Over 2,300 years ago ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle contemplated that purpose can cause action. In modern times countless studies have proved that those who set goals achieve more than those who don’t.

In 1981 management consultant George T. Doran published his thoughts on a structured approach to goals and objective setting. He called it SMART goals and importantly also highlighted that any goal must be accompanied by a plan.

If you’ve ever learned about SMART goals before, you’re probably going to be surprised to discover that it’s become quite a messy subject.

Original Doran SMART Goals

Doran’s original criteria for a goal or objective is as follows:

  • Specific – target a specific area for improvement.
  • Measurable – quantify or at least suggest an indicator of progress.
  • Assignable – specify who will do it.
  • Realistic – state what results can realistically be achieved, given available resources.
  • Time-related – specify when the result(s) can be achieved.

Variations of SMART

In the intervening years SMART goals have become a staple subject in business training, although adaption and interpretation can sometimes lead to confusion which I have experienced myself.

S SpecificStrategic 
A Assignable Agreed, Action-oriented, Ambitious, Aligned with corporate goals, Attainable and Achievable
R RealisticRelevant, Resourced, Reasonable, Results-based
TTime-relatedTrackable, Time-based, Time-oriented, time/cost limited, Timely, Time-sensitive, Timeframe, Testable

Confusion arises when alternatives are used without proper consideration. For example when Achievable and Realistic are used together (which they often are) it can be difficult to understand how this criteria works together. By definition, if something is achievable it must therefore be realistic.

This unfortunately detracts from the whole point of Doran’s SMART goals which was an approach to make goal setting faster and easier.

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