This is the fifth in a series of articles about using SMART as a checklist to help get better outcomes for you and your team. I recommend you read my intro to this series for more information about the background of SMART, clarification of what the letters mean, and a general pep talk on why you should set aside any ambivalence you have for SMART and read on.


If I HAD to pick a letter to vote off the SMART island, it would be R. In most sources, R stands for relevant, but in some it stands for realistic. But since A is Achievable, I don’t need R to be realistic because they are basically the same thing.

And don’t get me wrong, I think it is important to make sure that work is relevant to the company’s bottom line, the job that someone is doing (or wants to do), and to the person.

But unlike the rest of the letters, this one doesn’t really have much influence on the other letters as you are evaluating and refining. Relevance comes into play as you’re formulating the original work task or goal. And though I have seen examples of people creating tasks that aren’t relevant, I don’t see that very often.

I think of Relevant a gatekeeper. As your building out work, thinking about projects, ask yourself what problem the outcome will solve, or what new skills the person doing the work will have when the work is complete. If you can’t clearly and easily answer those questions, the work isn’t relevant and you shouldn’t spend your time on it. Relevant keeps you from wasting time.

Let’s look at an example:

Let’s pretend that you work in the a chocolate factory, and your team is responsible for quality control.

Your process is to take a sample every hour from every line that is making chocolates.
Someone suggests that your team should start taking samples every 15 minutes rather than every hour to increase the number of data points for the statistics.

Before you re-engineer all your processes to meet this goal, look at the situation as a whole:
a new batch of chocolate is started every hour, it takes exactly one hour to complete the batch, and there have been no reports of problems with the chocolates. This new 15-minute suggestion has no relevance because it adds no value and isn’t worth your time.

Relevance can also be helpful when you’re evaluating issues. I once took over a team that was working on an SAP implementation project – it was huge, WAY over budget, and weeks behind schedule. Everyone was working extra hours and very stressed out. When I looked at the checklist/process that the team I took over was following, there were something like 22 steps on the list.

When I started asking the team WHY they were doing each step (some of them seemed obviously useless to me), they could not give me good reason why they were doing them and couldn’t show me any added value. So I cut them out of the process, and got the steps down to about 7. It didn’t end up saving much time because the extra steps were completely useless (as I suspected), but it eliminated extra paperwork, and the team appreciated someone noticing that the steps weren’t adding value.

So Relevant can be helpful if you use it to make sure that you’re not wasting your time. In addition, R does serve the really important purpose of making the acronym a recognizable word. I mean, would you want to have SMAT goals? So R can stay on the island.

T is up next. Don’t forget to check out Specific, Measurable, Achievable as well.