It’s been almost fifteen years since I started doing design. I’ve been through all of it: from the job title being Webmaster and the job being basically “do everything from design, through development, to managing our server” all the way down to managing a design team at a company and mentoring other designers. Especially in the second part of the work, I’ve noticed that no matter if I worked on the marketing side or the product side, there are a couple of things that usually come up when trying to set up a KPI- or OKR-based process, so I’ve been taking careful notes that are summarized in this post. Enjoy.
How does the success look like?
This is the first question that you should answer when setting up the goals and KPIs for your team. Whatever you’re doing — what does success mean? Can you measure it? Can you figure out a number? Is it tied to another number somewhere else in the company? What does your job impact at the business-level? Research up and down the ladder and find out what actually matters — to the business as a whole, to the teams working with you, to your team. Think broad and try to approach the success metrics from all possible angles. Once you figure those things out, it will be way easier to set meaningful metrics.
What are we actually doing here?
One of the major problems that usually comes up when setting KPIs is optimizing for the wrong thing. Once you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail, so I’ve seen entire teams dedicated to improving a metric that didn’t really matter and I’ve been guilty of doing that myself. Yes, you can A/B test and conversion-optimize absolutely everything on your website, but is this the right thing to be optimized? Not all numbers are created equal and tracking things just for the sake of tracking them is a waste of your resources. Find a handful of north star metrics and focus on them.
Humans over numbers
In the end, it may be your manager paying your salary, but it’s the customers that pay his.
This is something I see quite often especially when working with startups and smaller teams in hypergrowth — losing the forest for the trees. Way too often optimizing for a certain metric leads to all series of very questionable decisions like introducing dark patterns, honeypots and mechanisms that generally lead to empty conversions or — in the worst case — user burnout. Sure, you probably are able to trick people into buying your product by utilizing a dark pattern that makes them click, but are you actually providing value to them? Is a user that signed up by mistake and never used your product again an area you want to grow? Is burning out your current users by trying to upsell them to things they don’t really need worth the risk? Let the customers drive your choice of metrics and you’ll probably end up in a much better place — in the end, it may be your manager paying your salary, but it’s the customer that pays his.
In the end, it’s just numbers
Don’t lose the big picture. In the end, no matter how important you think your KPIs are, they’re just arbitrary numbers. You’ll fail to meet them, you’ll overshoot, you’ll miss the point entirely. Unless you’re working for Revolut, that’s fine. The whole point is to learn, evolve and grow. Unless your idea is to grow fast, sell quick, and then it’s not your problem anymore (in which case I’d recommend doing something that doesn’t sell products to human beings), get in it for the long game.