May 24, 2012

How to Set SMART Goals

This article originally appeared on Konsultbolag1

Goals are an important basis for measuring performance and improving an organization, especially for test and requirement managers. Without goals, however vague they may be, you’ll have a hard time keeping your team members motivated.

Of course, setting goals is hard! If the goals are fuzzy, team members won’t know what they need to accomplish; if the targets are too low, they won’t improve their skills; and if the objectives are too ambitious, your people will be discouraged when they fall short of the goal.

Goals exist on many levels: for management, for different work groups and projects, and for each individual. At the highest level, objectives should break down into detailed drivers of group goals, and on down to individuals, so that everyone knows how their personal goals fit within the organization’s overall success.

What are SMART goals anyway?

The acronym SMART is basically a technique which makes formulating objectives easier.

SMART means that each goal must be:


  • Describe what is to be achieved, when, how, why, and by whom the goal must be achieved.



  • Can you answer the question “How will I measure success?” The goal is only measurable if it is clear how to judge whether the goal is met.


  • The person who needs to meet the goal has to accept it. Let employees set their own goals rather than, for example, having the test manager set goals for the testers.



  • Is it possible to meet the goal? A good practice is to look for historical precedence: if no one has ever accomplished the same or similar tasks, the goal may be unrealistic – or at least, uncertain. Unrealistic goals serve only to demoralize people.



  • Without a deadline, you run the risk that the goal may not be met in a useful timeframe – or ever. Psychologically speaking, people actually love deadlines. Why do you think people cram right before exams?


An example of a SMART objective

It’s all well and good to theorize, getting the goals onto paper is what matters. Here’s an example of goal-setting for a test group:


Our goal is to improve the quality of our internally-developed system.

We will achieve this goal by automating the developers’ unit testing procedures, and training testers and test managers in testing best practices. The client for this project is the CEO.

The objectives are developed by system developers, testers and test managers in a series of workshops in the spring.


  • The developers will automate unit testing. The goal is that all systems will achieve at least 75 % code coverage by the end of this year.
  • At the end of this year, all the testers will complete the ISTQB Foundation course to learn testing best practices. Additionally, test managers will also complete test management training.

These objectives are…

  • Specific, since they clearly describe what needs to be done to achieve the goal.
  • Measurable, since it is possible to measure code coverage using a test tool and that the team members have taken the course.
  • Accepted by the CEO and those who need to meet the objectives. You need to ensure that the people who have to meet the goals really buy into them, and aren’t just feigning acceptance of something that management decided.
  • Realistic – assuming the conditions are sufficient today. If the right technical environment is in place to automate testing, and the developers have time to implement automation, then the goal is realistic. Similarly, we assume the testers are already taking test training today.
  • Time-bound. The fulfillment of the objectives will be measured at the end of the year.

Tips about SMART Goals

Follow up continuously on goals to ensure they don’t just sit on a shelf, but really guide day-to-day work. You might follow up on goals at monthly meetings or at specially designated follow-up meetings, but do it and never simply assume that the goal is being followed upon.

Emphasize that goals can change as the needs of the business change, and the process of improvement is not over once goals are met. Today’s accomplishments lay the foundation for further growth tomorrow.

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