It's a Project Manager's World Newsletter with Dr. James Brown
      January, 2014 Full Moon Edition      

Ensure goals, objectives and requirements are SMART - The Number Six Project Manager Success Factor

In a previous newsletter I identified my top ten project manager success factors.  In this newsletter we will cover number six which is “Ensure goals, objectives and requirements are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Agreed Upon, Realistic, Time Constrained).

There are four states of nature than can be used to judge organizational, project or individual performance. They are RR, RW, WR, and WW.

  • RR is when we identify the right things to do and execute them in the right way
  • RW is when we identify the right things to do and execute them in the wrong way
  • WR is when identify the wrong things to do and execute them in the right way
  • WW is when we identify the wrong things to do and execute them in the wrong way

Ensuring goals, objectives and requirements are SMART deals with the first R.

No point in working hard and late on execution if you can’t get the first R nailed down. For any goal, objective or requirement the project manager must work to ensure they are SMART. This starts by educating and establishing buy in from stakeholders that goals, objectives and requirements should be SMART.

At the start of the project or early in the process expect everyone to agree with this philosophy, as it is common sense. Use this agreement to leverage the psychological principle of consistency, when circumstances get more difficult, which they always do.  If you don't know about the psychological principle of consistency you will help yourself greatly by reading these two books. One. Two.

From a project management perspective the SMART requirement of “realistic” can often be the most challenging. For a variety of reasons some organizations like to set unrealistic expectations, schedules and cost constraints. You could almost call this lack of realism normal for some organizations.

It is the job of the project manager to make the stakeholders come to grips with reality.

This can be difficult because reality is harsh and often doesn’t fit the rosy picture they like to have of the future or reality doesn’t fit the beautiful scenery someone has sold the customer.

Don’t assume telling them it’s unrealistic is all that needs to be done. It is much more complex and intricate than that.

  • Sometimes you should not tell them you should let circumstances tell them.
  • Sometimes you tell them in bits and pieces.
  • Sometimes you hide clues for them to find that drive them to tell you it is unrealistic.
  • Sometimes you create or expose obstacles in other areas that end up communicating the reality.

Often it is a combination of all of these and more. The bottom line here is you must have a strategy for bringing some goals, objective or requirements into the realistic realm.

If it were easy as telling, then everyone would be a great project manager.

Please note that as project manager sometimes you come out of this process battered and bruised. It is better to be battered and bruised, than tortured and tormented dealing with a false reality all the way to project failure, for which you will likely be blamed. One of my mantra’s is as a project manager, if I am going to die, I want to die early with the sword of aggressiveness in my hand. I don’t want to die the long, slow agonizing death behind a shield of passivity. You want to be aggressive ensuring goals, objectives and requirements are SMART. Strategically aggressive!

The other factors of SMART besides “realistic” are usually easier to nail down unless there are problems. This is what makes SMART a powerful tool for project managers. It identifies problems. When something cannot be identified with a specific description that’s a problem. When something can’t be measured that’s a problem. When we can’t agree on how to measure it, or what the specific description is or when it is truly required (time constrained) it’s a problem.

Remember as a project manager you love problems! If you don't love problems you may want to consider another career path. 
The only bad problem is one that is not identified or one that is identified too late to fix without dire consequences. Ferreting out problems is part of the fun of being a project manager.

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