Guide Your Consulting Clients to Success with SMART Goals

consulting frameworks and tools
Use Post-It notes to identify SMART goals

SMART goals are well-defined goals that can be personal or business focused. These tips will help you create, write, and achieve your SMART goals.

The more advanced Gantt Chart in Excel includes alerts, sorting, and filters and can be necessary to reach more complex SMART goals.

Time and Project Management for Consultants with an Advanced Excel Gantt Chart

Use the dynamic Excel timeline to scroll through projects or event timelines required to reach your SMART goals.

1. SMART Stand for…


  • Specify the goal in concise and precise terms
  • Make it short and memorable so it is clear


  • Success must be clearly measurable
  • Set measurable mid-stage points to track progress

Agreed Upon (Achievable, Attainable, Aligned)

  • Get agreement from all stakeholders on time, deliverables, and measures
  • Achievable, Attainable, and Aligned can be an “A” but they also relate to Realistic and Relevant

Relevant (Realistic)

  • Goals should require extra effort, but unattainable goals are demoralizing
  • Are the time frames, resources, and skill sets realistic and available?
  • Does the goal align with Strategic Business Objectives?
  • Does the goal align with your ethics?

Timely, Time-Bound

  • Does the goal have clear time limits?
  • Are there well-defined stages that are time-bound for measurement?
  • Can it be completed in a timely fashion?

2. SMART Goal Examples

From MIT’s HR department, here is an example of a goal that is not SMART,

Keep our department’s web page up-to-date.

Here is the same goal written as a SMART Goal so it is measurable and clear to all stakeholders,

The first Friday of every month, solicit updates and new material from our department’s managers for the web page; publish this new material no later than the following Friday. Each time new material is published, review our department’s web page for material that is out-of-date and delete or archive that material.

3. Write SMART Goals using the 6 Ws

To write SMART Goals think about answering these questions,


  • Who are the stakeholders, workers, and managers involved?
  • What are their roles?


  • What resources are available?
  • What are the precise measures of completion?
  • What happens to scope if milestones cannot be met?


  • What location dependent factors are involved?


  • When are deadlines and major milestones?
  • What is the measurable deliverable at each milestone?


  • Why is this goal important?
  • What is the alignment with larger objectives and goals?


  • Which barriers might get in the way?
  • How can these barriers be bypassed?

4. Align SMART Goals with Strategic Business Objectives

Accelerate your career by targeting SMART Goals aligned with a visible, important Strategic Business Objective. You and your manager should agree on SMART Goals that are aligned with SBOs that you can impact. Communicating great results on these can accelerate your career and the career of your manager.

5. Focus on One SMART Goal; Don’t Hold More than Three

The Rule of Three is a common theme in literature, history, and human psychology. Our minds seem to group and remember sets of three more easily. We often group collections in threes; gold, silver, and bronze medals. Joke punchlines are usually the third in a set. Even memorable lines are tuned to the rhythm of threes,

“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics”
– Benjamin Disraeli

“This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning”
– Sir Winston Churchill

“There are three principal ways to lose money: wine, women, and engineers. While the first two are more pleasant, the third is by far the more certain.”
Baron Rothschild

Quotes attributed to Presentation Magazine.

Cognitive science has shown us the deadly toll of multi-tasking. We are far more effective focusing on one task or goal at a time. Focusing doesn’t conflict with the Rule of Three. In practice it means to focus and work on one task or goal and to limit your focus to three critical goals per day.

Ask yourself each day, which three SMART Goals are topmost me today? Are these the top three my manager wants me to work on?

6. Use SMART Goals for Better and Easier Performance Reviews

SMART Goals make workflow and performance reviews significantly easier. One of the biggest problems managers have in performance reviews is that they do not have concrete performance terms to discuss. Without concrete topics and metrics, a performance review feels like an off-the-cuff, subjective opinion.

Good managers review their people’s progress on SMART Goals every week. While this may seem like a lot of work it is easy if everyone uses Excel or a networked project tracking system. Using one of the Excel-based Gantt charts in Critical to Success and submitting it to your manager is an easy way to stay informed. And keeping your manager informed will help your performance review.

Using SMART Goals with a tracking chart makes performance reviews significantly easier:

  • Are tasks on goal, on time, and in scope?
  • What was done correctly and should be repeated and shared?
  • What is not working and should be done differently?
  • What resources, skills, and responsibilities need to change?

If you have used SMART Goals and tracked your results, then you should have a great list of accomplishments you can use to update your resume.

7. Use Team Brainstorming to Generate Task Lists for Large SMART Goals

Large SMART Goals are more achievable by approaching them as you would a project. Either by yourself for personal goals or with a team for group SMART Goals, brainstorm all the tasks, timeframes, and resources you need to complete the goal. The Critical to Success brainstorming method using Post-It ® notes is an excellent way to identify tasks, resources, and timeframes. 

Use Post-It (r) notes to generate and group tasks, timeframes, resources, and barriers that compose your SMART goal.

8. Map SMART Goal Tasks Backward. Use a Timeline to Track Tasks Forward

Once you have brainstormed tasks and time frames needed for each task, lay them out in a timeline starting with the end goal and working backward. That’s right. Work backward from the end goal.

Beginning with the end in mind and mapping tasks and dates backward to the start is more likely to produce the most direct path to success and to identify all tasks. Ask yourself these questions at each stage:

  • Which task has to be completed to arrive here successful?
  • How long will that task take?
  • What resources, people, or new skills will I need?
  • Which teammates and stakeholders can help?
  • What significant barrier might stand in the way?
Time and Project Management for Consultants with an Advanced Excel Gantt Chart

Use the dynamic Excel timeline to scroll through projects or event timelines. Breaking your SMART goals into tasks you track on a timeline can keep your project on time.

Once you have a list of the biggest tasks and estimated dates you can manage them with an Excel Gantt chart and display them in a classy timeline of important dates on a scrolling timeline in Excel.

9. Use Team Brainstorming to Create Ideas for Barrier Busting

As you brainstorm tasks, time frames, and resources, write down whenever someone mentions a potential barrier. Save these notes of barriers.

Review the list of barriers yourself. If you find some that look difficult or high-risk, then look for a group of trusty comrades. If they are working on their SMART Goals, you can help each other. Order a “pizza”, grab stacks of Post-It ® notes, and convene a barrier-buster meeting where you can work together on how to break through or bypass barriers.

10. Divide SMART Goals into Different Types and Approach Each Type Differently

Not all SMART Goals are of the same type. Each type needs different job requirements, work style, and personal energy. You may want to group differently, but three clear types of SMART Goals are: Strategic Business Objectives, repetitive operational tasks, and personal development.

Identify your own work-style, time-frame, and resources for each. For example,

  • Strategic Business Objective Goals
    Find the time of day where you focus best, then settle down to two hours of Pomodoro focused work while listening to a playlist of “Focus” music from Spotify on your headset. Even if you work in an open office environment, many company cultures understand that when someone is on headset they are focusing or are in a meeting. If you make this the same time of day your mind will make it a habit and your co-workers will expect it.
    Click here to learn how to use the Pomodoro technique to improve focus.
  • Operational and Repetitive Task Goals
    SMART Goals that are repetitive and repeatable, like the MIT HR example above, should use a checklist and software templates to guide repetitive work. (Checklists are used by pilots and surgeons, so don’t feel checklists degrade creativity. Use checklists where repetitive work needs to be precise.)

    Click here to download an Excel-based checklist 

The Best Excel Checklist uses no Visual Basic, but has a great set of features. It’s easy to create and useful for tracking a simple list of SMART goals.

  • Personal Development Goals
    Personal development goals are for career growth. They might involve taking a course or leading your first meetings. Personal development goals need scheduled tasks with hard metrics such as courses taken, completion dates, and certification or grades earned. Get your manager’s agreement on how much work time you have for personal development.

11. Track SMART Goals with a Gantt Chart in Excel

Use a tracking system to monitor your progress on your SMART Goals. A simple Gantt chart in Excel works well. Put deadlines and milestones as reminders in your calendar system.

The more advanced Gantt Chart in Excel can help you manage more complex SMART goals. It includes alerts, sorting, and filters.

An advanced Gantt Chart in Excel will work well for most personal SMART Goals. 

12. Visualize Consequences and Give Yourself Rewards at SMART Goal Milestones

Rewards and consequences really work, even for those of us pretending to be adults.

You can apply positive and negative consequences before the actual end of a SMART Goal. Your mind can’t tell the difference.

One way to trick your mind into motivation is by creating a strong image for yourself of what the consequence will be if you achieve or do not achieve a specific SMART Goal. Some of us work better with positive consequences and some of us work better with negative. Use what works for you, but make the images vivid.

For many professionals in the high-tech world, meeting their personal SMART Goals is 50% of their quarterly bonus. That is a big incentive that has significant positive and negative consequences.

Incentives for near-term milestones don’t need to be grand. This consultant’s much enjoyed short-term incentive is a hard workout at the gym followed by a Royale cookie from Boudin Bakery or a slice of chocolate fudge cake. Get the goal; get the cake.

Strategies, Tactics, and Tips for
Consultants and Independent Professionals

Stay up to date with the latest opportunities, strategies, tactics, and tips for
independent consultants and professionals.

We hate SPAM. We will never sell your information, for any reason.