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 a good thing, but when it’s time to execute and you realize that there are holes in your original plan the positivity starts to fade away.

There are a lot of reasons why plans don’t go smoothly. But, in most cases, it’s because 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 in order 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 normal goals and SMART goals is that normal goals are simply 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 what the details of the journey are going to be. This means that you should carefully plan your schedule, determine your project management deliverables, and account for every resource that 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.

SMART goals vs. SMART objectives

The conceptual difference between SMART goals and SMART objectives isn’t big. Each has its own set of 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 are fundamentally the same as dealing with any project — divide them into smaller groups of to-dos, and assign 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 in itself, but applying this principle to your objectives can potentially boost your workflow efficiency further. And in project management, you can never have too much of that.

How to set SMART goals

Start off 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 correctly isn’t rocket science, but you are required to have a full understanding of the project you’re working on. Knowing it inside and out plays a key role in creating a reasonable set of criteria for building and meeting your project management goals.

One thing to keep in mind 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 a state of constant overthinking, and ultimately, burnout.


You can’t go around setting goals like “the traffic to our site should increase” and expect planning to be easy — being specific is necessary for being an effective manager. Being unclear with your goals only makes it difficult to determine just 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 example mentioned above, 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 pretty well, and you’ve still got a good couple of weeks. You feel like 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 between your team. One of the best ways to measure these as well as your productivity is by 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 bad to be ambitious, but there are instances when it’s simply not possible to attain a particular goal. For example, you want to complete a big project in one month with a team of only five people. Not only is this going to quickly burn through your team’s energy, but this 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 or not is looking at the results in the previous months. If you see a rising trend, you could 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 really necessary to the success of the project. Are they worth allocating valuable resources for? Will their results have a significant impact on the growth of the business? Teams find it difficult 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 you can. 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 its completion with the resources that you currently have access to.

Examples of SMART goals

There are a lot of factors that affect SMART goals, from the industry you work in to the number of people you have in your team. This means that two teams from different companies can have the exact 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 on a regular basis.

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

Attainable: We were able to produce 4 posts per month for the past year, and we 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 were able to gain 10 backlinks in the past 30 days using timely outreach emails and offering links from our own domain.

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

Time-bound: Finding sites and people to contact will take a week. Three weeks is enough to send out 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 who are currently using our free trial, guide them through a demo, and provide them with excellent customer support.

Measurable: For every 100 users who avail of our free trial, how many of them 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 of them availed a Premium plan.

Relevant: The Premium plan is where we get a large portion 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 properly set SMART goals can take some time. But once you’re able to apply its principles to your projects in an effective manner, you’ll realize that everything becomes so much more streamlined.

One of the best apps you could use to make sure that your SMART goals are executed well is Hubstaff Tasks, 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 stronger strategies, as well as be more strategic in how you spend your resources. These also allow you to make adjustments at any point in the project’s duration more comfortably. Ultimately, you’ll be on a smarter path to project successes that boost your business and help make all of your big business goals turn into realities.

Help your team achieve their goals

Use Hubstaff Tasks to efficiently streamline your work, and make your team even more productive.

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