North Star KPI – From Product Pursuit to Product Led
You have a meeting with the sales department – and they ask for something urgent; you go over your inbox – and you see market requirements – all marked as urgent; you go over the feedback for your app, and you learn that many customers are agreeing that a specific feature is missing; and just before leaving home, the CEO reaches out to you asking how come another particular feature isn’t ready yet.
All product people know how it feels to be “lost” in features and requests. These requests all seem to be essential, exciting, and bring user experience innovation, but not necessarily the right features for this phase of your product.
Many of us will try to find the right place for these features in the product roadmap; others will try to convince the stakeholders that they will be great in a different timing or phase of the product.
The Pursuit of Features
It’s easy to get lost in your product.
Sometimes, without even recalling how you got there. But do you really want this to be your approach to product?
You remember a strategy meeting with the senior management and executive team in the company; it was necessary, and maybe even inspiring. And yet, now the only thing that left from that meeting is a list of features.
A roadmap based on features lists will be useful in the short term. However, it will lack a future strategic view that can help your product adapt, grow, and evolve. When you can’t find your product in the list of features you are working on, just press on the “zoom-out” button and switch to “big picture mode”. Keep your roadmap focused on your users, give them an added value, make their journey easier, and help them use your product again. This is the essence of product management.
North Star KPI
When a product meeting occurs, most of the product managers will brief the team with data and metrics that they used to analyze the performance of their product. A North Star KPI will help you focus on what matters regarding the product, the one performance metric we all need to follow, analyze, and lead the way inside the roadmap.
For example: if you are working on an eCommerce app and your North Star KPI is “user satisfaction”, you will test how your actions will impact this metric. Moreover, you should ask yourself if these actions are delivering the change you planned in the roadmap.
Note that sometimes the change won’t affect the key metric; for example: changing the navigation menu won’t change the core of the user journey (as well as the user satisfaction metric). In this case, maybe the focus should be on other aspects of product and app that matter to the users.
North Star KPI and framework identify a single, meaningful metric and a handful of contributing inputs. product management teams work to influence those inputs, which in turn drive the metric.
“The North Star is a leading indicator of sustainable growth and acts as a connective tissue between the product and the broader business” (John Cutler)
The leading KPI won’t replace the other metrics, but rather help you define them and change them as you move forward in your roadmap.
It’s about more than job performance, or even your individual performance. It’s about the performance of your product. It’s about measuring the performance of your ability to create a vision and stick to it.
Your North Star KPI should be defined as a specific metric that considers the market, performance, and future involvement of your product as its drivers. The particular definition will help you focus on your road map and the primary purpose of the product. As you define your North Star KPI, keep in mind an important variable that affects your decision making: make sure that your users are always in your account. After all, your product is here to deliver value for them. Also, your North Star should be measurable with tools that reflect your product outcomes. Keep the leading KPI on an “eye-level” – understandable and actionable; your teams should understand how to address the solution for better results even if you are not in the room.
From Product Pursuit to Product Led
Congrats! You now have a bright north star KPI for your product!
Let’s say that you are the product manager for the Discover playlist on Spotify. If you’re not familiar with it, Spotify creates a weekly playlist for you based on tracks you already heard and aims to help you discover new music. A potential north star KPI for this product might be the ratio of active users who listened to the Discover playlist every week.
To be a leader, you need to (a) have a vision that others will follow and (b) communicate it, so others will know this is your vision and finally (c) keep repeating it and show that you are developing your own product vision.
Here are a few examples:
- When you meet someone at the elevator, and there was a change in the metric – you will talk about it.
- Place a large tv screen and present the metric, so everyone coming to you will know this is the first thing you look at every morning
- When you run an A/B test, the most crucial metric is your north star KPI – did you manage to move the needle?
- When faced with a new feature proposal, the first question will be how it can affect the north star KPI. If it won’t, it won’t get prioritized.
- When the time comes to present your work plan’s status, you could show what was and what will be the impact on the KPI.
The second opportunity to lead is to develop some product strategies – in other words, how are you going to drive your metric. To do that, think about which type of metrics could have an impact on your metric.
Tip: it’s better to have this brainstorm session done with other stakeholders.
When you have these metrics (aka leading metrics), you can propose different hypotheses that could drive those metrics. To follow up on the Spotify example, here are some examples of leading metrics could be and how can you evaluate the performance of your product:
- Retention rate – did users who listened to the playlist in one week go back to it again? If they do, great then. If not, is it consistent (i.e., the retention rate of those who listened is not good, and hence the product might have an issue) or is it random (i.e., the users just didn’t go back to Spotify this week or preferred to listen to something else that week) – based on these answers, you can propose experiments to drive these metrics.
- Usage ratio – out of all the users who were exposed to this playlist, how many actually clicked on it. If the quantitative measures are low, think of new ways to create awareness
- The number of skips in the Discover playlist vs. others can be a good indicator of the quality of the recommendations. If the number is low, especially compared to regular lists, then great. If it’s not – what could you do to drive it better.
And finally – execution. Make sure to walk the walk – have your product team focus on driving and evaluating performance. Everything else might be nice to have, but not more than that. When you’re focused entirely on the north star KPI, you will end up in the ‘Zone’ where everything is just going according to the plan and drives the vision you believe in. Trust us – when that day will come, you’ll be so happy you chose to become a product management professional 🙂