Let’s start with the obvious; if you are on a product team, you are setting product goals. Nowadays, there’s not a team out there who isn’t setting some kind of goal or target for themselves, even if it’s something as basic as a target launch date for a new feature, or an aspirational NPS score. But often, these product goals aren’t fully thought out and can sometimes even hurt your team. If they’re set too low, your team may feel that the bar is set extremely low and won’t work as hard, and if they’re set too lofty, the team may feel discouraged from missing the goal time and time again. Plus, many goals set by the product team end up being factored by many things that are out of the product team’s control and don’t actually reflect the work being done by the team itself.

Setting realistic and actionable goals is key to keeping a product team functioning at peak performance, but that’s much easier said than done. That’s why we put together this quick-hit guide to help you and your team put together solid product goals.

What are Product Goals?

It may feel obvious, but bear with me here for a minute. Product goals are all of the high level objectives involved with your product. Everything from bug fixes to entirely new features, product goals typically encompass everything involved in changing your product, no matter how big or how small, and turning your vision for what it looks like into reality. 

Why Product Goals are Critical

How do you measure success if you don’t have goals? How do you know that you’re improving over time if you don’t have something in your past to compare current statistics against? Tracking and documenting product goals is crucial to understanding what’s working and what isn’t within your product. Plus, having clearly defined goals helps keep your team on track and can help your team prioritize what to work on next. If you have certain features or tasks assigned to each goal, it becomes much clearer to your team what is most important to work on next and can help with roadmap prioritization. Setting clear product goals gets everyone aligned on the same page about expectations, priorities, and what success looks like. 

Always Start By Clearly Defining Product Goals

You’re going to want to start large when you go about defining product goals, and get more granular as you go. Start by thinking of your overall business goals; what needs to happen within the product to achieve those goals? Are there existing features that need to be updated? Are there small, quality of life improvements that need to be made? Are there features that need to be built completely from scratch? Compile a list of these lofty, overarching goals that align with your business goals first before you do anything else.

Once you’ve got a general idea of where you want to be in the end, you need to figure out how exactly you get there. Take each of your overall goals and start to break them down, step by step, into everything that needs to happen to achieve it. Who needs to be involved in which step? What tools are needed? Is there additional budget required? Inevitably, there will be items here that you miss; obstacles that will pop up as you actually start to go through everything, items you didn’t anticipate needing to deal with. Do your best to plan for anything that you may need to do, but it’s important to keep in mind that you will likely miss a step or two and that’s okay. 

So, say you’ve got an overall business goal to increase customer engagement. Your subsequent product goal may be to integrate a live chat tool into your product to give your customers easier access to your customer support team. Now, you’ve gotta break down that product goal. Which live chat tool works best with your product? How are you going to integrate it? How much will it cost? Who is going to be in charge of replying to live chat messages? How are you going to track and manage all the messages that come in? Where will it live in your product? WIll it disrupt other experiences within your product? These are just a few items to consider when putting together a list of smaller goals to complete the larger goal.

An important thing to keep in mind when setting these goals is to keep them simple, measurable, and timely. If a goal is starting to contain multiple different ideas or concepts, it may be smarter to split them up as they’ll be easier to track and manage. Instead of saying something vague, like “Select one of the live chat tools,”, your goals should look something more like:

  • {Specific team member} will research price and features available from Intercom, Hubspot, and Drift and compile into an Excel spreadsheet.
  • Team will review options at our weekly meeting on Wednesday
  • {Specific team member} is responsible for final decision and will select by EOD Friday

The more specific you get with deadlines and who is responsible for each step, the more streamlined and simple the whole process will be.

How to set Product Goals using OKRs

One of the most common and straightforward ways to set product goals is to use OKRs, or Objectives and Key Results. Objectives can be defined as the outcomes you’d like to see, and key results are essentially everything that needs to get done to get you there. In the example we used above, your objective would be “Adding a Live Chat Tool”, and your key results would be all those individual steps we broke down to get there. 

Each objective should have shared responsibility. This means that the outcome of the objective should rest on the entire team’s shoulders, with everyone contributing a certain factor, and shouldn’t depend too heavily on factors outside of the team’s control. Objectives should also be tied to a realistic deadline that the team can hold itself to. Often, setting a deadline is a trial-and-error process; try a certain timeline out, and adjust it as you go. Lastly, objectives should always be a bit aspirational; nothing so outlandish that it feels impossible, but lofty enough to inspire the team to work harder to do their best to meet the objective.

Now, key results need to be handled slightly differently than objectives as they should be more granular and specific. A key result needs to be quantifiable and explicit. What exactly needs to happen in order for the key result to be considered finished? What measurements need to be taken in order to achieve success? How do you plan on tracking completion of each key result? Who on the team is directly responsible for ensuring a key result gets finished? The more specific you get with key results, the better results you’ll see.

Setting Up a Product Goal: Walkthrough

Let’s quickly walk through an example of setting a product goal, from start to finish.

OVERALL BUSINESS GOAL: Increase engagement from premium subscribers.

ASSOCIATED PRODUCT GOAL: Brainstorm and ship a brand new feature, exclusively for premium subscribers.

OBJECTIVE #1: Decide which feature to build.

Key Result 1: Interview 10 VIP premium subscribers by {Date}

Key Result 2: Send 50 surveys to premium subscribers about what they would like to see added by {Date}

Key Result 3: Compile 3 possible features from interviews and survey responses by {Date}

Key result 4: Send previews of 3 possible features to 50 premium subscribers for feedback by {Date}

Key result 5: Analyze results from preview sendouts and select feature with the best scores by {Date}

OBJECTIVE #2: Build the new feature for premium subscribers.

Key result #1: Work with Head of Product to put together list of feature requirements for an MVP (minimal viable product) by {Date}

Key result #2: Compile requirements for design and development by {Date}

Key result #3: Review final designs and requirements with entire team by {Date}

Key result #4: Create a launch plan with marketing team to promote new feature and educate subscribers by {Date}.

Key result #5: Launch new feature to premium subscribers by {Date}

Key result #6: Collect feedback from premium subscribers within first week of launch about the feature. Regroup with team after launch and review feedback by {Date}

Conclusion

As you can see, setting reasonable, clear, and actionable product goals is actually a bit more involved than many teams initially think. There’s a lot that goes into deciding what goals to set, how to set them, and how to hold your team accountable to these goals, but taking the team to articulate these goals ahead of time is crucial to the success of your product and the well-being of your product team. A lack of communication and clarity is one of the biggest issues that product teams have to deal with, and by taking the time to set product goals that clearly set the expectation and are aspirational yet achievable is the first step in establishing trust and accountability within your team.