To initiate a project, the team devises a goal statement that aligns with the organization's strategy and is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timelined. I am sure you have heard of SMART goals first written in 1981 by George T Doran in an article for the American Management Association. Doran wrote specific, measurable, assignable, realistic, and time-related. You can see I dropped assignable to make room for achievable which is close enough to realistic for me to drop realistic in favor of relevant. This is because your project's goals must be relevant to your organization's mission, vision, and values to achieve its strategic goals. If it is not, it is not a good use of your time. I often see S-M-A-R-T changed to specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-related, but achievable is so close to realistic that including both is not terribly useful, and more importantly when we miss the characteristic relevant we miss the idea that the project implements strategy. A key reason for project failure is when the project team does not fully understand the user's needs and the goal is not clearly defined. I recommend that when you are writing a goal for a project you make sure it meets these five characteristics. If somebody else gives you a project goal that does not your first task is to negotiate for a goal that is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timelined. Take a look at this goal. Somebody tells you to develop a new data entry system, is that goal specific? Not really. What makes it new? Specifically, what are you expected to produce? How about this one? Develop an internal intranet page that will provide fast, accurate product information to employees. Nope? How fast, how accurate? Is there an acceptable error rate? Is it one out of 1,000, one out of 10,000? If you're designing an airplane engine, well the acceptable error rate is zero but in this case, product information could change frequently within how much time must the site be updated to be considered accurate. When others give you goals without measurements like, I need this soon or fast or a lot. Or they give you goals that are amorphous like improved teamwork, negotiate with those others to ensure you can meet expectations. Measurable, means you can quantify your output. I once had a boss tell me to get a handle on runaway expenses. I dug in to root out unnecessary purchases and changed procedures to reduce overall costs. I was happy to report within three months expenses were down 19 percent, until he replied, "That's too bad I was hoping for something more dramatic like 50 percent. Can I push expenses down by 50 percent we would have to do things that hurt sales at which point cost-cutting would not be a good idea. But because I never asked for specific expectations, I was unable to meet them. Sometimes people give us vague goals because they don't know what they want and sometimes it's to give themselves some deniability. If asking for specifics doesn't work, I recommend you tell them what you can produce and let them negotiate with you. If the boss says, "I need to reduce the battery load on this device," and an answer to the question by how much? They say, "As much as you can," it behooves me to run some numbers. I need to figure out the amount I know I can reduce with just a few easy changes the low-hanging fruit and the amount I could reduce if I made major changes. Then I need to list those changes. Are they to other specs on the device or the date by when the product design can be complete? Will they change the cost structure for development and I bring that back to my boss. I can reduce the boundary load by X percent without affecting the budget deadline or quality. Is that acceptable? If they say no, they want more then I'll share the trade-offs. There is no time to lose, do your researching, get back in front of the boss to negotiate. That day if possible, once people get an image of the future in their head, they often fall in love with it and you'll be fighting an uphill battle to change their expectations. Ensure your goals are SMART, specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timelined because it's your reputation on the line.