Planning and goal-setting are certainly two of the most challenging tasks an organization faces. However you look at it, macro or micro, strategic or tactical, short or long-term, planning seamlessly finds its way into all functions of management. Quality tools, such as flowcharts, fishbone diagrams, histograms, etc. add tremendous and inarguably invaluable assistance with this process, but the success hinges on whether or not you’re using the right one. And, which one is the right one? The most relevant answer is found in identifying the objective and subsequent details as accurately as possible. This is where S.M.A.R.T. comes in… Planning and goal-setting effectively to work towards meeting or exceeding the objective. It sounds quite simple, but using S.M.A.R.T. forces you to think broader and effectively ask the right questions that will later turn into result-driven action items. Be S.M.A.R.T when planning or goal setting at any level… S – Specific For example, a quality problem identified with poor performance coming from a factory abroad isn’t solved by simply acknowledging there is “some” problem and then throwing different solutions at it to see if things get better. By starting out specific, you lay out a roadmap for resolution. In order to be specific, data collection is often required. For example, are there any specific trends noted in the quality problem, such as raw material inconsistencies or labor shifts tied to production lots? Are there seasonal or shipment quantity considerations? Figure out what is exactly the issue causing the poor performance. Those trusty quality tools really come in handy here. But, if you define something in a general way, you’ll likely get a general result. The same happens when you start by asking the wrong question. M – Measurable Part of being specific is to help identify what metrics can be employed so that there’s reliable and valid data available to determine progress and further action. In the example above, use the trends identified to place values on improvement. This expedites the corrective action process as well because decisions are made easier. How do you know when you’ve succeeded? You have to know the specific problem in order to get the specific data you need to measure the performance. A – Attainable (Achievable) Can the quality issue here be resolved? How can the goal be accomplished? Is that achievable based on the data gathered? It may turn out the problem has a deeper root-cause, such as issues at the factory management level or raw material supplier inconsistency. Some of the solutions may not be achievable based on the other requirements. Remember, they all work together to form an organized system of goal setting and general planning. If it turns out the solutions presented aren’t attainable, redefine the issue and subsequent corrective action as in this example. Contingencies are important here. R – Realistic (Relevant) Is it realistic to focus on the actual quality defects noted or the process creating the defects? Is it something that fits in with the existing goals of the organization? Based on the information gathered, is it realistic to believe the problem can be resolved to an acceptable degree? T – Timely (Or Tangible) Especially when you’re dealing with issues that affect customers, timeliness is critical. Gantt charts are excellent for determining the time requirements of a specific issue. Using measurements as checkpoints often ensures timely execution. For more information on S.M.A.R.T. goals and planning, we like these sites: S.M.A.R.T. worksheets here. The Five Steps to Creating Smart Goals. There’s even a SMART tasks template here.