Luis Gonçalves – Blog

Agile, Scrum, Retrospectives, etc.

SMART objectives are DUMB objectives!!!

smart goal setting concept

Smart Objectives

smart goal setting concept

Some weeks ago, I spent a full day in a workshop where I was forced to define SMART objectives for a big program. Now, being a survivor of the aforementioned practice, I can affirm that SMART objectives are a dumb way to work. Before you leap to correct me, let me explain my point of view.

The objective of this workshop was to bring people together. Senior management had the feeling that people were not aligned, that they did not truly understand what the company should deliver and by when. Having the workshop was supposed to bring people together and align everyone so that they were all moving toward the end goal. Up to that point, nothing seemed amiss to me, but things got messy when I figured out the facilitator of this workshop was an “old school” business consultant.

He started the session explaining to us that we would define SMART objectives for the whole program in order to align everyone to a common goal. When I heard this, I made a huge effort to keep quiet. Some of my colleagues who are familiar with me and my views were looking to me, waiting for the moment of my explosion.Things got even messier when he started to talk about Management By Objectives.

In this blog post: “SMART Objectives trap!!! Be careful when your boss establishes them” I give a thorough overview of why I think SMART objectives are DUMB objectives, but I want to better explain why I am against this kind of approach.

We live in a chaotic world; changes happen at speed of light and we cannot predict how and when things happen, we just need to be fast and adapt fast enough to survive. Companies are no different—actually, for companies, it is even more important to adapt quickly than it is for us. So, if we live in a society where change happens everywhere, why do we still agree with consultants who want us to define every single goal of a huge program for an 8 month period of time?

Moreover, after having all these SMART objectives defined on a Program Level, he wanted us to cascade all these SMART objectives through the organisation for each different individual—yes, this means imposing individual goals!!! In case you do not know, I am writing this book: “Getting Rid of Performance Appraisals” where I explain that goals cannot be imposed, people must feel connected to the big product and define goals for their own teams.

Establishing SMART Objectives for eight months for the whole organisation, cascading them down to individual level, is a huge waste of time. In two months’ time everything could change and we would need to go through the same process all over again; WHAT A WASTE OF TIME!!!

So, what can we do instead?

My friend Vasco Duarte has a workshop where he helps Product Managers to create a product vision. More can be found here. Basically, he brings product managers together and helps them to create a vision. Together they define a product vision that is aligned with the organisational vision of the company. Vasco helps them to identify the major features of the product and what is mandatory as part of the MVP.

With a clear product vision defined and aligned with the company vision, it is up to the company to create teams with the right skill sets (in order to be able to deliver the right product). Having formed a team vision, the team can then start to define objectives in order to achieve the team, product, and company vision. All of them are aligned, bringing everyone toward the bigger purpose.

I just wanted to make sure, in this case, that we have TEAM objectives—not individual objectives. Of course, each different individual can define their own objectives (or even better, can ask colleagues for feedback regarding where he can improve). Nowhere in this situation is anything imposed; instead, this is always something that comes from the person or from his peers.

It’s quite common to ask for new things, but to get them we must achieve new things and try new things. Like Peter Senge says: “It´s not enough to change the structures if the mindset behind does not change”. If you really want to make a difference and become an agile company, stop using old-fashioned methods that are outdated and proven to be wrong.

This blog post is part of my new book that you can find here. Below you can get the first part of the book…

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4 thoughts on “SMART objectives are DUMB objectives!!!”

  1. Chris Caswell says:

    Your premise needs context. It’s akin to stating a “Cricket bat is a dumb bat!” without the context of “… when playing tennis”.

    It is not foolish to discard tools on the basis that they’ve been around for a while? I rather like my hammer, when driving nails :)

    As with all tools one needs to be mindful when and when not to use them. SMART for example is highly effective at sharpening up the output of a retrospective, driving actual change rather aspirations. In your example, SMART is inappropriate as it is disingenuous to believe one can create a specific and measurable expectation for an 8 month period. (Creating a vision, as you indicated, is far more effective).

    What is that old adage? “a bad workman always blames his tools” =)

    1. I partly agree with you :) But still not fan of SMART goals even for Agile Retrospectives :) I wrote another blog post about that right here:http://lmsgoncalves.com/2013/01/14/smart-goals-trap/

      Cheers,
      Luis

  2. André says:

    So SMART goals aren’t the problem but SMART goals that need 8 months and are imposed onto people rather than chosen by the people. Goals still have to be relevant, specific, measurable (success criteria at least) etc.

    1. Hi,

      “Goals still have to be relevant, specific, measurable (success criteria at least) etc.”

      I do not agree with have. Its too strong. Take a look into Daniel Pink´s book: Drive and you will understand how SMART goals can actually harm companies quite a lot.

      Cheers,
      Luis

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