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Setting and applying SMART objectives

Published: 11 Aug 2020

Sam Kinch, Quality Management Consultant at, highlights the importance of SMART objectives and how businesses should apply them.

ISO 9001:2015 requires all organisations to have a quality policy and quality objectives in place to track and monitor business performance. 

The policy should directly link to the objectives, giving businesses foundation to start creating targets and facilitate company growth. 

The importance of quality objectives

Quality objectives provide you with a focus, an end goal to aim for and to promote continual improvement. Unlike the quality policy, the quality objectives are more detailed and they demonstrate your organisation’s intentions, priorities and also the intended outcomes.

ISO 9001:2015 requires an organisation to set quality objectives for relevant functions, levels and processes within its quality management system. 

Businesses will need to consider the following, before setting their quality objectives: 

• Consistency with the organisation's quality policy;

• The quality policy has a strong emphasis on customer satisfaction, so good quality objectives should consider if your products and services are conforming to your customers’ expectations, while improving your products and services;         

• All quality objectives should be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound (SMART), and they should have relevance at all levels of the company, meaning that each employee should understand how their job supports meeting the quality objectives;

• Any applicable requirements that may affect your product or services conformity;

• Monitoring the progress of the quality objectives and update as and when required;

• Communicate the quality objectives to the relevant team and staff members, ensuring they are fully aware of their role in achieving the intended results;

• Maintain the quality objectives as documented information. 

SMART objectives explained

Ensuring objectives are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-specific (SMART), will provide organisations with the confidence they need to achieve them. 

To start setting your quality objectives, you will need to:

• Describe the knowledge and skills required to fulfil the objectives (Specific);

• Describe how the results of the objective will be measured and monitored along the way, including who will be responsible for the required updates and communication (Measurable);

• Plan what your organisation wants to achieve and provide resources that will help meet  expectations (Achievable);

• Consider team competence, resources allocated and time restrictions (Realistic);

• Specify a time period for achieving the objective(s) (Time).

Examples for setting objectives

You may choose to include an objective to improve your customer service performance. The goal could include a reduction in customer complaints from 20 per cent to 10 per cent over a six-month period, or to improve your star ratings on a specific product from three to four stars over a 12-month timeframe. This would involve specific team members, an understanding of the current resources available to your organisation, and potentially planning some retraining and acquiring some additional resources. 

A responsible team or individual would be assigned to monitor the results of the actions taken, specify what the report would involve, who would need to be informed and set a deadline. If you tell your employees that you want to reduce complaints from 20 per cent to two per cent within six months, they may not see how this is feasible and not support you on your decision. It is better to set realistic goals and overachieve than it is to set unrealistic goals that always fall short of expectations. 

To say you want to reduce complaints from 20 per cent to 14 per cent within 12 months, for example, allows for better planning. The members involved will be much more supportive of the objective if they know it is within a realistic time frame and understand what they need to do to achieve it.

Sometimes, organisations mix up quality objectives with company strategies or focus on financial benefits. It’s important to consider the intentions of the objective. If it’s not relevant to the organisation’s quality management system conformity of product and service, it is not a quality objective/target.

Reviewing the quality objectives

The objectives should be reviewed at least once per year during the company’s management review. If the evaluation results show that you have achieved your goal, you may want to tick that off and create a new, unrelated objective. Alternatively, as part of your organisation’s continual improvement, the same objective could be revised again to achieve an even higher standard.

If the objective hasn’t been met during the evaluation, it might be worth revisiting the original objective brief to check whether: 

• The SMART objective method was used;

• The objective was too vague or unrealistic;

• The organisation had the resources to achieve it.

Continual improvement doesn’t have to mean giant leaps; it can be slow and gradual, allowing organisations sufficient time to take those strides to grow and succeed.

Quality objectives will not only help your business mature, but they will also bring everyone together, working as one team