Setting smart product goals is a vital skill for any sensible SaaS owner or product manager to get right.
In this article, we’re going to explore what makes an effective product goal, the difference between goals and product initiatives, how to set them and make them work with your product backlog, and more.
Ready to get started? Let’s dive in!
- Product goals are clear objectives that break down exactly how you’ll realize your product vision. They help bring your vision to life and inform your overall strategy.
- Product initiatives are specific projects – usually focused around a specific theme or area – that align with your product vision, and help you meet your product goals.
- Goals and initiatives are extremely helpful for product managers: they help align and inspire your team behind common objectives, drive you to deliver value according to a focused plan, make effective prioritization decisions, and measure success.
- When setting goals, remember to think about why (what’s the overall objective), how (how do you actually meet that goal), and what (what outcome are you going to deliver).
- Start with your product vision (goals should help implement your vision). Endeavor to craft objectives that meet the criteria of being both a user and business goal. Ensure your goals are specific enough to be meaningful. Then, you can organize initiatives to help structure and plan the work necessary to realize those goals.
- There are many practical, effective goal-setting frameworks to draw from to inform your own goal setting.
- BHAGs (big, hairy, audacious goals) are designed to inspire and engage with ambitious goals that force you to ‘think big’.
- The BSQ framework consists of three main elements: think ‘big’ (what’s the overall goal), ‘small’ (how do you break down the steps to get there), and ‘quick’ (what’s the fastest route to success).
- Locke & Latham’s five principles are another impactful framework. In their view, goals should have the right combination of clarity (be specific), challenge (ambitious but realistic), commitment (get buy-in from the team), complexity, and factor in feedback.
- The classic technique many product managers rely on is setting OKRs: what are your primary objectives (in essence, goals), and how are you going to measure success as you strive to achieve them (key results)?
- Goals should inform your product backlog and product roadmap. Your backlog should represent a granular breakdown of all the features, ideas, and activities necessary to realize your product vision. Clear goals will help you prioritize and organize work effectively.
What are product goals?
Product goals are clear, tangible objectives that break down exactly how you’ll realize your product vision. Effective product goals are specific, set out clear timescales, and importantly, are measurable (i.e. you know if you’ve achieved them or not).
Product goals are objectives, while product initiatives are the themed projects you complete to meet those objectives. Product goals translate the product vision into clear, measurable targets. They define exactly what your product will achieve, the time frame for achieving it, and how you’ll measure it.
What are product initiatives?
Product initiatives are specific projects – usually focused around a specific theme or area – that align with your product vision, and in their entirety help you meet your product goals.
A useful way of thinking about initiatives is to picture the broad themes of work necessary to move your product forward.
Product goals vs product initiatives
Product goals and product initiatives share many elements in common. Importantly, they both help establish a connection between your overarching vision and tactical implementation.
However, they do this in different ways:
- Product goals are all about crisply translating the product vision into clear, distinct, tangible, and measurable objectives. By articulating what you want your product to achieve and when you’re aiming to achieve it, you set the direction of travel.
- Product initiatives, on the other hand, help product managers and their teams to break down the complex work required into more manageable chunks. Initiatives will be multi-faceted, containing a multitude of features, improvements, ‘epic’ level requirements, tasks, and other activities that help inform your product workflow.
In a nutshell: goals flesh out and break down your vision, and initiatives set out the work necessary to achieve your goals and realize that vision.
Why using goals and initiatives can make a difference
So why is using goals and initiatives such an important activity for product managers to get right?
Primarily, because they help you in what should be your primary mission: to release as much value to your users as frequently as possible.
Using goals and initiatives will enable you to:
- Establish a foundation. By setting out a clear strategic vision, you’ve got the intellectual rigor to drive toward relevant objectives (and have a sense of the best way to get there).
- Align and inspire your team. Building software is complex: goals and initiatives help keep your product team aligned. It’s far easier to motivate a team pulling in the same direction, with a clear understanding of how and what activities they’re contributing to.
- Work toward a plan. Initiatives help you plan work strategically, rather than lurching wildly from one project to the next and distracting your team.
- Prioritize effectively. Prioritization is one of the trickiest tasks for any product manager. Goals and initiatives give you a foundation to make effective decisions (it’s simple: you optimize and make choices based on which move you toward your goals the fastest).
- Measure success (and iterate accordingly). What gets measured, gets managed – without goals or KPIs, how will you know whether what you’re working on is valuable?
Product goals and initiatives examples
Let’s take a look at two tangible examples to help bring goals and initiatives to life.
Product managers’ goals and initiatives example
Increase our Net Promoter Score (NPS).
- Get customer feedback from a minimum of X of our top-performing users.
- Obtain at least Z responses to an NPS survey.
Marketing teams and sales teams’ goals and initiatives example
Launch a new SaaS feature by the end of the financial year.
- Encourage X more users to upgrade to a plan enabling them to use the new feature.
- Reach Y # of impressions on social media with the new feature announcements.
- Get a customer satisfaction score of Z for the feature.
How to set product goals and initiatives
Now we’ve taken a look at some examples, let’s explore how to set product goals and initiatives of your own.
Remember, your product goals should be a tangible representation of your product vision. That means they need to consider both user needs, business goals, and stakeholder requirements.
Here’s a handy goal-setting framework to bear in mind.
- Why – what’s the intrinsic reason for pursuing this goal?
- How – what are the specific steps necessary to achieve it?
- What – the outcome you’ll deliver.
Start with the product vision
Every product goal you set should directly connect to your product vision. Start from that foundation to craft effective goals.
That means you can forge a powerful link between the goals you’re setting and how they contribute toward wider business objectives. Remember though, it’s not purely about what the business needs.
Each of your goals should reflect a careful balancing act: both organizational demands, and the needs of the users you serve.
Understand the user and business goals
Without understanding the context – your users, the organization, and the landscape you’re operating within – you’ll struggle to set meaningful goals.
While product vision helps to set the direction, you’ll need to use insight about your users to make your goals specific enough to help. Use interviews, product usage data and feedback to refine the problem you’re trying to solve.
Remember, setting goals shouldn’t be something product managers do in isolation. The broader the input – from your stakeholders, different members of the product team, and your users – the more comprehensive and well-rounded they’ll be.
Set specific product goals that will solve user problems
You’ve started with the vision, you’ve considered the needs of the business and your users… What’s next?
You need to make sure your goals are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Time-Bound).
SMART goals have persisted in the world of project management for years precisely because they’re so effective.
The more detailed your goals, the easier it’ll be to measure your progress toward them… and that’s how you’ll figure out whether you’re actually unlocking value when you achieve them.
Define initiatives that will drive success
All of that groundwork puts you in a fantastic position to define meaningful initiatives.
If goals set out what you’d like to achieve and why then initiatives help you set out how you’ll get there.
Organize work thematically, and then use that to break down smaller tasks and activities that you can prioritize effectively (and regularly) in your product backlog ready for your development teams to start working on.
Goal-setting frameworks you can use to set smart goals
OKRs – objectives and key results – are a ubiquitous goal-setting methodology in the world of product management. They can be extremely effective, but there is a range of other techniques to draw from you might not have heard of.
Let’s explore some of them here.
B.H.A.G – Big Hairy, Audacious Goals
B.H.A.Gs are an interesting framework designed to help inspire, motivate and engage teams towards ambitious product goals.
This sort of goal should be deeply aligned with the core objectives of your organization, and ideally have longer-term horizons. It’s worth remembering that if a BHAG can be achieved in a short space of time, it’s likely nowhere near ambitious enough.
One of the creators of this technique, Jim Collins, famously said:
“The power of B.H.A.G is that it gets you out of thinking too small. A great B.H.A.G changes the time frame and simultaneously creates a sense of urgency. It’s a real paradox.”
A drawback to this framework is the ‘big picture’ means there’s not a lot of room for technical complexity to be broken down. That can (in some situations) overwhelm product teams.
BSQ- “think big, act small, move quickly”
The BSQ framework consists of three main components:
- Think Big. This is where you define your overarching, major objective.
- Act Small. Break down the tangible steps and milestones necessary to achieve the big goal. Taking incremental steps makes it more realistic and motivating.
- Move Quick. Don’t delay: create an ambitious timeline for completing the mini milestones you’ve set out.
This framework is versatile and effective. It enables you and your team to zoom out and think strategically, without losing sight of the details.
Locke and Latham’s 5 principles
This framework sets out five fundamental principles they believe underpin effective goals:
- Clarity. Don’t set vague goals, be specific and direct.
- Challenge. Don’t set the bar too low.
- Commitment. Don’t impose arbitrary goals – bring your team into the decision-making so everyone is committed.
- Feedback. Iterate goals if you receive relevant feedback.
- Complexity. Ridiculously complex goals simply aren’t achievable – and that can kill your team’s motivation.
OKR method for setting product goals and initiatives
OKRs are an industry standard. In this section of the blog, we’ll run through each element of the OKR framework (and how they map onto product initiatives and goals).
What are the objectives in the OKR framework?
Objectives in the OKR framework are high-level goals that set out a specific outcome you’d like to achieve.
The business-based example below, ‘Grow user base’, is broad but effective. Another common SaaS objective might be ‘Boost MRR’.
What are the key performance indicators (key results)
Key results map directly onto your objectives and are designed to enable you to track specific and tangible progress toward achieving them.
By tracking and analyzing specific key results, it’ll quickly become clear whether you’re taking the right steps or not.
How product goals impact the product backlog
Effective backlog management is a key skill for product managers. Your backlog should represent a granular breakdown of all the features, ideas, investigations, maintenance, and activities necessary to realize your product vision.
You can see how goals can have a huge impact on the size and shape of your backlog: they help inform the priority of specific items and make decisions on what you’re going to build first (and why).
Goals also work hand in hand with your product roadmap: these are typically higher-level documents that set out your strategic vision for the product.
A common format is now, next, and later: you might set out the key initiatives you’re hoping to deliver according to these broad time horizons.
As an example, if you have a product goal to improve user experience by enhancing conversations, then you might pull an item forward on your roadmap to tackle it sooner (and in the background, start fleshing out the more granular level of detail necessary to actually implement the work).
That’s been a zoom through the exciting world of product goals and initiatives. Hopefully, this article has given you a framework to:
- Craft effective product goals and initiatives
- Choose an appropriate goal-setting framework
- Create an environment to enable high-functioning software teams
- Use goals to inform your backlog, roadmap, and define your product strategy
Want to get started with launching initiatives that help you meet your goals? Get a Userpilot Demo and see how you can get started today.