set milestones every few days, weeks, or months. Breaking up a larger project into smaller, more manageable tasks is a great way to keep your employees engaged and productive throughout the project life cycle.

How SMART Goals Help Project Managers

SMART goals make it easy for project managers to communicate goals and objectives to their team members, measure productivity over the course of time, and meet deadlines established by key stakeholders.

3 Examples of SMART Goals in Project Management

It is easy to fill a project with various objectives and milestones, but it’s significantly difficult to ensure that all of these goals adhere to the SMART framework. Here are examples of SMART goals in action to help you get started on yours.

Goal: Create and launch a mobile app

  • Specific: Launch a new customer support web app for both iOS and Android platforms.
  • Measurable: According to market research, we should be able to reach 25,000 installs by the end of Q1 of next year.
  • Achievable: Allocating adequate resources to different departments, from customer service and marketing to software development, will help us achieve the goal.
  • Relevant: The purpose of the app is to serve customers in a quicker and more efficient manner.
  • Time-Bound: The app needs to be launched by the end of this year in order to achieve 25,000 installs by the end of Q1 of next year.

Goal: Improve the communication skills of staff

  • Specific: Improve the written and verbal communication skills of the workforce.
  • Measurable: In order to see a real difference in the workplace, we need to improve these skills in at least 60% of our current staff.
  • Achievable: With consistent training and the proper resources, the 60% goal is feasible.
  • Relevant: Improving communications within the workplace will make every project quicker and more efficient.
  • Time-Bound: We will schedule one training seminar every month for the next six months.

Goal: Implement strategic risk management

  • Specific: Reduce project risks to improve chances of approval of future projects.
  • Measurable: A 50% reduction in project risks will expedite future risk management activities.
  • Achievable: Educating your senior-level PMs on advanced risk management strategies will help us attain this goal.
  • Relevant: Risk management is relevant to every project—past, future, or present.
  • Time-Bound: The new risk management process will be complete within the next 30 days.

SMART Goals for Each Project Management Phase

Additionally, SMART goals can be established for every phase of the standard project management lifecycle. 


Creating SMART goals during the project initiation phase helps you collect and organize any critical information or resources necessary to complete the project. These goals can also be used to expedite the initiation phase for future projects. A good example is to establish a new project launch team to cover the initiation and planning phases in the future.


SMART goals in the project planning phase generally focus on documenting the overall project scope, budget, key risks, and scheduling. An example is setting a SMART goal to use analytics and statistics from your previous projects in order to inform your future projects, thereby improving accuracy as time goes on.


Goals set for the project execution phase should be focused on helping the entire team complete their designated tasks in a timely and accurate manner. For example, create a Gantt chart to track each team member and their assigned tasks.


These goals are implemented after a project has been executed but before it has been completed. As such, SMART goals that track weekly or monthly productivity are commonly used during this phase.


Finally, SMART goals can be implemented after a project has been finalized and completed. Scheduling a project review for a week after project completion is a great example of this, as it gives everyone a time to reflect on what they did right or wrong.

Bottom Line: Start Working on SMART Goals

If you aren’t already setting SMART goals and objectives for your project team members, now is the time to start. From driving productivity to ensuring accountability and rewarding staff for their contributions, establishing SMART goals makes it easy to engage employees in every aspect and from every angle. It is also beneficial to set clear goals right from the beginning, especially for novice team members, as it ensures that everyone is working toward the same goal.

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