Why goal setting is key to product development

By Jodie Hopperton


Los Angeles, California, United States


Hi there. Since our Webinar What is Product Success? A Look at Key Metrics That Everyone Can Buy Into earlier this month, I have found the importance of good goal setting cropping up in a lot of conversations. So in today’s newsletter, we’ll take a look at why goal setting is important and some of the ways in which it can be done. I’ve included a TL;DR version for those of you who are short of time.  

As always, reach out to me at jodie.hopperton@inma.org with any questions, ideas, or anything at all you’d like to share. 

Why goal setting can be seen as the most important piece of product

Previously, we’ve touched upon communication and the importance of speaking the same language of other departments. One of the best ways to do this is to have mutually defined and agreed upon goals. Language is important; numbers are more tangible.

The main importance of goal setting at the most senior levels is that you want everyone pulling in the same direction. It’s fairly obvious. However it can be overlooked or, more frequently, multiple goals are set, which can be interpreted in different ways. 

Dow Jones articulated this well in the following slide on why data is the key to transforming the company’s products:

Dow Jones shares the importance of goals to the company's transformation.
Dow Jones shares the importance of goals to the company's transformation.

I can’t count the anecdotal stories I have heard about incredible products and services that have been built but haven fallen flat because they don’t meet company goals. For example, this week I heard about a new feature that was weeks in the making and produced a record number of shares. Which was great. Until it received a lukewarm response from colleagues in marketing. Why? They didn’t see social shares as being helpful to them. The brand was already strong. Their goal was for people to click through to their site, ultimately going through a carefully defined funnel to become a paying subscriber. 

Although painful to go through at the time, sometimes these episodes are extremely helpful as they force a conversation earlier rather than later. The particular example above led to an exceptionally close collaboration for the months and years to come. 

On a recent INMA Webinar Marcel Semmler, global head of technology/publishing at Bauer Media Group, pointed out that traditionally we refer to two sets of customers: our audience and our business customers (i.e. advertisers). As product people we have another customer: our colleagues. 

Marcel Semmler, global head of technology/publishing at Bauer Media Group, shared the three customers of news media companies.
Marcel Semmler, global head of technology/publishing at Bauer Media Group, shared the three customers of news media companies.

Now is a good time to note that there is a big difference between goals and metrics. In a conversation, Lucy Butler, director of customer analytics at Financial Times, pointed out these are different layers of the same process.

  1. Goals should be overarching for the company, such as reach, engagement, subscription revenue

  2. Metrics or (KPIs) Key Performance Indicators should be used to measure the goals, such as the FT’s infamous RFV metric (recency frequency volume), days visited per month, or subscriber numbers. 

There are a number of different frameworks to set these. One we are hearing more and more of, particularly from Silicon Valley: OKRs, a framework for setting and executing Objectives and Key Results. The OKR will almost certainly include goals and metrics that represent them — eg “increase engagement amongst new subscribers as measured by an X% increase in RFV.” This framework can include processes such as quarterly scoring and reviews with particular formats, principles around transparency, and how these cascade across teams. To read more on OKRs visit What Matters

Jodie’s TL;DR:

  • Our colleagues are our customers. Find out what their goals are.

  • Department goals should wrap up into company goals to ensure everyone is pulling in the same direction.  

  • Define the metrics that will be used to measure goals and ensure there is trust/respect for the underlying proof points and data.

  • Consider using an established framework such as OKRs.

Knowledge share: Do you have a product achievement to share? 

Or maybe a lesson? We’d love to hear from you! The Product Initiative blog is now taking contributions from our community. For more, contact me on Slack or at jodie.hopperton@inma.org

Designing for goals 

In a previous newsletter I shared this tweet to mull over: 

Design is in the eye of the beholder (and the creator).
Design is in the eye of the beholder (and the creator).

It spoke to me because I love how seamless Apple’s products and service are. And Amazon drives me mad with it’s clutter, even though I use it almost every day. 

Gaurav Sachdeva, chief product officer at Singapore Press Holdings, recently told me he had also been thinking about this tweet and why it didn’t sit well with him. It’s because at Amazon, design absolutely matters. Although I would say that their design is messy — and the tweet suggests that Amazon does not prioritize design — that’s not the point. 

As Gaurav pointed out to me, Amazon designs to maximize sales. They pioneered the “one click buy.” And their check-out is so seamless that it makes it easy — too easy! — to buy on its site. Which is the goal. I am a single data point of proof: As I said, I use it almost every day.

Amazon has designed to meet its goals. And this is one of the key reasons the company has become a market leader. Amazon is ruthless on working towards specific goals, and it shows.

Recommended Reading

  • (INMA corporate member) Gannett: Relationships Trump Everything Else: Forbes CXO series speaks with Gannett about the intersection of product and marketing. A 20-minute discussion that lays out the importance of relationships and getting incentives to align within an organisation. 
  • Digital transformation at The Times of London by INMA member Alan Hunter: We can learn so much from looking back, and Alan gives an excellent account fresh from his tenure. I particularly enjoyed his journey from editorial to product. 
  • How Apple Is Organized for Innovationin HBR: An excellent take on how Apple is organised: “Apple relies on a structure that centers on functional expertise. Its fundamental belief is that those with the most expertise and experience in a domain should have decision rights for that domain.“
  • Camera Obscura: Beyond the lens of user-centered design on the limitations of user-centered design.

About this newsletter 

Today’s newsletter is written by Jodie Hopperton, based in Los Angeles and lead for the INMA Product Initiative. Jodie will share research, case studies, and thought leadership on the topic of global news media product.

This newsletter is a public face of the Product Initiative by INMA, outlined here. E-mail Jodie at jodie.hopperton@inma.org with thoughts, suggestions, and questions. Sign up to our Slack channel.

About Jodie Hopperton

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