SMART principle / SMART goals

The SMART principle is a management term for simple and unequivocal drafting and monitoring of objectives.

In the 1990s, the notion arose among technicians and constructors, among others at Philips, to give their managers specific assignments. Theoretically and practically, there are different variants of the Smart principle.


The letters of SMART stand for:

Specific – Is the objective unambiguous?
Measurable – Under what conditions or form has the goal been achieved?
Acceptable – Are these goals acceptable to the target group and / or the management?
Realistic – Is the goal feasible?
Time-related – When the target to be reached (in time)?

The criteria in SMART are themselves also objectives for the program of requirements for a project or an assignment. These are the most popular expressions of the criteria that Roozenburg and Eekels have to demand: “valid, complete, operational, non-redundant, minimal and testable”.


The principle is widely used in project management in both the private and public sector. When managers talk about ‘making SMART’ or ‘formulating SMART’ they mean that the goals must be formulated specifically, measurably, acceptably, realistically and time-bound.


Letters are regularly added to the five of SMART. For example, the R for Relevant: Is the objective valuable for the organization or the people involved? Although this is related to the feasibility.

There is a movement in the coaching world that adds an E at the end for Ecological. This means that the predetermined goal must be in line with the (work) experience, life world and capacities of the subject (does the objective fit into the world of the people involved?). The acronym SMARTER is created with the addition of both the E and the R.

There is also a current that adds the letter I, for inspirational. The goals must provide enough inspiration for all parties to get started: Is the objective motivating enough?


Criticism of the SMART principle focuses on two points:

The normative character. Is it true that goals must always be achievable, acceptable, etc.? Working on goals that will never be achieved is not necessarily meaningless.

The inability to formulate SMART goals. Many concepts (eg safety, happiness, quality of life) are difficult or impossible to measure. The requirement to formulate SMART goals can lead to fixation on measurable data in those cases, whereby the actual goal is lost sight of.

Here it is argued that the critics confuse goals with a goal (in the sense of striving). Striving can be vague or visionary, but goals are more concrete and intended to put people to work.

For example: “I would like you (S) to modify this behavior of you slightly (R) so that you have less work (I / E) by next Friday (T). Will that work for you? (A) I suggest before we follow this up via ‘this tool’ (M)”.

Proponents state that managers can assess more objectively with SMART. Delivered work can be assessed on the basis of results in a limited time and people can be paid for it. With goals that are SMART, a judgment can be determined objectively or objectively by measuring their performance, and people can be rewarded or given notice of default.

If an objective is not SMART, according to the proponents, objective management of performance is difficult. There will then have to be familiar with the presence and motivation of the executor or the subjective feeling of the evaluator.

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