History of SMART Objectives

Introduction to SMART objectives and SMART Goals

SMART Objectives imageManagement by Objectives is often credited to Peter Drucker in his 1954 book “The Practice of Management”, from this claimed history and approach the use of the acronym SMART(er) has grown. Having said that, for those that have bothered to read the book – there is NO DIRECT reference to SMART by Drucker in this publication.  While it is clear that Drucker was one of the first to write about management by objectives, the SMART acronym is harder to trace the documented origins of.

Read about our investigation into the history and origins of the SMART objectives acronym.

History and origins of the SMART objectives acronym

There are many that claim to know the true history of the SMART objective acronym, however there is little documented evidence.

What I have found to date (June 2010) is the following – it will be corrected and updated as I gain new information.

Many believe that Drucker is the originator – I have researched this and cannot find any inclusion in any of his books, nor have I found a publication by him containing the term.

During the 1940s and 1950s there were many engineering and educational publications that started discussing the merits of “specific and measurable” goals or objectives. Interestingly the term mostly used in the very really days was that of goal setting rather than objective setting, even within technical environments. The fact that specific and measurable have been used almost since the beginning of the era of management and educational publications suggests that the foundations for SMART goals or objectives was widespread. Indeed reading many of the original pieces I have found that language like realistic, relevant, resourced etc have accompanied much of the early texts, so the ‘leap’ to the acronym or mnemonic was perhaps an organic one rather than one of innovation in its true sense. The use of specific and measurable goals was just as prevalent in the educational world as it was the business world.

So with that said who used the SMART description and in what publication…

Blanchard includes references to SMART in “Leadership and the One Minute Manager” (LOMM). In leadership and the one minute manager Blanchard uses the SMART objective acronym on p89. This book was first published in 1985. No references are noted and copyright is assumed. here SMART is used to mean – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Trackable. This appears to be one of the first books to use the acronym.

In their books Blanchard and Hersey use the term SMART goals. it is in the 1988 version (5th edition of Management of Organizational Behavior
). It is not in any earlier editions of the publication, and no references to the term exist. Again like Blanchards LOMM book the acronym is the same (p382). in this chapter the authors claim that much of the content is based on their work since 1981 (p377).

The Real Beginning?

Some claim Paul J. Meyer used it in his work “Personal Success Planner” in 1965, although there is no documented evidence before November 1981 for this.

From Jim Moore – the Meyer family archivist –

“Mr Meyer first used the acronym in 1965.  However, the 1965 usage was in instructional text and was not then copyrighted as an acronym.  .

As you may be aware, John Haggai attributes the acronym to Paul (in Mr Haggai’s book, Lead On! – 1986) but without specific citation or other documentation.”

This is interesting as this publication date coincides with the writing of the Blanchard book. The earliest printed evidence that Meyer used the term is on a goal planning sheet from 1986. This is a shame, as there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that Meyer was using the term “SMART” for some time, but without documented proof confusion still reins.

Meyer and Blanchard have collaborated on projects so this could explain why it is included in Herseys and Blanchards seminal work.

The original version used by Meyer was:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Realistic and
  • Tangible

Meyer users the term Tangible , however the most common version uses Time bound – the Blanchard/ Hersey version.

Some claim that George T. Doran, developed the concept of S.M.A.R.T. goals in the discipline of project and program management and cite – George T. Doran, “There’s a S. M. A. R. T. Way to Write Management Goals and Objectives”, Management Review (AMA Forum), November 1981, pps. 35-36

Doran, George T. “There’s a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management’s goals and objectives.” Management Review 70.11 (Nov. 1981): 35. Business Source Corporate. EBSCO . 15 Oct. 2008.

Therefore Doran used the term before Blanchard. These certainly appear to be the first published articles documenting the SMART Objective as we know it today, however all this appears to prove is that there is an earlier source.

One of the earliest publications applying goal setting directly to individuals performance is in:

GOAL SETTING AND SELF-CONTROL. By: RAIA, ANTHONY P.. Journal of Management Studies, Feb 1965, Vol. 2 Issue 1, p34-53, 20p; EBSCO . 31 Oct. 2008

And while this does not list the full SMART format it does talk about specific and measurable as well as requiring goals to be:

  • Authorised to complete the goal
  • Realistic and challenging
  • Tied to a completion date

So the elements are there – but not tied into the SMART formula. Incidentally this document also explores what may well have been one of the first individual performance appraisal approaches.

In this document for me there is an enlightening paragraph:

“… Planning the Use of Resources — One of the most important aspects of the program is that it takes the manager away from the daily operations of the plant and forces him to plan the use of his resources. The process of goalsetting involves translating short-term company objectives into specific goals which are tied to a completion date. This helps to integrate the work of the individual with the overall objectives of the enterprise.”

We are continuing to work on establishing a record based on printed use of the acronym – and will keep this page updated. Indeed when the truth is proved we will re-write this pages and include all appropriate references.

If you know of an earlier source we would love to know (to be honest it is driving me nuts attempting to get to the bottom of this, we are close but not there yet – MDM).

*please note this is origional research and has been ongoing for 3+years and while a new post it is not the first time I have written about this topic. All other sites referencing Doran have gained there references from our research.


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About Mike Morrison

Mike Morrison is a consultant and change agent specialising in developing skills in senior people to increase organizational performance.
Mike is also founder & director of RapidBI, an organizational effectiveness consultancy.

Comments

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  6. hi, i would like to know if the “SMART” acronym is copyrighted, and possible to include in a publication? is it okay as long as attribution is given?

    • Hi, some authors have a “claim” on some varients, however my research has shown that no one person can clearly demonstrate true “ownership” of the term SMART.
      Yes you can include it in a publication, however you should attribute the version you use to where you saw it – that may just be this page

  7. SMART objectives, find it a useful process, or inflexible in rapidly changing times? Seems no basis in research for it http://t.co/b4VY0nbw

  8. Wer hat die SMART-Regel erfunden? http://t.co/FeIta9t0

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  13. [...] S.M.A.R.T. stand vor vielen Jahren wohl einmal für Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Tangible (Paul J. Meyer zugeschrieben, 1965, Quelle: John Haggai, Lead On!, 1986). Die erste dokumentierte Verwendung soll bei George T. Doran in There’s a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management’s goals and objectives zu finden sein (Management Review 70/11, 2008-10-15, S. 35-36.) Es gibt aber auch ein paar andere Namen. Was soll’s. Mehr zur Geschichte von S.M.A.R.T.: http://rapidbi.com/history-of-smart-objectives/ [...]

  14. [...] S.M.A.R.T. stand vor vielen Jahren nämlich für Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Tangible. Ausgedacht haben soll sich das unter Anderen Paul J. Meyer (1965, Quelle: John Haggai, Lead On!, 1986). Das war der Erfinder des Goal Setting. Die erste dokumentierte Verwendung soll bei George T. Doran in There’s a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management’s goals and objectives zu finden gewesen sein (Management Review 70/11, 2008-10-15, S. 35-36.) Es gibt aber auch ein paar andere Namen. Was soll’s. (Mehr zur Geschichte von S.M.A.R.T.: http://rapidbi.com/history-of-smart-objectives/ [...]

  15. [...] may have heard of setting smart goals in the past, but have you heard of the SMART acronym?  It was originally created for writing management goals.  It has been revised over the years for [...]

  16. [...] may have heard of setting smart goals in the past, but have you heard of the SMART acronym?  It was originally created for writing management goals.  It has been revised over the years for [...]

  17. Are your goals working against you? | goalsettingmind.org says:

    [...] may have heard of setting smart goals in the past, but have you heard of the SMART acronym?  It was originally created for writing management goals.  It has been revised over the years for [...]

  18. [...] may have heard of setting smart goals in the past, but have you heard of the SMART acronym?  It was originally created for writing management goals.  It has been revised over the years for [...]

  19. [...] Doran GT, Miller AF, Cunningham JA. There’s a S.M.A.R.T. Way to Write Management’s Goals and Obj… [...]

  20. [...] may have heard of setting smart goals in the past, but have you heard of the SMART acronym?  It was originally created for writing management goals.  It has been revised over the years for [...]

  21. […] by useful tools like Bloom’s Taxonomy and the S.M.A.R.T. guidelines for learning objectives, C.O.M.P.A.S.S. is a mnemonic for design principles apply to […]

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