A lot of your time as a PM should be spent making sure you deeply understand business context and therefore picking the right opportunities. Once you understand opportunities, setting up your team for success by picking goals that achieve that is key.

This may sound intuitive, but I think it’s actually not a practice that is widely adopted in a meaningful way. Too often, there is a vague and broad measure of success from C-level is not aligned right down to execution. This means that when experimenting and building, lots of people are taking tangent paths which in retrospect don’t lead in the correct direction.

In this post I’ll cover finding your team mission, moving down the funnel from Mission – Strategy – Goal – Metric, leading vs lagging metrics before finishing with setting 50/50 goals.

Always start with the mission

Every company of any size should have a mission. A mission statement is what the company is on this planet to do, said as succinctly as possible.

But this is where most orgs stop. What is critical is that each team within an organisation also has a mission and by team I mean a small cross functional unit of people. Depending on the company size, there may be many layers to this mission cake, but there should always be at least two! I will hypothetically use BBC as an example.

Here you can see that if you’re working in the team implementing BBC login ID on mobile, you have a pretty good sense of why you’re alive. Doing this has a number of benefits

  1. It makes you think about whether this team needs to exist
  2. It makes sure each team is driving towards the overall company mission
  3. It helps people challenge whether an initiative is the right direction
  4. It helps with prioritisation

You might be thinking “OK Toby I get this corporate fluff” – but it’s actually critical to make sure your team has identity. Next.

Mission – Strategy – Goal – Metric

Now your team has a mission, you should build out a number of strategies that break down the route to achieving the mission. Once you’ve got strategies, identify the goals and the core metrics that you’re aiming to move to achieve the strategy. From BBC login example above:

  • Mission “To make it effortless for people to quickly and safely login to BBC services on any device”
    • S1: Provide a simple to understand purpose for BBC ID
      • Goal: Improved reach
      • Metric: Login page bounce rate
    • S2: Ensure the process to register and login is a simple as possible
      • Goal: Improved conversion
      • Metric: Start flow – complete flow %
    • S3: Ensure ID works across devices
      • Goal: Accessibility across devices
      • Metric: Platform utilisation
    • S4: Optimise bad user flows
      • Goal: Accessibility
      • Metric: Forgot email/password – conversion
    • S5: Fight bad actors and maintain ID integrity
      • Goal: Business integrity
      • Metric: Accounts per IP, captcha requests.
    • S6: Promote back end best practices
      • Goal: Speed and simplicity
      • Metric: Page request speed

Don’t lead with a lag

Lagging metrics make bad short term goals

Some of the most obvious mission critical metrics make terrible choices to goal against because they are lagging metrics.

Lagging metrics are output metrics – i.e. they are moved over the long term but usually by a multitude of factors and very rarely influenceable by one team alone or one test.

Leading metrics on the other hand are more granular and directly movable. If your hypothesis is correct, when leading metrics are improved over time they should drive progress on the lagging metrics over time. You should goal teams in the short term on leading metrics and take a longer view on overall company performance with the lagging metrics.

Example… take the old favourite retention. Everyone operating in the sphere of some sort of social marketplace wants better long term retention (LTR) – because improving LTR is often the best way to improving your CAC, growth trajectory and show investors your product has legs. But LTR also makes a terrible goal for teams because even though it’s easy to measure it is extremely complex and difficult to move.

An example of Lagging metrics for this BBC login example would be measuring overall accounts created, avg account usage etc. This is great to give team perspective over the long term and an overall target, but its impacted by many different factors and difficult to prove movement through AB tests.

Actually set goals – don’t just pick metrics

For the few teams that get this far, another proportion don’t actually set a goal. Setting a target for a goal is difficult, but it gives teams purpose rather than endlessly tracking metric improvements on a conveyer belt. A goal should have a delta and a timeframe. For example for the team working on.

  • S6: Promote back end best practices
    • Goal: Speed and simplicity
    • Metric: Page request speed

As a team you may decide a challenging goal would be speeding up page request speed 30% over 6 months.

Setting 50/50 goals.

Set your goals juuuust right…

50/50 goals is a concept I really buy into. When agreeing goals with your team, you should all have only 50% confidence you will hit them because they are appropriately ambitious. Setting overly cautious goals means you aren’t pushing yourselves so whats the point of having a goal in the first place.

Conversely those terrible managers that set ridiculously unachievable goals in full acknowledgement that they are impossible because they think they sound good and the team will get half way towards it. This is just as damaging and a pointless exercise

The key is that teams hit goals 50% of the time over the long term, and if you see that teams are over or underachieving this over a long period – then the goals are not set as 50/50.

Final thoughts

Setting goals correctly is critical to building great products and is something that many teams don’t do. By following a framework and setting goals correctly, you’ll drive with more meaning to achieving the mission for your company.