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Certain project planning tools should be part of every competitive grant proposal writer’s repertoire. Among such tools are: SWOT analysis, PESTLE analysis, RASCI charts, Gantt charts, Red Team reviews, meta-analysis, and logic models. This post discusses SMART goals.


Definitions of SMART Goals


SMART goals have been around since 1981. SMART is a mnemonic acronym. Originally, its elements stood for specific, measurable, assignable, realistic, and time-related. In its original (1981) rendition, SMART meant:


S = Specific – targets a specific area for change

M = Measurable – is quantifiable or has indicators for change

A = Assignable – indicates who will do it

R = Realistic – can be accomplished given available resources

T = Time-related – indicates when the change will occur


More than 35 years later, research suggests that SMART usually stands for: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Along the way since 1981, variations for each element of the acronym have proliferated:


  1. Variations on S include: simple, sensible, significant, stretching, or strategic.
  2. Variations on M include: meaningful or motivating
  3. Variations on A include: assignable, agreed, attainable, actionable, action-oriented, ambitious, active, aligned, or accountable.
  4. Variations on R include: reasonable, realistic, results-based, results-focused, reachable, rewarding, or research-based.
  5. Variations on T include: time-related, time-based, time-limited, time-sensitive, timely, trackable, time-framed, timed, timetable, tangible, or testable.


TRAMS Goals as an Alternative to SMART Goals


For some proposal writers, SMART may prove problematic as a planning tool. It need not be. Proposal writers can avoid many potential problems if they adopt the original elements of the SMART acronym. They can avoid more potential problems if they reverse its sequence and look at the elements as TRAMS rather than as SMART.


A well-constructed project objective states a specific and quantifiable performance criterion. It states when a result will happen. It states who will accomplish the result. Such an objective selects a result that is likely to happen, but not necessarily certain to happen, within a given time period. It states in what domain of activity the result will occur. And it alludes to how the project will measure the result.


In thus reframing the original acronym, proposal writers may use TRAMS as a checklist for evaluating the quality of the articulation of an objective, as a litmus test for ascertaining its quality, and as a process for enhancing and ensuring its quality.


As a checklist for reviewing and refining statements of project objectives:


T = objective states when, either as a single deadline or as a recurring event

R = objective states a performance criterion that is attainable yet challenging or ambitious

A = objective states who, either as an organization, or a position title, or a population

M = objective states a performance criterion or an indicator of success and a measurement instrument

S = objective states clearly and precisely who, what, when, to what extent, using what indicator


Among the uses of TRAMS in writing a grant proposal are:

  1. Program Designs – formulating the objectives of a project
  2. Evaluation Plans – identifying instruments to be used to demonstrate progress in attaining the objectives of a project
  3. Personnel Plans – planning performance monitoring of staff involved in a project


Among the advantages of using TRAMS as a quality check in writing a grant proposal are:

  1. Goal Displacement – preserves the distinction between a goal and an objective
  2. Objective Displacement – preserves objective as part of the vocabulary of project development and as a distinct element in program design
  3. Deference to RFP Language – adopts the specific terminology used in most proposal solicitations and subordinates local usages to the funders’ usages


Subsequent posts will discuss other project development tools such as Gantt charts, RASCI charts, SWOT analysis, PESTLE analysis, Red Team reviews, meta-analysis, and logic models.


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