Defining Better Product Metrics

Robin van den Oever

Robin van den Oever

Principal Product Manager

September 22, 2022

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

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So, you have completed the discovery phase, found a product market fit, have an idea of what you want to build and have a product development team ready to roll. One of the next steps is defining the metrics for your product, but where to start? 

Here are a few things to keep in mind if you want better product metrics

Goal Laddering

The first is goal laddering, ensuring that your company and/or organization’s goals logically ladder up to each other. A relatively small but valuable step before drafting your product metrics is to write down the different goals within your company. Starting with your company’s mission or vision, all the way to the product team level (depending on the size of your organization, your ladder may have up to five rungs). No matter the level, a good goal statement should answer these simple questions:

  • What do you do?
  • How are you doing it?
  • Whom do you do it for?
  • What value do you bring?
  • Why do you do it?

Your final goal statements don’t have to include all these answers, but you should think through and align them. Once you have mapped out how the goals ladder up, you want to keep in mind that the better you answer these questions, the easier it will be for you to define your product metrics. 

Laddering up the different goals can be as simple as creating a small bullet list with:

  • [Company mission or vision]
  • [Department goal(s)]
  • [Product team goal(s)]

Creating this overview is often a missed opportunity (as most prefer to get to work immediately) but will also help when making specific product decisions along the way. You’ll be surprised how often many answers regarding the direction of the product can be answered by the above. Another nice by-product of making goal laddering visible is that it helps motivate product teams by providing them with a better understanding of how their work contributes to the larger company goals.

Defining Product Metrics 

Having mapped out your goals, you are now in a great place to start defining your product metrics. We generally suggest having product metrics focus on customer and business value. One of the better ways to do this is to look at your customer’s journey and focus your metrics on breaking it down into three layers.

Layer 1: Overall Customer Experience

This is where you look at the customer journey as a whole. Some great measurements used for the overall experience are Net Promotor Score (NPS) and Customer Effort Score (CES). The overall customer experience metrics can function as a benchmark for overall product performance and is an excellent metric to focus on improving over time. Common techniques used are:

  • NPS: Would a customer recommend the brand to their family and friends
  • CES: Gauges customers’ effort exerted to reach their goals.

Depending on the product you are building you can choose one or the other, or sometimes even both. If you are looking to understand how your product is perceived overall, use NPS. If you want to isolate and improve areas of your product, use CES.

Layer 2: The Customer Journey Itself

Your customer journey can be one core customer journey or multiple paths depending on product scope. Here, the aim is to ensure that each phase of the journey performs its primary goal. A few common frameworks that can be used to break down the user journey are the AARRR framework and Google’s HEART framework (each visualized below).

AAARRR Framework
Google’s HEART Framework

Layer 3: Individual Touchpoints

When we get to the individual touchpoints, it’s important to ask the right question: do our touchpoints excite customers and eliminate friction? When building products it’s at this layer that we’re often reminded to work on metrics, but if that’s the case it is unfortunately too late. I wouldn’t recommend starting at this level until you’ve gone through the steps mentioned earlier.

Product Metric Pitfalls 

Having worked on various products across many clients, I’ve noticed some common areas where practitioners stumble along their product metric journey. To avoid these pitfalls, try asking yourself these questions:

Are your goals and metrics guiding you to build the right product for the right problem?

Too often, metrics are approached as an afterthought, a consideration we make only after we’re interested in the performance of the touchpoints just created. This bottom up approach often results in many micro views of how your product is performing but are hard to ladder back up to the larger product goal. By following a top-down goal laddering approach, you’ll be able to increase the likelihood of selecting the right metrics and not wasting time on metrics that don’t actually matter.

Is engagement your primary metric?

Unless your business has an ad-driven business model, there often are better metrics to focus on, such as conversion rate, task completion and task success. Granted, tracking and looking at metrics that focus on traffic and time spent by your user is easier, but what does it tell you about how well your product is working?

Whose metrics are you using?

Frequently, I’ll notice product teams basing their metrics on the given tool they use; or, worse, what the client success manager of that tool suggests. 9 out of 10 times, they’ll start with engagement metrics because it’s easier, but 8 out of 10 times, it’s not what you should be tracking. Be critical, understand what metrics are essential to your product early and own your product metrics from the highest level to the implementation and analysis level.

What’s the business value of reaching your goal metrics?

Ask any product team what they could use more of, and the answer is usually time. This highlights the importance of being selective and intentional with the use of resources. If there isn’t a direct link between a specific metric and business value, then I’d argue your team’s effort is better spent elsewhere. Doing the goal laddering first will make it easier to validate your metrics.

Are your metrics too complex?Metrics are supposed to help, not hinder, your daily product decisions. And yet, I’ve seen many projects where things are so unnecessarily complicated that practitioners actually dread turning to them. An easy test to check if your metrics are too intricate and convoluted is to find a team member to share them with. Then, after 15-20 minutes, ask them if they can recite them back. If they can’t, perhaps it’s time to revise. This is what Julie Zhuo calls the “Alignment Test”, where if the goals or metrics are too difficult to remember they won’t impact daily or weekly product decisions.

Final Thoughts

Defining product metrics can be hard, a fact that doesn’t make them any less critical. But when the time and effort is put forward, product metrics can help build better team alignment, allow for more informed decision making, and introduce the level of accountability required for large and complex builds. And while product metrics will inevitably remain a complex element of product development, hopefully, this article has at least made them a little easier to execute on.

Robin van den Oever

Robin van den Oever

Principal Product Manager

As Principal Product Manager, Robin works on defining and executing a product vision with our client partners. With his 12+ years of experience in product development, he leverages his expertise in both the discovery and delivery phases of the product development lifecycle to lead cross-functional teams. 

Robin enjoys ideating new products and features, and especially enjoys solving more complex product problems (or as he views it, puzzles). He also has a particular interest in products that have a physical hardware component.

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