SMART Goals for Web Development

SMART goal planning doesn't have to be difficult. A pen and paper is all you need.

Note: This Post is About Learning From Failure

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I think some of the best learning comes from failure. There’s way too many posts about success that gloss over all the luck involved in how success happened. Study failure and you’ll at least learn the anti-patterns to success.

Take, for example, the SMART criteria for project management. If you haven’t heard the acronym SMART before, it stands for: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, (and) time-bound. Wikipedia describes it nicely as “SMART is a mnemonic acronym, giving criteria to guide in the setting of objectives, for example in project management.”

I’ve worked on quite a few web development projects, and have seen many projects go off the rails even when people tried to use SMART goal planning. One of the main reasons people (including myself) fail at their SMART goals is because people forget the smart in SMART. It’s a perfect example of failing to see the forest through the trees.

Enough babble. Here’s a fictitious example of failure in action for what should be a simple goal: add a call-to-action button to the home page of a website.

Specific: How to fail at specificity during a web development project

Let’s say I’m a business owner and I have a website. I’d like to add a call-to-action button on the home page, and it’s going to be attractive, and it’s going to get lots of clicks, and it’ll dynamically swap out to a different version for mobile users compared to desktop users, and…and… I’ve already made something simple too complicated. What you don’t want to do in an instance like this is try to lump all those variables into one goal. Too many variables is the antithesis of specific. Focus on just getting the button the home page and having it link to where it should go.

Measurable: It’s difficult to measure web development

Once I get my call-to-action button added, I’m going to track all sorts of metrics on it: views to clicks, views to clicks per referring web page, views to clicks per major and minor browser versions segmented by mobile and desktop device, conversion rate of landing page from mobile iPhone clicks on my call-to-action button… A way to quickly NOT be smart about measuring a goal is to make measurement complicated. Keep it simple.

Another pitfall about measuring success is not waiting long enough to get a statistically significant sample size. Ten views and one click on a button just isn’t enough data: 3 of those people could have hit your home page on accident, 2 of them could be looking specifically for something else, etc., etc.

Attainable: It’s just a button

Let’s say the company I work at is a web development company. If I can’t get a button added to the home page, there’s bigger issues than my button goal. I’ve got a designer to design it, a programmer to add it with all the necessary code, marketing will set up tracking, and server guy will push it to production. Obviously, make sure you have the resources or funds for resources when judging the attainability of a goal.

Relevant: Web development and call-to-action buttons. What?

The reason for the button that I’m going to add to my web development company’s home page is to send people to my marketing guy’s sister’s little brother’s baseball team’s fund raiser. I feel bad writing that, but you’d be surprised at how often things like this happen (or maybe not surprised). Don’t lose sight of what matters to your business and be laser-focused on the relevancy of goals that grow your business. In this case, my reason for the button is completely absurd and fails the “R” in S.M.A.R.T.

Timely: Blind optimism with time frames leads to failure

I think adding a button to the home page is easy and it should only take an hour… However, let’s say I can’t do it myself. I need a designer at my development company to first design the button, and then a programmer to add it to the home page along with all the logic to swap it out for various devices, marketing to set up tracking in our CRM system, and the server dude to push the button change to production. Unless you’re doing 100% of the work and you’ve done something similar before, never, ever think something will happen quickly or smoothly. Always estimate for the unknowns, other people having other things to do, how quickly distraction eats up time, etc.

See also: Too Many Hats: Delegate and Elevate your way to a More Sane Business World

Learn from the misses

No matter how well a goal is planned, there’s always the chance of failure. Whether in web development or any other business, failure happens regardless of how much planning took place. Study the failures. Embrace them and learn from them.