In this exclusive Prioritised member session, our panel discussed the product manager’s role in defining goals. Our experts answered questions such as how can we align teams and stakeholders around goals and what do we do when things start to go off track?
The panel, moderated by Emily Tate, Managing Director at Mind the Product welcomed:
- Stephen Culligan, Head of Product at Prommt
- Rosemary King, Director of Product at ReceiptBank
- Robin Zaragoza, Founder and CEO of The Product Refinery
Watch the entire panel in full or read on for a few of our panellists’ key points and tips.
Using OKRs in Product Teams
All of our panellists have used, or continue to use Objective Key Results (OKRs) and recognise that they can help to provide teams and organisations with structure. “They fit in really well with other mechanisms that we use on a regular basis when it comes to planning and execution,” said Robin. “They’re metric oriented, usually broad enough that you can fit in a number of initiatives or ideas underneath it and provide a sort of use, test and learn approach.”
Rosemary agreed but recommended that people be mindful of what they use OKRs for and how they use them. “OKRs are great when you have something to measure,” she said, but also warned against being too specific or prescriptive. “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. Start somewhere, get a handful of definitions around the things that you want your organisation to accomplish, and then let that trickle down into your teams.”
With OKRs comes the issue of goals alignment, and our panellist suggested that how easy this is to do depends on the structure of your organisation.
“In an ideal world, if you’re running cross-functional teams you can hopefully get all of those functions aligned, around the goals that each team is trying to drive forward. Sometimes, of course, it’s easier said than done,” explained Rosemary.
In addition to OKRs, she continued, “there’s almost a separate process to help keep the whole organisation aligned around priorities”, something she wrote about in a recent blog post, published on Mind the Product called How do you Build a Qualitative Data Lake?. In this post, Rosemary explains that pulling together all of the data threads between sales Customer Success, Marketing, Product and Technology, requires a parallel process. On the panel, she explains that this work takes place outside of your normal customer discovery development experimentation phase, enabling you to feed into conversations like: “Well, we’ve got a huge amount of tech debt that we have to tackle, or marketing has several marketing initiatives that we need to drive forward, so where does it stack up against the other things that we’re trying to accomplish that may be more connected with the goals of the organisation set out? Because we’ve got these other, business as usual things that we also have to get done.” The qualitative data lake, she explained, was an attempt for her to figure out to pull all of those threads together.
Problems With Process
The panel covered a range of issues with the process including accountability. This, they all agreed, can make it very difficult for organisations to find a balance and progress with goals. “The key is to, instead, empower a team and to help them self direct and become accountable to the actions that they are taking to the larger organisation,” said Rosemary.
Stephen also added that trying to keep the goals at the team level can help. “Don’t make any one person on the team accountable for hitting the goal because the team is going to hate them, and then they’re just going to feel a bunch of pressure from leadership.”
Something that can help you to avoid this problem, he suggested, is ensuring that the team itself has a hand in shaping the goals. “It shouldn’t just be ‘okay here are your objectives and your key results go do them’. It should be ‘here’s what we’re thinking in leadership, but what do you think from the team level?’. It should then be an open process for a while until you feel like it’s gotten to a better point.”
Shaping Key Results
Sometimes you might look at your key result only to realise it’s not really a key result at all. Robin suggests that by making sure your key results are progress orientated you’ll avoid setting key results that are simply tasks or actions.
She shares some examples.
“Imagine you want to make $100 in the quarter – a small number you can actually track over the course of a quarter. You might release a bunch of features and see on a weekly basis that your weekly revenue is going up. Here you’re actually tracking more towards that $100 100 than you were previously. The opposite of this is to set a goal such as ‘Release feature X in Q1’. This type of goal you can check off with a checkmark and that indicates that it’s probably not a key result.”
How to Form Strong Goals
To form strong goals. Rosemary suggested that you’re best to start off
by trying to connect your everyday analytics to customer behaviours that indicate things that you could leaver with goals.
“Think about how to connect the analytics that you’re looking at to larger customer behaviours that can tell a story,” she said. “Then see if you can connect those customer behaviours to stronger goals. For example, if you have a metric that really indicates engagement, how do you turn that engagement into a larger goal? Do you want to increase it, or do you want to do it to redirect customers? Or, if it’s about conversion, consider how you might increase that metric to say ‘if we did this or added this, would it connect to this paper goal?’
What To Do When Things Aren’t Going Well
Start with a retro to see if you can expose where the problem is,” said Rosemary. “It might be internal, external or both.” Your retro, she explains, should be a safe space to discuss what’s going on. “Use it as an opportunity to ask ‘what’s preventing us?’, because there are so many things, outside of your customers, that have an impact on whether or not you’re meeting your goals.” These can include:
- Speed of delivery
- Functional requirements
- Design and usability issues
- Organisational culture
“All of these things can have a big impact.”
In addition, Stephen suggests considering whether your goals might need more time. “Think about whether you’re trying to hit the goal just because the quarter is coming up and whether that’s a reasonable thing to be striving after,” he says. “Or, do you need to be leveraging your relationships with your stakeholders and to start talking about whether you should be extending what you thought was a three-month goal but that actually should be going into Q2.” You might be on your way towards the result, or you could well be going nowhere. “Be having those conversations about either extending the time period, changing the goal, or saying ‘okay we really do have enough evidence to say we should kill this and do something else instead?'”
More on OKRs
- OKRs: So simple! So then why isn’t everyone using them?
- How Real Product Teams Make OKRs work: Extended Report
- AMA with Christina Wodtke: Encouraging Autonomy and Writing Awesome OKRs