login


Google Sign inLinkedIn Sign in

Don't have an account? 

Where is your True North Star?

OKR
Product
Sharing the vision
Prioritization

2 April, 2020

Nicolas Bonnet, former Head of Product and Data Science at Branch, suggests establishing OKRs and goals for your team that are aligned with the value of the product as perceived by the user.

Problem

As a head of product for software companies, I have long struggled to figure out personal product manager accountability vs. team accountability. I wanted to build team incentives where those two things worked alongside one another as opposed to based on individual incentives.
 

I hate to generalize, but PMs are often competitive, have a type A personality, and want to work on the product with the biggest “name a vanity metric here.” But the truth is that product management is a team sport with dependencies. Product managers depend on each other, on components, and on horizontal capabilities.
 

All of these need the same level of attention and care as does the work that is, to speak of, strictly their own. This is all necessary to ensure that everybody is successful. So how do you get everyone aligned and excited to work together while also giving them objectives that drive individuals and the team towards success?
 

Actions taken

My product team and I took it upon ourselves to initiate a product analytics project. We decided to step back from vanity metrics and instead wanted to quantify and measure the value of the product as perceived by the customer. We determined that our vanity metrics, the metrics we were looking at before, gave us a biased view of the world.
 

If, for example, we received a high usage number, we couldn’t directly correlate that to generating an abundance of value for the user. Perhaps they were exceedingly engaged because the product didn’t allow them to do what they wanted. The idea was to develop a metric that was completely aligned with the value of the product as perceived by the customer. We wanted to measure the true value of our products according to our users. Once this was established, we could then incrementally measure our product development work in regards to our North Star metric, prioritizing work accordingly during planning.
 

This was a very complex effort and might be so for others depending on the business. The details of how we actually did this are specific to our company and will therefore vary greatly across the industry. The biggest impact, though, was on the product team’s sense of collective accountability.
 

Our product team had multiple components, one was a freemium product and the other was a paid product. Everybody wanted to work on the paid product even though the freemium was critically important to the success of the paid product. Previously, we didn’t have the framework to say how much the freemium contributed to the overall value perceived by the customer. This prohibited us from resourcing more engineers to work in this area. However, through this framework we managed to raise awareness and visibility on the freemium components of our product suite which were underserved until then. It completely turned around how we thought about resourcing engineers and product managers for each of the different aspects of the product.
 

Lessons learned

  • This is a long-term initiative that requires executive support because what you find might shift the performance metrics of your own or other groups.
  • You might get pushback from your PMs because they will want to continue working on the shiny objects. The framing of this OKR will require cultural adjustments that should be taken into discretion.
  • I recommend getting the support of both the head of product and the head of engineering so that you have a foundation for work prioritization. By doing so, everyone will understand why certain work needs to be done in relation to how it increases the customer perceived value. For work that is not aligned with value as perceived by customers, have a forum to discuss if it should even be undertaken.
  • Do not boil the ocean by attempting to measure all the intangibles. However, I strongly believe that this type of initiative is well worth the effort.
  • This is a transformational process. It can take a while to shift from a task-oriented strategy to the North Star strategy. Despite this, once PMs and individuals are aligned they will begin to prioritize the way they think. It’s the development of a habit, so it won’t happen overnight.

Related stories

Start With the Customer and Work Backwards
30 June

Murali Bala, Director, Software Engineering at Capital One, shares his experience of building a guest relationship management tool by embracing the customer-first mindset and working backward.

Users Feedback
Product
Murali Bala

Murali Bala

Director, Software Engineering at Capital One

Strategizing Arguments Using Scoring Grids
30 June

Benjamin Ritchie, CPO at Cognism, demonstrates the importance of making implicit decisions and actions readily obvious when debating company-wide topics.

Cross-functional collaboration
Product
Ben Ritchie

Ben Ritchie

CPO at Cognism

How to Inspire Mission Among Engineers
27 June

Agata Grzybek, ex-Uber Engineering Manager, outlines her efforts to inspire mission-driven culture among engineers on her team.

Company Culture
Impact
Sharing the vision
Agata Grzybek

Agata Grzybek

Engineering Manager at ex-Uber

Achieving Alignment and Efficiency Through a Technical Strategy
21 June

Damian Schenkelman, Principal Engineer at Auth0, shares the fundamentals of developing a technical strategy and explains how that process helped him improve the overall efficiency of his engineering organization.

Sharing the vision
Damian Schenkelman

Damian Schenkelman

Principal Engineer at Auth0

Prioritizing Technical Matters Within Scrum
11 June

Stefan Gruber, VP of Engineering at Bitmovin, describes when he decided to introduce Scrum into his organization and the moment he realized that tech items were left off the priority list for engineering.

Agile / Scrum
Prioritization
Roadmap
Stefan Gruber

Stefan Gruber

VP of Engineering at Bitmovin

You're a great engineer.
Become a great engineering leader.

Plato (platohq.com) is the world's biggest mentorship platform for engineering managers & product managers. We've curated a community of mentors who are the tech industry's best engineering & product leaders from companies like Facebook, Lyft, Slack, Airbnb, Gusto, and more.