Do you have SMART ACORN objectives? [transcript]

Are you getting started with a project? It could be a new design, a new test method, or continuous improvement. If so, you gotta have an objective, a definition of what it is you’re trying to accomplish. If it’s not defined…well, it could lead to getting results you weren’t aiming for or missing the results of what you’re trying to do. There is a check we should do with our objectives to make sure they’re set up to be the best they can be. Our objective should be a SMART ACORN. I’ll talk to you more about these two acronyms after this brief introduction.  

Hello and welcome to Quality during Design, the place to use quality thinking to create products others love for less. My name is Dianna. I’m a senior level quality professional and engineer with over 20 years of experience in manufacturing and design. Listen-in and then join the conversation at 

Objectives are goal posts of what it is we’re trying to do. Though they are only a part of planning a project, if we don’t have well-defined and clear objectives, it could lead us to not having a stellar project. There are two checks to ensure objectives are set up properly, and they’re both acronyms: SMART and ACORN. I’ve found SMART in lots of places, but I’ve only seen ACORN in one. I like to combine them because they cover slightly different viewpoints of what a good objective should be. They don’t conflict; they complement each other. Let’s talk about both.  

START is the one that you’re probably familiar with. Its acronym letters mean specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time specific or time bound. Let’s review each of these.  

Specific. We need to get specific in our objectives in order to be able to plan and move ahead. Getting specific allows us to create tasks, assign people to them, and start setting target completion dates.  

Measurable, our goals need to be measured. We need to major in our project to make sure we’re on the right path and so we know when we’ve reached success.  

Achievable. Yeah, it’s great to set big goals. But since we need to break those big goals into little steps in order to achieve them or we need other groups to get there.  

Relevant. Does our goal line up with our long-term objectives? Or, are we not on our way to where we need to be?  

Time-based. Part of our goal needs to include a timeline for when we’re going to get it done. It needs to be realistic, but also a little aggressive. We want to get things done! Setting an end date keeps us motivated.  

SMART is an acronym that most people are familiar with, and I bet you’ve probably heard of it before also.  

ACORN is another measure of our objectives. It’s another acronym that stands for accomplishment control, only objective, reconciliation, and numbers. What’s different about ACORN (versus SMART) is it considers how a project objective will be measured and if it aligns properly with our group. The only place I’ve found ACORN published was in Nancy Tague’s Quality Toolbox book. I’ll include a citation about her book in the podcast blog. Let’s go over each letter of ACORN and talk about what it means for setting our objectives.  

Accomplishment. Does the goal describe results that can be verified? We want goals where we can gather data, not have to rely on someone monitoring how people are acting or behaving. People are not a root cause and pointing fingers doesn’t help anyone.  

Control. Is the goal’s accomplishment within the group’s control? Sometimes we can develop lofty long- term goals that are aligned with our company’s overall objectives. But if our project goals are outside of our control, then we’re going to have a tough time getting any project to a completion. If this is the case, we need to either shift our goal, or expand the project to include and get buy-in (and commitment) from the other groups that are needed. Because we will need their support to get it done.  

Only objective. Would we accomplish success if this were the only goal? We need to check that our goal is a main goal: that if we meet this goal, we will consider it a success. If we must have subgoals, then we need to be sure to identify those separately.  

Reconciliation. Will this goal interfere with another group, or is someone else already working on this? There may be a problem we’re trying to solve that could have several root causes spread or shared by different groups or departments. If one group is trying to solve their root cause and we start trying to solve our root cause, we could be undoing each other’s work or making our respective projects more difficult to complete. We may just need to be aware that we have to reconcile our project with another group’s project to get the best results.  

Numbers. Can the goal be measured? This aligns a lot with SMART goals, doesn’t it? If it’s specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and time based, we can measure it.  

We can evaluate almost anyone’s objectives against the SMART objectives. We need to know more about our particular project to understand how well our objectives meet the ACORN acronym.  

So, here’s a phrase we can remember: “Our objectives should be a SMART ACORN.” Before we finalize our objectives, we’ll run them through these two tests. If we do, we’re likely to be better set on a path towards success. 

Please visit this podcast blog and others at Subscribe to the weekly newsletter to keep in touch. If you like this podcast or have a suggestion for an upcoming episode, let me know. You can find me at on Linked-In, or you could leave me a voicemail at 484-341-0238. This has been a production of Denney Enterprises. Thanks for listening!