SMART Project Management

When I was in high-school, I worked at an office supply chain in the "Business Machines" department. I sold computers, adding machines, Palm Pilots (the first revision!), printers, cables, you name it. Aside from helping customers, I had to stock those items on the floor, take daily inventory, complete cleaning/organizing projects, set up new displays to specs (Planograms) and take on whatever other tasks my managers wanted me to finish. Eventually, I was promoted to "Business Machines Lead" -- which came with a sweet $0.75/hr raise. Cha-ching!

Duane was the assistant store manager, and my immediate supervisor. Duane was a smart guy -- no older than I am now, extremely driven, and working his hardest to succeed. His situation wasn't easy: divorced, a young daughter to take care of; he constantly looked exhausted from his hard work both at home and at the store.

When I came to him complaining that tasks I was assigning to my associates weren't getting done no matter how hard I rode them or led by example, he explained the S.M.A.R.T. approach:

"Dom," he began, "You're not working smart. You're not managing your guys in a smart way. I don't mean you're being stupid; in fact a lot of store managers and even people at corporate fall into this same trap." His brow furrowed at the unspoken recollection of middle-managers everywhere assigning projects and tasks that weren't 'smart', whatever that meant.

"What you have to do, Dom, whether you're delegating tasks within a team, or the owner of your own business giving employees tasks to do someday is make your assignments smart." I was still confused. "Smart," he began, "means your task is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Reasonable, and Timeboxed." It was beginning to make sense.

"Be Specific. Don't tell your guys to 'clean up this area here', tell them to pick up the stock from the floor, wipe down the shelves, and make sure the price tags are accurate.

"But make sure the task you hand out is Measurable -- you want every item on these shelved priced correctly, no dirt and grime on these shelves and nothing left on the floor. A measurable goal lets you answer the question, 'when am I done with this?'

"Achievable goals are ones that can actually be finished. 'Increase computer sales by 30,000%' is specific and measurable, but not achievable.

"An achievable goal should also be Reasonable. The two dovetail to one another; if you have very heavy customer traffic, it isn't reasonable to ask your guys to clean and stock a shelf off in the corner and leave customers waiting. Keep in mind their other obligations.

"Finally, Timebox the assignment. Don't say 'I need this done today,' say 'I need this done before you go to lunch at 11:30 today.' Don't forget that your timebox needs to be achievable and reasonable as well -- 'Unload the truck by 8:30am' when it's 8:00am right now isn't a reasonable or achievable goal."

Now, everything made sense. Thinking back, I realized that this was how Duane was so effective in managing me. Assigning only tasks that were 'SMART' gave me something achievable to work for and enabled me to hit goals.

If you're having trouble hitting your marks in your organization or as a consultant, consider taking on the SMART philosophy of project management. It motivates everyone when goals are met!

Further reading