smart goals for project managers

How to Utilize
SMART Goals for Project Managers

There’s nothing quite like the excitement you feel when you hit some big business goals. Just having a mental image of your success can trigger a wide range of emotions, from motivation to anxiety.

Optimism is always good when you’re a project manager, but the positivity disappears when it’s time to execute and you realize there are holes in your original plan.

There are a lot of reasons why plans don’t go smoothly. But, in most cases, the project goals weren’t clear enough. Having a desired outcome in mind is good, but it will be impossible to attain if the entire journey toward that outcome is a mystery.

The solution? SMART goals.

What are SMART goals?

SMART goals are designed to help you create a more in-depth project plan so you can measure your success more accurately and make more precise adjustments along the way.

“SMART” is an acronym for five characteristics your goals should have to be effective: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. Keep this in mind when defining your goals, and you’ll be set up for success.

The difference between standard goals and SMART goals is that typical goals are what you aim to achieve. SMART goals, on the other hand, include finer details in the equation, such as resources, deadlines, and potential roadblocks along the way.

In other words, normal goals can be defined as what you want to achieve, while SMART goals are what you want to achieve and the journey's details. This means you should carefully plan your schedule, determine your project management deliverables, and account for every resource you have.

SMART goals take more effort to create and follow, but they ensure a higher likelihood of succeeding. Like lots of things in life, the extra effort is worth it in the end. Nailing your project management skills as a project manager is a noble goal. 

How do SMART goals help leaders manage a project?

SMART goals give leaders and the project team a structured and practical approach to managing projects. The acronym SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound, outlining the essential criteria for setting goals.

When leaders create SMART goals, they ensure clarity in their objectives. Instead of vague or broad targets, SMART goals are specific, clearly defining what needs to be achieved. This specificity helps the team understand the project's direction and align their efforts accordingly.

Benefits of SMART goals

Setting goals is integral to personal and professional growth, and adopting the SMART criteria enhances goal-setting effectiveness. Let's explore the key benefits of incorporating SMART goals into your endeavors.

  • Clarity and precision: SMART goals bring clarity by defining specific and detailed objectives. This precision helps individuals and teams understand what needs to be accomplished, reducing ambiguity and fostering a shared understanding. Project planning helps with team communication and sets up project success.

  • Measurable progress: The measurable aspect of setting a project management goal ensures that progress can be tracked and assessed objectively. Measuring success against predetermined criteria provides a tangible way to gauge achievements and adjust strategies as needed.

  • Realistic and achievable targets: SMART goals encourage setting realistic and achievable targets. By aligning goals with available resources and capabilities, individuals and teams can avoid setting themselves up for failure and build a foundation for success.

  • Alignment with purpose: SMART goals are inherently relevant, aligning directly with the overarching purpose or mission. This alignment ensures that efforts contribute meaningfully to the bigger picture, enhancing motivation and engagement.

  • Time efficiency: The time-bound nature of SMART goals introduces a sense of urgency. A defined timeframe encourages efficient use of time and resources, preventing procrastination and promoting a proactive approach to goal attainment.

Incorporating SMART goals into your personal and professional life brings many benefits, from enhanced clarity and measurability to increased realism and alignment with purpose. This structured approach empowers individuals and teams to pursue goals strategically, unlocking a path to consistent success.

SMART goals vs. SMART objectives

The conceptual difference between SMART goals and SMART objectives isn’t significant. Each has its characteristics that make it more suitable for a particular situation.

SMART goalsSMART objectives


Short term

Primary goal

Smaller steps to meet the goal

Collective effort by the whole team

Divided into less complex tasks for smaller groups of people

Follows a general strategy

More tactical, on-the-fly adjustments

Dealing with SMART goals is fundamentally the same as dealing with any project — divide them into smaller groups of to-dos and assign them to the right people. These are when your SMART goals become SMART objectives.

Dividing a big project into smaller parts is already a good move, but applying this principle to your objectives can further boost your workflow efficiency. And in project management, you can only have a little of that.

How to set SMART goals

Start by focusing on one goal first. Concentrate and identify the outcome you want for your project, and hold on to that thought.

Setting SMART goals isn’t rocket science, but you must fully understand the project you’re working on. Knowing it inside and out is critical in creating reasonable criteria for building and meeting your project management goals.

One thing to remember when setting SMART goals is that having more objectives isn’t always better. You want your SMART goals to be a reliable benchmark of your performance and an indicator of how close you are to your target, but you don’t want to go too far by dividing your goal into more objectives than needed. This will only lead you to constant overthinking and, ultimately, burnout.


You can’t set goals like “the traffic to our site should increase” and expect planning to be easy — being specific is necessary for an effective manager. Being unclear with your goals makes it difficult to determine where you currently are along the way.

Instead, set your goals in a descriptive enough way that you can quickly get an idea about how to design your roadmap when you think about it. For instance, instead of the above example, your goal should be “the traffic to our site should be X users daily by next month."


You’re halfway through a big project. Your team seems to be performing well, and you still have a good couple of weeks. You feel the project is going well, but you’re not 100% sure. So you ask yourself: “What’s missing?”


If you don’t have any metrics to refer to for your project’s current status, deciding whether you should make adjustments will be troublesome. And making the adjustments itself becomes a gigantic headache.

Some examples of metrics are tasks completed per week, average hours spent on each task, and the total number of hours worked by your team. One of the best ways to measure these and your team’s productivity is using Hubstaff, a time tracking and activity-monitoring tool.


When setting your goals, one of the most important — and hardest — questions project managers need to ask themselves is, “Can it be done?” If the answer is no, changes to your project goals and objectives may be necessary.

It’s not wrong to be ambitious, but there are instances when attaining a particular goal is impossible. For example, you want to complete a big project in one month with a team of only five people. Not only will this burn through your team’s energy quickly, but it also entails a high probability of scheduling conflicts with other projects, which can hurt the business as a whole.

A reliable way to determine whether a goal is attainable is by looking at the results in the previous months. If you see a rising trend, use this as a benchmark and set your goals with it.


Having many project goals is good, especially if you’re on track to accomplishing them. At the same time, handling several projects simultaneously can negatively affect your team’s work output quality and cause productivity to decline over time.

Make sure to revisit your goals regularly and re-evaluate if they are necessary for the project's success. Are they worth allocating valuable resources for? Will their results have a significant impact on the growth of the business? Teams find it challenging to drop a goal they’ve already put effort into, but it’s sometimes a better option than to continue wasting time and energy away.


Regardless of the size and complexity of your project, time will not stop or slow down, so you should plan for every second as much as possible. If your plan contains the phrase “however long it takes,” you might want to reconsider it.

Having time-bound goals means that your goals are feasible in terms of the given time frame. It’s about understanding that some of your goals will take longer to complete than others and that you may need to set aside other goals because time does not permit their completion with the resources that you currently have access to.

Examples of SMART goals

Many factors affect SMART goals, from the industry you work in to the number of people on your team. This means that two teams from different companies can have the same goal, but the SMART versions for each company can be entirely different.

Here are a few examples of SMART goals.

Example 1: Produce 5 high-quality blog posts every month

Specific: Schedule compelling posts on the editorial calendar and publish them regularly.

Measurable: How many visitors is a post getting? Are they being converted into customers?

Attainable: We produced four monthly posts for the past year and have onboarded a new, experienced blog editor.

Relevant: 10% of visitors to our blog are converted to paying customers.

Time-bound: 30 days is enough to perform keyword research and publish the content.

Example 2: Gain 15 new backlinks in 30 days

Specific: Win backlinks from relevant sites to increase page visibility.

Measurable: Use software tools to track newly earned backlinks and traffic to the site.

Attainable: We gained ten backlinks in the past 30 days using timely outreach emails and offering links from our domain.

Relevant: Backlinks help improve our visibility on Google, a massive source of possible customers.

Time-bound: Finding sites and people to contact will take a week. Three weeks is enough to send emails and follow-ups and negotiate with sites that respond.

Example 3: Get 50% of free trial users to sign up for a Premium plan.

Specific: Let’s connect with the people currently using our free trial, guide them through a demo, and provide excellent customer support.

Measurable: For every 100 users who avail of our free trial, how many stop using the app after the trial? How many go for a Premium plan?

Attainable: 80 people used the free trial last month, and 37 availed of a Premium plan.

Relevant: The Premium plan is where we get much of our income.

Time-bound: 30 days is a good measure of how many users were lured into a free trial and eventually signed up for a Premium plan.

Start setting your SMART goals now

Learning how to set a SMART goal properly can take some time. But once you can apply its principles to your projects effectively, you’ll realize that everything becomes much more streamlined. Using project management tools helps you automate the project to set and track project objectives.

The best project management tool you could use to ensure that your SMART goals are executed well is our Hubstaff Tasks add-on, an Agile project management software. It has Kanban boards, Agile Sprints, custom workflows, and a lot more features that make task management and working productively smoother than ever.

Once your SMART goals are in place, you can create more robust strategies and strategically spend your resources. These also allow you to adjust the project's duration at any point more comfortably. Ultimately, you’ll be on a more innovative path to project successes that boost your business and help make your big business goals turn into realities.

Help your team achieve their goals

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