January 7, 2021

SMART Goals for Engineers

smart goals for engineers

Setting goals at the departmental and personal level is a useful strategy for managing time and expectations, or motivating yourself and your team to push a little harder. When aligned with organizational objectives, these goals also help to illustrate the direct link between the work that you do and the overall success of your company. And when you’re working in a department like engineering, all of these benefits in tandem help to keep you productive and at peak performance. 

A recently published survey from Ally revealed that goal setting is the “common language” which many organizations rely on to support productivity and innovation. Especially in increasingly hybrid workplaces, standard goal frameworks give clarity to expected outcomes and help keep teams on track. 

And goals must be set correctly in order to have an advantageous effect on your work in engineering. You should have a clear picture of the work ahead, understand its importance, and have a concrete plan for keeping track of your successes and failures. And that’s where a comprehensive goal-setting framework may enter the picture.

The SMART Goal framework is the most frequently used goal-setting methodology among companies surveyed by Ally. They function to set thoughtful, relevant goals which outline a clear objective and motivation. However, over the course of the pandemic, another popular goal setting method — OKRs — were widely adopted for their ability to “cascade” organizational objectives to smaller departments. 

The advantage of OKRs is that they help to create a roadmap towards your objective, complete with pit stops and alternate routes. This framework is great for defining ambitious objectives and creative contingency plans. 

And SMART goals are best applied when you need to dive into the specifics of an objective, and understand why you’re setting this goal in the first place — they are excellent for setting departmental goals, including in Engineering. Used together, these frameworks allow you to observe the necessary minutiae involved in any plan you hope to execute. 

What are SMART Goals?

SMART goals first entered the corporate vocabulary in 1981, introduced by George T. Doran in an issue of the magazine Management Review. Doran created the acronym as a way to support management in setting clear, comprehensive objectives for their teams and individual employees. The SMART strategy is designed for user-friendliness, and asks the goal-setter to answer a series of questions which will help them better understand the benefits and limitations of their objectives. 

SMART stands for:

Specific – What precisely is the objective you are setting? What are the exact parameters of successful goal completion as it relates to your project?
Measurable – Can you track the progress of your objective? What process goals will you set for yourself to understand whether you are successfully meeting your targets?Attainable – Is this objective something you can reach given your current skill sets and resources? Do you have everything you need to reach this goal?
Relevant – Is this objective timely? Is this the best thing you could be doing for yourself, your team, or your company? Why is now the best time to set this objective?
Time-based – How long will it take to reach this goal? How long should it take to reach this goal? What is your deadline? What is the significance of this deadline?

Depending on the specific needs of your objective, you may or may not be required to use all of the elements within the original acronym. Many users also exchange one or more elements of the acronym to make it more relevant to their project. The ‘A’ stood for ‘Assignable’ in Doran’s original strategy, but might also be set as ‘action-oriented,’ ‘ambitious,’ or ‘achievable.’

[Read More: SMART Goals

SMART Goals for Engineers Best Practices

There is a lot of overlap in how different departments may best leverage the SMART strategy for setting divisional goals. Here we’re going to focus on those particular to engineering. 

  • Let personal growth goals drive departmental goals. Realistically this is true for multiple departments, but it is critical to engineering. Engineers drive technological innovation, and a personal-professional challenge to an individual inevitably results in organizational growth. Engineers should have a level of autonomy in setting their own goals in order to best leverage their own skills, competencies and ideas to the ultimate benefit of the organization.
  • Remain aligned with organizational objectives. Of course the work being produced by engineers needs to remain in service to the larger company vision. The best way to do this is to engage with broader organizational OKRs to prompt more precise, collaborative SMART goals to problem-solve solutions within the department.
  • Set KPIs. Key Performance Indicators are critical to successful goal completion, especially over long-term projects and initiatives. SMART goals are designed to create clear, specific objectives; but that doesn’t negate the need for milestones of other quantifiable forms of measuring progress. KPIs reinforce both the Specific and Measurable aspects of a SMART goal, and provide convenient points at which engineering managers and direct-reports can check in. 

      Examples of SMART Goals for Engineers

      Following are a few examples of common SMART goals for engineers and engineering teams. 

      Engineering Team

      S – Repair critical software bugs affecting X, Y, and Z.
      M – Run test program upon partial completion to check for persistence of bugs.
      A – Team is sufficiently skilled, critical time and financial resources have been appropriately allocated.
      R – Critical bugs are causing significant difficulties in UX; project is taking priority.
      T – Repairs should be completed by the end of the quarter. 

      Junior Engineer

      S – Improve programming skills in primary language to be sufficiently skilled for X project.
      M – I will need to complete and pass this course, then successfully implement 2 features using primary language.
      A – Training courses available to me includes specific training towards competencies in X skillset.
      R – I need to cultivate this skill in order to be hired as a senior engineer.
      T – I will reach this competency at month marker 3 at the end of the training course. 

      DevOps Engineer

      S – Reduce average time to recovery after a break or crash.
      M – Automate crash report trigger, reduce response time by 50%.
      A – Report solution can accommodate automation.
      R – Increased traffic to site necessitates a faster response time.
      T – Automation will be implemented by the end of the quarter, response time should be lowered within 6 months. 

      SMART Goals for Engineers and OKRs

      The Objectives and Key Results goal-setting strategy allows users to define goals as well as key targets and performance indicators which will need to be met on the way to that goal. Using OKRs to set organizational or departmental objectives is an excellent place to start, and allows greater autonomy to key contributors who are working towards that objective. Beginning with OKRs, engineers and engineering teams can then define their Key Results using SMART goals to gain a clearer picture of their objectives within that wider target. 

      Need to learn more about SMART goals and OKRs? Visit our other resource – SMART Goals: Everything You Need to Know.

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