Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Where SMART Goals Come From

I have written before about SMART goals (here) in a search for the founder of this very useful acronym. In that post, I had thought that eventually I would find the real founder of this acronym had published before Doran (1981), but after Pearson (1965). 

Instead, I found that Dr George Doran IS the compiler of the SMART acronym. I recently found that Dr Kevin Gazzara (2010) from the University of Phoenix had uploaded excerpts from an interview with Dr Doran to YouTube. Dr Doran was being interviewed on his process in facilitating the 1981 work of creating/compiling SMART goals. Dr Doran worked with some managers in industry who came up with the idea, then he later worked those ideas up into a paper for publication. SMART, 1981-style, stood for specific, measurable, assignable, realistic and time related. The mnemonic is still widely used to set goals and objectives across the fields of management, leadership and careers.

There is confusion about who the originator of SMART is, as outlined below:
  • Mike Morrison posted some info in 2010 suggesting that Raia (1965) was an originator. Having read Raia's paper, it contained only two of the SMART concepts; that goals should be realistic, and measurable. Raia skirted vaguely around goals being specific. On balance, I feel that Raia's link to SMART goals is unrelated.
  • A marketing planning article by Andrall Pearson in 1959 talked about setting goals which are "specific and achievable", "quantitative [which] facilitates better measurement", it mentions the "plan period" (though no other aspect of time). It does not mention that goals need to be realistic or that they need to be assigned. This is probably as tenuous as Raia's work in 1965: not really on the money either.
  • Mason Carpenter, Tayla Bauer and Berrin Erdogan in their 2010 book, "Principles of Management", said that Peter "Drucker coined the usage of the acronym for SMART objectives while discussing objective-based management". Having read Peter Drucker's chapter on Objective Based Management from his 1954 book, "The Practice of Management", he only mentions the measurement aspect of SMART. He talks about teamwork, team results, contributions, keeping an eye on the big picture, tangible and intangible business objectives, long-term and short-term goals, commitment, expectations, goal alignment, participating actively and responsibly, defining goals, writing a "manager's letter" (a set of KPIs, effectively) and clear, simple, rational, relevant, reliable, ethical, professional and sound goals. Not SMART ones.So Drucker probably has nothing specifically to do with SMART either. 
While it is likely that many writers had some small measure of input into the minds of the managers that Dr Doran worked with before he published his SMART paper in 1981, Dr Doran is the SMART goals founder. Below is Dr Gazzara's interview exerpts with Dr Doran, discussing SMART:

I was interested in how our assignment of letters for the SMART goals have shifted. A has often become achievable instead of assignable. R has sometimes become relevant. There are also many other variations (see Rubin, 2002). However, I now think that I prefer Dr Doran's first cut at SMART: specific, measurable, assignable, realistic and time related. Because of this, I have recreated the original Business Balls poster (see the illustration on this post for the new, and here for the old) to reflect Dr Doran's original mnemonic. To download, simply click the image, and, once open, right mouse, then 'save'.

Isn't it nice to solve a mystery?!


  • BusinessBalls (n.d.). SMART: Specific, Measurable, Agreed, Realistic, Time-bound. Retrieved from
  • Carpenter, Mason; Bauer, Talya & Erdogan, Berrin (2010). Principles of Management. USA: Flat World Knowledge.
  • Drucker, Peter F (1954). The Practice of Management. USA: HarperCollins.
  • Doran, George T. (1981). There's a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management's goals and objectives.  Management Review, November 1981, Volume 70, Issue 11 (pp. 35-36).
  • Gazzara, Kevin (2010). SMART Goals History with Dr George Doran. Retrieved 23 October 2013 from
  • Morrison, Mike (22 June 2010). History of SMART Objectives. UK: RapidBI. Retrieved 13 October 2013 from
  • Pearson, Andrall E. (1959). An approach to successful marketing planning. Business Horizons, month 1959, volume 2, issue 4 (pp. 74-82) 
  • Raia, Anthony P. (1965). Goal Setting and Self-Control: An Empirical Study. Journal of Management Studies, February 1965, Volume 2, Issue 1 (pp. 34-53) 
  • Rubin, Robert S. (2002). Will the Real SMART Goals Please Stand Up? The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist, April 2002, Volume 39, issue 4 (pp. 26-27)

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