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Practical Advice for PMs on Setting Goals & Scaling

by Leah Tharin

You can also read this article in German, Indonesian and Italian.

Products that scale successfully and sustainably? With the right approach to goals and growth, bigger can be better.

In this series, Products & Their PMs, Smallpdf Product Lead, Leah Tharin, takes a look at the dance between product and product manager, and the delicate balance required to create not just impact, but sustainable success, too.

In the first three articles of this four-part series, we looked at different product perspectives and how these have the power to influence product innovation. This fourth and final article goes back to basics with a focus on goal setting and how it can set teams and companies up to scale both successfully and for the long haul.

Setting Goals


Objectives and key results (OKRs) are a widespread, collaborative method for setting measurable goals as a team within a certain timeframe. OKRs are a powerful tool for defining impactful goals, but if you’re not careful, they can also make it easy to fall into the feature trap.

OKRs & Features vs. Solutions


Let’s take the example of a team that works on a food delivery app. They are aware that, for some reason, the delivery drivers using the app are extremely unhappy handling orders that need to be delivered. Based on feedback, the team suspects that it has something to do with how the app expects the drivers to manage these deliveries when their mobile phones are not connected to the internet.

In order to tackle the issue using OKRs, their goals, formulated as a feature, could sound something like this:

Feature-view key result: Ship a new offline feature that allows delivery drivers to update orders even without an internet connection.

A team that looks at the problem more holistically and with the view to having an actual impact, however, could define the key result very differently:

Solution-view key result: Improve NPS (net promoter score—the higher the better—on how likely the driver would be to recommend the product to another driver) from drivers by 20 when handling orders.

The difference between the two is that the first is focused on the feature and has no incentive to check or investigate whether their solution solves the problem. What if being offline is not the problem, despite what the drivers are saying?

The second team, on the other hand, is incentivized to measure whether their efforts actually work. If the feature they’re working on doesn’t solve the problem and the drivers need to be kept happy, what else can be done? This only works if the team has access to the drivers, their data, and understanding their context. This team‌ is empowered to navigate their way to solutions to their customers’ problems.

Growing People


Closely connected to the solution view approach to OKRs is the growth and development of the team. People have far-reaching opportunities to grow in an environment that focuses on solutions to problems instead of building features for the sake of it.

Fostering growth on a team and giving them credit is essential. A great product manager doesn’t need to prove their own worth by having the best ideas, but by aligning the team to produce even better ideas.

A product manager enables their team by aligning and enabling them. Product managers are a coach on the field, not the star player. They should succeed and fail together with the team.

Scale, Adapt, Enable, Repeat


Scaling this philosophy to an organizational level and then maintaining it on a grander scale for accessibility is not only difficult, but it can often be an insurmountable—and even fatal—obstacle for many scale-ups.

Scale-ups often realize that their small-scale solutions no longer work on a larger scale as context gets lost in the weeds and information becomes increasingly difficult to share and manage. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, it makes sense to find a good (product) leader who knows how to scale a product organization, all while retaining the ability to create amazing products that people love—and staying adaptable to the market.

The best solutions to problems sometimes come from unexpected places, so it’s important to maximize the chance that someone sees them and that they’re in a position to realize them or point them out. Chances are that many product managers with great skills and expertise are being underutilized, lack context, and are not empowered; not just a recipe for a stereotypical narrative of the long-suffering product manager, but a terrible waste of time and talent.

Being an Advocate for Products & People


As a product manager, if you fail to convince your CEO or leadership team to do something that needs to be done, it’s important to ask if they’re simply not receptive to your ideas or if your arguments could be better rooted in data and exploration. If you enable your team, they will give you the insights you need to better advocate for them and your customers. Your team are the folks doing the day-to-day work, they know the customer intimately, and their power comes from their enablement and the access you give them to the “why”.

If you are a (product) manager, it’s important to decide whether to follow the old path of efficiency and limited optimization where you get to be the hero, or if you’d prefer to be an enabler of teams that focus on actual problems instead of just producing new features. It could be possible that your organization doesn’t allow much room or consideration for the latter, in which case, it might be time to start looking for new opportunities where enabled teams are not only fostered, but celebrated.

Loved this article? Check out the rest of the Products & Their PMs series:

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Leah Tharin
Product Lead @Smallpdf