Agile SM(A)RT Goal-Setting

By La Juana Chambers Lawson and George Garza 

SMART goal-setting is attributed to George T. Doran, a consultant and author of “There’s a S.M.A.R.T. Way to Write Management’s Goals and Objectives” (1981). In the paper, he offered SMART in the following way: 

Specific – target a specific area for improvement. 

Measurable – quantify or at least suggest an indicator of progress.

Assignable – specify who will do it. 

Realistic – state what results can realistically be achieved, given available resources. 

Time-related – specify when the result(s) can be achieved. 

Doran went on to provide that SMART can and will have many meanings that may lead to the creation of goals that are believed to be effective and meaningful. The goal of his paper was to advance goal-setting in a manner that incorporated the SMART criteria as a guideline to more predictive and rigid goal-setting. SMART goals have since become quite popular. Can you think of the goals that you have set? Have they been SMART? Are you familiar with the Agile approach to SMART Goals? Offered by Ariane Benefit (2013), this approach to SMART goal-setting introduces a more organic hybrid of predictive, iterative and incremental processes to account for the unexpected and one’s need to adapt to those changes. This hybrid sets forth a life-cycle in one’s goal-setting that is accountable, flexible and more sustainable. In her blog entitled “The Agile Approach to S.M.A.R.T. Goals” (2013), Benefit offered SMART the following agilized way: 

Small, simple, specific, sustainable actions. 

Meaningful, memorable outcomes. 

Aim for AGILE Zone of Expectations, standards.

Relevant to multiple needs and outcomes. 

Tweakable Targets, Time-boxed check-ins.

In Agile SMART goal-setting, emphasis is placed on the utility and perception of the goal(s) that one sets. This invokes the intersectionality of emotional intelligence. As a mixed model of intelligences, self-perceived abilities and skills that drive performance, emotional intelligence enables the Agile approach to SMART goal-setting. It provides a user-friendly foundation of improvisational, need responsive, and growth oriented milestones; generally, these deliverables prove more flexible and sustainable because of their grounding in one’s personal growth and functional needs. In an attempt to provide greater clarity about the Agile approach to SM(A)RT goal-setting, I offer the following: 

Simple Milestones that are Accessible, Reasonable and Tweakable. As evidenced in the formatting, greater emphasis on this revitalized Agile approach to SM(A)RT goal-setting is on accessibility. It serves as a conscientious reminder to the goal-setter to grasp the abstractness of their goal and construct a stepping stone win as often as possible. Access to growth is often denied to those who fixate on their ideal rather than learn to accept their stepping stone wins. Goal-setting is an exercise of motivation, self-awareness and self-regulation. 

In “Earned Value Formula Pocket Book and Guide”, there is an accompanying formula and explanation that provides greater context in order to better understand the Agile approach to SMART goal-setting. For now, George provides great perspective on this approach to SMART goal-setting below. 

Agile “SMART” Goals. When this term was uttered to me I was taken aback. Were the goals that I had set for myself not smart? Did I put too little effort into the goal-setting process? After discussing it more with La Juana, I later learned that the answer to those questions was a resounding no. I had set goals for myself and had traditionally put in a great deal of effort into determining them; though, the goals that I set for myself were lofty and difficult to grasp. Simply put, I did not consciously set or keep track of my smaller goals and I didn’t make adjustments to my larger goals as often as I should have. The Agile SMART goal-setting approach allows individuals to set goals that can be adjusted as they have total control in both the process and outcome. This type of goal-setting treats each goal as an individual project structured by an Agile approach that is empowering and produces immediate gratification.

  Setting a goal is not a simple task; the steps necessary to achieve a goal are not so prescriptive and require frequent adjustment and pivoting.  There is no right or wrong way to get from point A to point B. Life is unexpected and does not always go as planned. Who’s to say that from point A to point B there isn’t a flat tire or natural disaster that alters your plans?  What if whatever steps you planned along your journey didn’t involve you packing a raincoat or a spare? What if you left little to no room to adequately respond to the unexpected? You can give up, you can turn around and start again, or you can stay stagnant.

  Goals are common amongst us all.  Lose weight, exercise daily, go to church regularly, put all of the laundry away.  They are easily said and even easier to figure out what steps are needed to actually achieve them.  What is not easy is the action of starting said goal and sticking to whatever flow you chart for yourself to achieve them.  Want to lose weight? Go to the gym every day for an hour. Want to finish all of the laundry, wash all of the clothes that you have been avoiding at one time just to create an overwhelming giant pile on top of your bed that you only set aside a few minutes to put away before bedtime.

         Agile SMART goals are designed to entice you to stay on track to achieving your goals.  They allow you to have a deeper interest and broader understanding of what it is you would like to obtain.  They help you to decompose your goal into easy steps that do not burden or stress you.

         As previously shared, the S in SMART stands for small, simple and specific.  A lot of people make the mistake of diving all into a goal.  Completely going out of their comfort zone, and ultimately, setting themselves up for failure.  Trying to make life-style choices that totally contradict their existing life-style. Anything that is generally polarizing or otherwise seen as opposite from your daily routine can cause you to quickly become overwhelmed and undetermined to move forward.

         By setting small, simplistic goals you can easily corral your thoughts, grasp the direction and determine the why of your planned improvement.  Stating something so broadly as “I want to lose 20 lbs in 2 months, so I will eat healthy and exercise everyday” could be too lofty when your existing diet is far from healthy and you live a sedentary life-style.  Instead, you can choose to decompose that goal and give yourself a more realistic timeline to achieve your goal. Maybe make small adjustments to your diet and commit to exercising three times a week for starters.

         M, stands for memorable and meaningful.  Every action or step that you take into the direction of your goal, no matter how small, needs to mean something to you so it can be memorable and eventually become a habit.  Every day, you should be showing some sort of progress on your goal, no matter how insignificant that progress may be, it is a step into the right direction.

         Little changes over time can lead to significant outcomes.  Let’s say you drink socially and have recently decided to quit drinking altogether. One change you can make is to not attend events and/or meetings at bars.  If you’re prone to drinking socially, decline to visit places that encourage social drinking. It is an act that can be remembered and repeated. 

         A is for aiming for the agile zone, meaning that you need to come to the realization that whatever steps you take towards your goal need to be evaluated based on a spectrum not strictly on if you accomplished the step 100%.  Understand that mistakes and errors are necessary to the journey of your goal. They are needed to help you understand your strengths and clarify your intentions.

         If your overall goal is to run a marathon, you ideally start a training regime.  You set a small goal of running one more mile per week than the week before. Imagine so many weeks into it that you are only able to run half a mile more than the previous week and fall short of your one more mile goal.  Instead of giving up or feeling as a failure, you come to see that you are further than you were when you first started on your marathon training journey. You are still on track to accomplishing your goal and are continuing to make progress.  Even though you did not reach that mile mark like you wanted, you still went further and are still trying.

         R is for relevancy to multiple needs and outcomes.  With R you are pretty much knocking out two birds with one stone.  While working on your goals, you can also repair or strengthen other aspects of your life.  Going back to the weight loss type of journey as an example, you realize that with all the working out and healthy eating you have been doing, you have lost your social life.  How can you make sure your social needs are met? Maybe instead of meeting with friends at a restaurant you decide to invite friends on a walk or to a fitness class. With those options, not only are you staying on track with your goal, you are also making sure your social needs are met as well.

         Last but not least is T for tweakable and adaptable.  Agile goals are malleable, you can mold them to fit whatever situation may occur.  Life is full of unpredictable events. Any day can bring a new challenge that may cause you to have to adapt to changes unforeseen or even unfathomable. Maybe you have a goal of starting your own business. You have everything set to leave your full-time job and dive head first into running a business.  All of a sudden, you are hit with a financial blow you were not prepared for, like you have a paralyzing toothache with no health insurance and can’t afford out-of-pocket oral surgery. Your new business is not able to cover this expense. Instead of giving up on your business venture, you can maybe pick up a part time job to help you cover the expenses. Instead of completely giving up on your goals, you need to keep in mind that tweaks and adjustments along the way are both expected and necessary.

         Agile SMART goals are not just about reaching an overall set goal; instead, this approach to SMART goal-setting is about undertaking a circumspect life-style change.  No matter the goal, each step towards your goal involves you developing multiple aspects of your life. Every day is a learning experience and a test of strength. Agile SMART goals allow you to move forward and be able to make adjustments along the way that are both accountable and responsive in a way that empowers rather than condescends or shames.  This sort of goal-setting is not rigid. It is elastic and supports a growth mindset that accepts defeat and perseveres.

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