For Better Project Planning, Get SMART

Sabra Fiala

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What unites nearly every higher education professional? A long to-do list and limited time. And while we each have our preferred project planning methodology, it’s important to remember that goals and objectives are the fuel that moves everything forward. With that in mind, now is the perfect time for a SMART refresher—an easy-to-remember structure for framing goals, motivating teams, and improving efficiency.

  1. Set SPECIFIC goals: The best goals are specific and clear. Don’t simply plan to “develop a new online recruitment campaign next year to boost applications.” Focus on quantifiable objectives. How many new applicants do you want to bring in? How many audience segments will be targeted? When will the campaign launch? Establishing specific goals early will help everyone prepare and provide a framework for measuring success.
  2. MEASURE your progress: As you work toward each quantifiable goal, track your progress. Everyone on your team should know what’s done and what’s left to do—for clarity, for motivation, and for morale. If you don’t have access to workflow or project management software, go old-school. Display your progress on a whiteboard so everyone can see.
  3. Make all goals ATTAINABLE: It’s great to dream big, but make sure your goals are firmly rooted in reality. Each goal should be achievable (i.e., in proper relation to the capabilities of the person or team) and accessible (i.e., within reach of the team based on resources, timing, etc.). For example, doubling your school’s site traffic in a single semester probably isn’t attainable if you’re operating on a shoestring marketing budget with limited staff. Focus on what you can do and do it well.

And while we’re on the topic of attainable goals, let’s expand our definitions a bit: Instead of narrowly focusing on performance goals for your team members (did they successfully achieve the objective), add learning goals to the mix. Learning goals are all about process. Ask yourself: How did they achieve the goal? Did they acquire new skills in the process? Did they collaborate to come up with creative approaches or solutions?

  1. Keep goals RELEVANT: As your team works toward the primary goal, each operational goal should be relevant—collectively and individually. For example, writing new campaign copy for a specific audience segment directly supports the team-relevant goal of boosting the number of qualified applicants. But assigning that task to a staff member with a creative background makes it personally relevant. Remember, dual-relevancy creates a powerful motivating force.
  2. …And TIME-BOUND: Without deadlines, goals become fantasies. Remember Parkinson’s Law: “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” In other words, if a task doesn’t have a due date, other demands will crowd it out indefinitely. Again, make these goals quantifiable. Set firm deadlines, show how individual due dates and incremental goals work together to support the larger objective, and foster a healthy sense of urgency.

From recruitment assessments to marketing and communication plans, Stamats helps colleges and universities across the nation work smarter and achieve more. For more information on our services, please call me directly at 319-861-5054 or email [email protected].

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