How to set product goals?

Goals are essential for a winning product strategy. Goals give you something to work towards so you can deliver a better product to customers. Setting ambitious goals requires you to define what you want to achieve and how you will measure success. Product managers set and report on goals — which provides the context that the product team relies on for each decision that impacts the future of the product.

Without clear goals, you cannot really decide what to build next. Sure, you can make your best guess about what you believe to be the most impactful work. Some product managers get by with savvy gut decisions in the absence of concrete goals. But these are typically short-term gains. If you want to bring real value to customers and the business in a sustainable way, you need to combine intuition with strategy — prioritizing work against a set of measurable, time-bound objectives.

Setting meaningful goals happens before product planning. And product goals should be guided by higher-level business needs too. Once you have set your product goals, you can define the initiatives, features, and releases that will help you achieve success and tie everything back to top-level company objectives. In this way, you can measure and report on how each smaller unit of work helps serve the goals of the company and moves your product strategy forward.


Determine the strategic goals you plan to achieve and measure progress against them. Here is a sample of product goals built in Aha! Roadmaps.

Why set goals?

The product you manage is what the company sells. It is how you make money. It requires a significant investment of people, skills, and resources. In short, the success of your product equals the success of the business.

Goal-setting lays the groundwork for that success. It provides a common direction that everyone at the company is working towards. And it encourages folks to be deeply engaged in how their efforts impact the product and your customers.

Product goals also have the following benefits:

Roadmap direction

Goals guide your product plans. Each area of tactical investment — initiatives, epics, features, and releases — tie back to your goals. Visualize it all on a strategic roadmap to rally the team around your path forward.

Efficient prioritization

Product managers are flooded with product ideas. Goals help you stay grounded. If a new idea will not help you achieve your goals, it is a good signal to say no. An objective prioritization framework can help you determine which ideas will meaningfully contribute to your goals.

Team accountability

You want to lead your team to success. Goals allow you to chart progress and identify risks. Helping the team connect goals to the detailed work allows them to see the significance of their efforts and take pride in what they are building.

What kinds of product goals should I set?

At a basic level, a goal describes what you want to achieve and when. You also need to determine a success metric. This part can be particularly tricky because product metrics abound. You probably know that you do not need to track every data point at your disposal — but you do need to establish a core set of metrics that you are focused on advancing.

There are three high-level categories of product goals to consider:

1. Business-driven goals: Business goals typically focus on revenue, growth strategies, hiring and development, and cost-saving process improvements.

  • Example product goal: Increase company revenue

    • Time frame: 12 months

      • Success metric: +20 percent revenue

2. Market-driven goals: These goals relate to market awareness, perception, and virality — things like expanding into a new market, outperforming competitors, or developing strategic partnerships.

  • Example product goal: Expand into new markets

    • Time frame: 12 months

      • Success metric: +3 new markets

3. Customer-driven goals: These goals tie to customer happiness and the overall customer experience — measured in user engagement rates or the time it takes a customer to realize value from your product.

  • Example product goal: Reduce trial time to value (TTV)

    • Time frame: 6 months

      • Success metric: Average trial TTV of 10 days

The amount and type of goals that you set will vary depending on your company, its size, and your specific offerings. A good guideline is to set three to five product goals that connect back to high-level business goals.

What are common goal frameworks?

Product teams use various goal-setting frameworks to bring consistency to goal definition — including objectives and key results (OKRs) and SMART goals. These frameworks can be applied to business and product goals as well as team and individual goals.

Objectives and key results (OKRs)

The OKR approach to goal-setting evolved from the concept of management by objective (MBO) — introduced by management consultant Peter Drucker in the 1950s. The purpose of MBO was to increase employee engagement by empowering folks to set their own professional goals. OKRs grew from the MBO model and were first introduced at Intel by former CEO Andy Grove, then later popularized at Google by adviser John Doerr, who had previously worked with Grove.

The premise of OKRs is to decide what you will achieve (an objective) and pair it with a key result. Each objective is assigned a score from 0.0 to 1.0, with 0.7-1.0 indicating the objective is nearing achievement or fully achieved. Here is how you can apply the framework to product goals:

Objectives

Define three to five product goals that are specific to your product and its users, such as product-specific revenue or increased product adoption. Compelling goals inspire action, help you achieve your product vision, and give you a deadline to work towards.

Key results

Pair one to three key results with each objective. Results should be measurable and should directly contribute towards advancing each goal.

Many product managers use roadmapping software like Aha! Roadmaps to track OKRs and report on progress in real-time across teams. This way OKRs can be linked to real product work and displayed on your product roadmap.

Define OKRs in Aha! Roadmaps and connect your work to strategy.

SMART goals

SMART is an acronym that stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. The SMART goals framework was developed in 1981 by George Doran, a consultant and director of corporate planning, to help managers write meaningful objectives for their teams. Here is how the framework can be applied to product goals:



Communicate exactly what you want to achieve.

  • Instead of: Improve user's time in account

  • Try: Double average weekly time in account

Measurable

Include a quantifiable outcome to measure progress.

  • Example: +2X average session time

Attainable

Keep goals ambitious and reasonable. Setting goals that are either not attainable or not demanding enough can be equally de-motivating.

Relevant

Align goals with business objectives and the overall vision for your company.


This is an example of a SMART goal defined in Aha! Roadmaps.

Combining each component of the SMART goal framework, your product goals might look like the following:

  • Double the average weekly time in account by 2X in the second half of the year

  • Raise the trial-to-paid conversion rate by 5% in the second half of the year

  • Expand into 5 new global markets this year

These product goals could then be aligned with company-level goals to show how work at the product-level impacts overall organizational success.

Visualizing goals on your product roadmap

No matter what goal-setting framework your organization uses, the next step is to determine the initiatives that will help you realize your goals. Initiatives are the high-level themes of work that impact your customers, such as new feature sets or product enhancements.

Setting initiatives gives you a structure in which to group related work. The idea is to link features, requirements, and even releases back to the initiatives and goals that each supports — to see exactly how your work connects to your strategy.

Then you can visualize it on a product roadmap. The roadmap below displays progress towards goals and communicates a high-level timeline. Of course, you could also build a more detailed roadmap to display features and specific release dates.


In this custom roadmap in Aha! Roadmaps, goals are represented by the flags on the far left. Initiatives are represented by bars and colored by status (e.g., achieved, on track, some progress, at risk, and not started).

A tool like Aha! Roadmaps gives you a variety of product roadmapping templates to create and share your product plans. Set brilliant strategy, plan ahead, and track your product team's progress — sign up for a free 30-day trial.

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