Being as S.M.A.R.T. A.S...

How do we get project managers to think beyond basic project goals? By remembering that creative assignments are a set of accomplishments beyond being on-time and on-budget.

One of the reasons why I hesitate on the "traffic manager" approach to managing creativity, is that if you ask any traffic manager (and albeit many project managers) what determines a project's success, you are going to hear the single repetitive mantra of "being on-time and on-budget." Traffic managers are good at getting things from point A to point B, fast, but that's because there is a set path. Deviations from that single path, however, can be hard on traffic managers, since they have high accountability for providing regular outcomes on just those two work activities. They don't always think beyond what is provided to them as project objectives.

Traffic managers are rarely given the responsibility or held accountable for a project's holistic goals. Since just like a production manager, they are only held responsible for only part of the bigger project. This is best shown, by the adaptive mantra of, "Pick two: Do you want it on-time, on-budget or good? You can't have all three." As far as measurable metrics go, these three variables are pretty poor. Who and what determines if a project is good or great? Good is a pretty subjective criteria to measure.

Now, I know, in the creative kitchen, there are a boat load of chefs stirring and adding to the pot — each with opinions on what should go in and what the final product should taste like. But what would happen if we actually gave our projects some real identifiable goals, and held everyone, including and especially our project managers accountable in accomplishing those goals? I'm not saying we have to limit or place strict rules on the kitchen. I just think we have to let the kitchen know ahead of time what we expect them to create and make.

As creative folks, I do think we are all a bit subjective when it comes to interpreting a project's desired outcomes. We kind of know, internally know that a goal is just a goal, and that getting the right combination of creative outcomes that meet all of the client's business objectives is sometimes pretty fuzzy. 

And a goal is just that, a general statement of where we want to end up after a bunch of defined objectives are accomplished. Did the customer enjoy his meal? Did it get out of the kitchen fast enough so that its still warm? Will the customer come back again? Did the establishment make money on the price of the meal? Was the experience worthy of the customer coming back again, or referring the restaurant to his friends? In this case, we can see how when these accomplishments are met, the real goals are met. 

So take a step back, a great place to start is having our project managers (or producers) play a very large role in holding the team accountable to meeting some shared objectives. As creative organizations, we need to hold our project managers (or producers) accountable for their work output, as well as given the responsibility to lead the goals of the project in order to achieve the desired outcomes. 

Now it doesn't matter what size of an organization that you are. If you are a project manager, in any size organization, you can use the same criteria to look at setting goals from a S.M.A.R.T. perspective.

S.M.A.R.T stands for:

S = Specific
M = Measurable 
A = Achievable / Agreed
R = Relevant / Realistic
T = Time-bound

If your shop is ten people, one of you is the default, de facto project manager. In a larger organization, you may have a number or people helping you out in defining a project's goals as well as providing you the metrics on if you have achieved those goals. 

But in all cases, I hope and believe that your creative organization makes the project manager (or producer) responsible for building, creating and adhering to a scope of work that will act as your S.M.A.R.T goals starting point. A SOW that is sound, clearly laid out, and agreed to, will go a long way in setting up a project for success. And if you hold your project managers responsible for building it (with obviously, the larger team, client or agency input), I believe they will have a better sense of project ownership. When you own a project, you can help guide it, and be in a better position to act on something when needed. And remember, S.M.A.R.T goals aren't just for SOW development. S.M.A.R.T goal criteria thinking can help a range of functions in your agency achieve results.

So as you read through them, imagine how the criteria can help build "living goals" thinking.

At the start of a project, you could go through the S.M.A.R.T goal criteria to define and determine if the agency can actually meet the objectives. During the project, (and specifically in your discovery phase) your objectives may pivot. How does the pivot affect your original goals, do you need to scrap or modify the original SOW? As the project matures, so may your outcomes — how does that affect your outcome or ways of measuring success? How do these goals help you in building business requirements, functional specifications, bids for product development or content shoots?

What's in the acronym and how do we build S.M.A.R.T goals?

A projects objectives should address, Who, what, when, where and why? Will the project be done in phases? And what's in those phases?  Who is involved? What do we need to accomplish? Where is it going to happen? What specific goals need to be done under specific timeframes for completion? What are the requirements and constraints? When will I be out of scope? What will happen if the project is out of scope? Why are we doing this project, what are the specific reasons?

What are the descriptive measures that define the metrics of a projects success? How will we measure the outcomes of the project? What specifically are we going to measure and what are the goals around those measurements? How do we measure progress? How are we staying on track?

Achievable or Attainable:
Is the objective achievable with the available resources, or achievable within the timeframe? If the goal objectives of the project need to change in order to still be feasible, what is within the agency's or client's control and influence that can be adjusted? Who is the controlling authority? Do you have the right resources, abilities, skills or financials in-house to do the project? Do we need additional staff or freelancers to make the deadlines? 

Relevant / realistic:
Goals need to be relevant and instrumental to the client's mission or business objectives. You may find relevancy goals stated very clearly in the brief, or your proposition statements. What is the real "shared" goal or vision.

Goals need to be identified, and our steps laid out and grounded within a time frame. No time-line no sense of urgency, and the  project can lose momentum or relevance.  Who is going to work on the project, and when is each stage "closed" What dates, miles-stones, or timelines are relative to this project? 

At the end of S.M.A.R.T thinking, there are two other criteria that I like to look for in developing goals, so that I ensure that the agency stays on the same page and we always think about adding value to the client experience. 

The goal and project better be worthy of doing. How can we add value to the project so that we are inspired, we hit our audience right, and our client has experienced something more than what they asked. Is the project creative at its core?

Strategic / Story:
A goal has to have strategic thinking behind it. Without strategy, the goals we create are uniformed. I believe that strategy, and the strategic process is key to the development of all other S.M.A.R.T goal development thinking. I also believe, that while project managers or producers are not considered as strategists in the agency, the best project managers have the ability to be strategic in their own thinking. How is this objective going to make a difference? How is it different and what's the story we need to tell? Does it make sense from a user or customer experience stand-point?

One of the reasons why I think S.M.A.R.T A.S. thinking is relevant to managing projects, is that it helps project managers understand the business goals and objectives that come not only from the client, but that are developed internally as well during the creative and strategic process. 

It's thinking about goals as "smart as..." or "like" your other team members would, like a strategist, creative director, copywriter, developer, client, marketing person, etc.

At the same time, not all S.M.A.R.T A.S. criteria can be quantified. But I think that's the point. Creative project managers in today's world of innovation and technology need to be aware of and think about project objectives from more than just a time and budget perspective. I think for the most part they do. But critical thinking at the goal formation stage, and goal governance requires insight into other thinking and viewpoints. Hopefully, thinking smart will enable your project managers to stay on-track and begin to have an idea of seeing goals from multiple viewpoints and perspectives.

So when you catch yourself thinking, "Pick two: Do you want it on-time, on-budget or great? " Don't be a smart-ass, but be "smart as...". Think about all of the objectives of the project that you could affect, beyond those three, in order to get the outcome you need.