If you are building a product, you should always set specific, measurable goals. Measurable goals are good for morale and give your teams something to work for. All your defined, measurable, goals should roll up to your business’s strategic initiatives.

Stay away from subjective goals.

If your goals are subjective, they are open to interpretation and therefore able to be manipulated. If you have to reason out if a goal has been achieved, I would question it’s effectiveness. Take this goal:

Make customers happy. = not a good goal, it is a mission.

Although it seems like a good goal to have, is it really a goal that you can measure success against? Is it quantifiable? It is definitely a strategic initiative but it is really difficult to get teams rallied around day to day work with a goal that isn’t measurable. Now, with some slight changes we can turn this initiative into a measurable goal:

Reduce customer complaints by 75%. – good goal, measurable and achievable

A numeric, measurable goal is important because you become more concerned with the outcome than how you get there. From a product perspective, this is the MOST IMPORTANT factor. If the business has a goal to reduce customer complaints by 75% it gives you an automatic wrapper around the work that can and should be done to make that happen. Empower your engineers by giving them something to shoot for and trust that they can get you there.

Stay away from deliverables.

Do not get lured into the deliverable trap for your goals. Sometimes, teams and more specifically, product managers (I still do it) can get caught up in the execution but try to avoid it. Take these potential goals:

Release version 2 of product A.
Release specific feature X.

Seem like good goals? Let me ask this question, “what value does this give the business?”. Releasing a version 2 or a new feature may actually provide business value but really think of why. And without some measurable value, attached then you could easily have engineering teams say we hit our goal even if no one is using the new version or feature. At that point, what value does it provide?

Everything you do should provide measurable business value. A numeric, measurable goal is important because you become more concerned with the outcome than how you get there.

So, how can we take those potential goals and make them measurable and solid? Well, start with a measurement. What are you trying to do with a new release or feature? It might be an increase in daily active users, it may be a decrease in certain measured customer service issues. Either of those would provide additional business value. If you are tracking specific customer service issue types and your new version is a step up in user experience, you could change your goal to read:

A decrease in user experience/ usability complaints by 25%.

Notice there is nothing in that goal that has anything to do with a release or feature. You are focused on the OUTCOME and not how you get there. The more you do this, the more empowered you and your team will be.

Summary: Stop focusing on deliverables and focus on measurable business outcomes.

Success in goal setting.

Many different teams will define success differently. From my time at HomeAway (Expedia), I really liked the way we set our goals a bit higher and always measured success at around 70% of the total goal. This was a great way to constantly being pushing to something. Goals should be uncomfortable. Why do we do better when we see a benchmark of performance. Inherently, a target increases the amount of effort you put into the task.

It is time to discourage goals as true/false engineering tasks and focus on delivering business value. Challenge teams and peers to understand what the business gets from the tasks, then set goals related to the outcomes. Then, during the quarter (or whatever time frame), you can do whatever it takes to bring that value to the business.