Product Development


January 3, 2022

Product Goal Setting: Why You Need It and 5 Tips to Help You Succeed

Product Goal Setting: Why You Need It and 5 Tips to Help You Succeed

Product Goal Setting: Why You Need It and 5 Tips to Help You Succeed

Oscar French

Head of Product Management

’Tis the goal-setting season! Every new year brings new resolutions we vow to keep in order to better our current and future selves. The optimism of ringing in a fresh start (especially after a few difficult years) is motivating, which is typically reflected in the lofty ambitions we set as goals.

“Exercise more 🏋️. Get organized 🗒️. Learn a new skill 💃. Save money 💰. Live life to the fullest 🙌.”

All are great ambitions. But, as time usually tells, without the measures set in place to achieve these resolutions… they often fall by the wayside. (80% of people see their resolutions fail by February.)

In the world of product development, we see the same thing happen. When you start to build a new product, the ambitions that you and your stakeholder have can often commandeer the process entirely. However, there is a way to avoid setbacks, let downs, and failed resolutions.

Set product goals, and set them right.

What are product goals? Why do we have them, and when do we use them? We consulted our goal-setting star and Director of Product, Oscar French, and our Chief Product Officer, Jakub Kratina, to find out. Here is what they had to say, followed by their tips to make sure your goals will work to benefit you, your team, and your stakeholders. (Win. Win. Win.)

What is a product goal?

The term “goal” is often ambiguous and carries various weights across different levels of business. In a company, you have personal goals (“I want to achieve X”) and your company goals (“We want to achieve Y”), and ideally, if you are a product manager, you will have goals for the products that you build. Regardless of the level, a goal should simply and understandably align your team around what you want to achieve. It should be an actionable item that can be broken down into smaller parts to help you and your stakeholders reach greater levels of success.

(BONUS: This definition also helps you in your personal resolution quest if you break down those loftier goals into actionable ones 😉)

Why is it important?

Products exist to achieve something, and goals are what tie the business and the customers to that product. They allow you to stay focused, which is the key to prioritizing. Without a clear goal in mind, product teams build blindly. When that happens (and the lights come on), the end result is often off course, which means more time, work, and money to get back on track.

There’s the infamous story of NASA spending billions with the goal to create a pen that could write in space. Meanwhile, the Russians used a pencil. Even though it was debunked, it’s a nice analogy of why goal setting is important. If the goal in this scenario was to “document all mission notes in a log,” you can see where the Americans became distracted on a costly, useless feature. Stick to the actionable goals, and you’ll save yourself, your team, and your stakeholders from veering off the path.

Overall, product goals exist to do the following:

  • Align the team around what they want to achieve
  • Help the team understand the most important outcomes and requirements
  • Clarify what will make the project a success
  • Give the team the motivation to do so
  • And (most importantly) allow any team member to say “no”

When you have a clear product goal, it’s easier to reject features that don’t satisfy the goal. Do you want to hit 10,000 users in the first three months? Team members can easily reject features that don’t satisfy this goal, ensuring your product remains on track.

When do you set product goals?

Before starting to narrow down a specific product goal there are some points that, as a team, you need to be aligned on.

Mission, Vision, and Culture

First, you need to understand the overarching direction of the stakeholder’s business and what is motivating him or her to start this business. Be in tune with the team as a whole. When you buy into the team’s passion, the goal will be more true to their wants.

Market Research

Whether performed internally or by the stakeholder, you need to understand the market environment, users, competitors, etc. before you can set a product goal. This will help you ensure that the goal is applicable and that you have access to monitor its success in some way.

Once you’ve aligned in these areas, setting your product goals will be one of the next steps to take before preparing to build the product.

At OAK’S LAB, we follow the OAK'S LAB WAY of building products. We set product goals as one of our plays when we define and frame the problem that a product will solve. Each product will have a different playbook that guides the way it will be built, but a goal-setting technique is always implemented in every product playbook.

Over time and our personal experience with setting specific product goals, we’ve learned a few tricks along the way.

Tips & Tricks

  1. The goal-setting technique should complement the discovery technique. There are several different goal-setting techniques (SMART Goal Setting, One Word Goal Setting, Backward Goal Setting, Locke and Latham’s Five Principles, etc.), and no one size fits all. Take time to research the different techniques. Choosing the right one will keep the stakeholders focused on the primary framework with the goal technique being a contributor to that framework and a starting point to expand out the possibilities.
  2. The technique should narrow the thoughts of the stakeholders. At this stage, stakeholders (CEOs, Sales & Marketing, Customers) typically have a lot of ideas with little focus on the one core offering they want to achieve. The right goal-setting technique will help them see that the core value of their product might not be what they thought it was. Once you nail down that core value, your team and your stakeholder can then actionably measure and analyze progress (or digression).
  3. Remind the team of what we are trying to achieve. The goal should be the center of the work done, meaning it is crucial that it is at the forefront of everyone’s thinking when considering a new feature, backlog refinement, or just wondering why we are focused on some specific deliverables. Remember that the goal is there to save you time/money/work in the long run. Use it as your beacon.
  4. Focus on one goal. The team should have one goal to align everyone on what we want to achieve. There should be no ambiguity around how we decide if features are impactful or not. More than one product goal defeats the purpose of having a product goal.
  5. Once it’s set, assess it. While the product goal is your beacon, one important aspect is that it does not need to be fixed. Review the goal regularly to ensure its success or failure, and constantly check to see that the goal remains relevant to the project. If not, then you should not be afraid to drop the goal and set up a new one if it no longer makes sense. The goal is your guide, but you and your product also guide the goal.

Ultimately, product goals are there for everyone involved to have a straightforward path through the entire product build. It is important to remember that the more information you can get prior to setting the goal, the better, and you need to have the right metrics to ultimately measure if the project was a success. Overall, setting the right product goal is essential for smooth and successful product development, so make sure you set the right ones.

We hope you like our tips for product goal setting in 2022, and we hope you kick off some great products this year!

Check out some of our key Product Goal Setting resources here:

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