SMART Objectives

Download: SMART Objectives (PDF)

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Specific
Measurable
Time-Bound
Achievable
Relevant
Different Ways to Write SMART Objectives
Additional Examples of SMART-er Objectives
Further Resources
Courses and Training Sessions

Good public health practice requires strong objectives in order to monitor progress toward achieving goals and outcomes. Many programs and services are funded by grants that require developing, implementing and completing objectives to prove success for continued funding. Organizations often struggle to create objectives that accurately measure progress toward a goal and that are meaningful to other team members or stakeholders.

A SMART objective is one that is SPECIFIC, MEASURABLE, ACHIEVABLE, RELEVANT AND TIME-BOUND.

Why use SMART objectives?

  • To provide a structured approach to developing and designing a work plan.
  • To systematically monitor progress towards a target
  • To set the stage for measuring performance and identifying opportunities for improvement
  • To succinctly communicate intended impact and current progress to stakeholders
  • To concretely describes how goals will be met

Devoting time and resources early on to intentionally writing SMART objectives is an investment in the future of a plan, program, or service. By starting out with SMART objectives, a program or plan can systematically and meaningfully measure progress, show achievements and identify opportunities for improvement.

How to Write SMART Objectives

In order to understand how the parts of SMART objectives flow together, the order of the SMART components listed below will go out of order—SMTRA. This is because the Specific, Measurable and Time-Bound parts are clearly visible in the standard written format for objectives. The Achievable and Relevant pieces are more abstract and require reflection. Each of these parts will include an example objective that will be re-written to be SMART.

SMART objectives should:

  • Include all components of SMART
  • Relate to a single result
  • Be clearly written

Specific

Objectives should be well-defined, and clear to other team members and to stakeholders who also understand the program or plan.

Consider these prompts:

What:

  • What exactly will you do?
  • What is the action?
  • What do you intend to impact?

Who:

  • Who is responsible for carrying out the action?
  • What are you intending to impact or who is your target population?

Note that not all of these questions will apply to every objective.

Example Objective

Original Objective How Can We Fix? SMART-er Objective
Staff will be trained in Quality Improvement. We need to clarify the WHO and WHAT to make this objective "smarter." USA County management will offer Quality Improvement training opportunities to staff.

Measurable

This involves selecting what will be measured to show improvement, impact or success. There may be existing measures and targets that are required for a specific program or grant. Try to pick a measure that is meaningful. The easiest things to measure may not be the most meaningful.

Consider these prompts:

  • How much and in what direction will the change occur?
  • What data will be used to prove the target is met?
  • Where will this data come from?
  • Is there a stand-in or proxy measure to use if this objective cannot be directly measured, or is there another measure that would be more appropriate to use instead?

Key Terms

Measure: Show success or impact over time. It is the number, percent or some standard unit to express how you are doing at achieving the goal or outcome.

Target: The desired level of performance you want to see that represents success.

Example Objective

Original Objective How Can We Fix? SMART-er Objective
USA County management will offer Quality Improvement training opportunities to staff. We need to clarify the MEASURE and TARGET to make this objective "smarter." USA County management will offer Quality Improvement training opportunities resulting in 75% of staff completing Quality Improvement 101.

Time-Bound

Objectives should be achievable within a specific time frame that isn't so soon as to prevent success, or so far away as to encourage procrastination.

Consider these prompts:

  • When will this objective be achieved?
  • Is this time-frame realistic?
  • Should it be closer or further in the future?

Example Objective

Original Objective How Can We Fix? SMART-er Objective
USA County management will offer Quality Improvement training opportunities resulting in 75% of staff completing Quality Improvement 101. We need to clarify the TIME to make this objective "smarter." USA County management will offer Quality Improvement training opportunities resulting in 75% of staff completing Quality Improvement 101 by December 31, 2019.

Achievable

Objectives should be within reach for your team or program, considering available resources, knowledge and time.

Consider these prompts:

  • How can this objective be accomplished?
  • Given the current time frame or environment, can this objective be achieved? Should we scale it up or down?
  • What resources will help us achieve this objective? What limitations or constraints stand in our way?

Example Objective

SMART-er Objective How Can We Fix?
USA County management will offer Quality Improvement training opportunities resulting in 75% of staff completing Quality Improvement 101 by December 31, 2019. To clarify achievability, it may be helpful for management to explain who is conducting the training, identify any related costs in the budget and consider whether it is possible to complete in the time frame.

Relevant

Objectives should align with a corresponding goal. Consider if and how successfully completing an objective will be relevant to achieving the goal. Consider if an objective relates to the larger program, plan or organization's mission, vision and goals. It should also be considered whether an objective is relevant or important to the team and other stakeholders. Objectives related to your organization's mission and guiding principles are more likely to be approved by your organizational leadership; objectives supported by other stakeholders will lead to a greater level of buy-in.

Consider these prompts:

  • Will this objective lead to achieving this organization's goals?
  • Does it seem worthwhile to measure this objective? Does it seem reasonable to measure this objective?
SMART-er Objective How Can We Fix?
USA County management will offer Quality Improvement training opportunities resulting in 75% of staff completing Quality Improvement 101 by December 31, 2019. To clarify relevance, it may be helpful to think about how many staff have already completed the training, if any. If there has already been a high number of staff who have completed this training, maybe they should be offered a higher level training or re-write the objective to include attending any QI training.

Different Ways to Write SMART Objectives

There are multiple approaches and ways to explain how to write SMART objectives. Here are some other sentence structures for objectives:

[Who] will do [what] resulting in [measure] by [when].

By [when], [who] will do [what] resulting in [measure].

By [when], [measure - includes who and what].

[Measure – includes who and what] by [when].

Additional Examples of SMART-er Objectives

Original Objective SMART-er Objective
Reduce obesity rates for children and adolescents. By December 31, 2019, reduce the percent of 9th graders in Awesome County who are obese from 8% baseline to 7%.
Meet with colleges to inform them about tobacco-free grounds. Public Health Staff will meet with key stakeholders at all colleges in our jurisdiction resulting in 3 out of 4 colleges committing to work on tobacco free grounds policies by June 2016.
Use technology to increase department communications. Communications and IT staff will pilot and evaluate two new communication technologies targeted to external customers resulting in a 25% increase in traffic to the Community Family Health webpage by December, 2016.

Further Resources

Writing SMART Objectives (PDF)
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

CHIP Collaborative Handbook: Community Health Improvement Planning (PDF)
Kansas Health Institute

"SMART" Objectives (PDF)
March of Dimes, Hawaii Chapter

Developing Goals, Objectives, and Performance Indicators for Community Health Improvement Plans (PDF)
National Association of County & City Health Officials (NACCHO)

SMART Objective Editor
Nebraska Dept. of Health and Human Services

Developing and Using SMART Objectives
Public Health Quality Improvement Exchange (PHQIX)

Courses and Training Sessions

Writing Good Goals and SMART Objectives
Minnesota Dept. of Health

Operationalizing Quality Improvement in Public Health
University of Minnesota School of Public Health