Product goal: what is it and why do I need one?

Product goal: what is it and why do I need one?

If you’ve never heard of a product goal before, that’s not too surprising. They don’t get a lot of attention in Scrum circles and started appearing in the Scrum Guide in 2020. That doesn’t take away from their value, though. Product goals play a big role in being successful with Scrum.

This article will give you a little background on what product goals are and why they’re essential. Then, we’ll provide some tips on how to get started using them with your team. Read on!

What is a product goal?

Think about product goals as being manifestations of your product strategy. They let you break down the overall vision for your product into smaller, more manageable pieces. Essentially, it’s “a high-level objective that supports achieving one or more objectives,” according to the newest version of the Scrum Guide.

For example, if your strategy is “becoming a world-class Scrum consultancy,” one of your goals might be to “increase our number of consultants by 33%.” With that larger goal in mind, you can set specific milestones and metrics to measure against. Maybe that’s reaching 10 new recruits by May 1st and coming up with a minimum viable training curriculum to achieve that result.

How do product goals work?

Sprint Goals simply help in driving each upcoming project with focus. To contrast, company leaders or executives determine product goals. That’s because they want to ensure that all projects fall within certain standards, ensuring products work well with each other long-term.

For example, if you’re an eCommerce company, you might set standards for tools like shipping and payment options across products. To follow up on this example, let’s say you started your business with free shipping anywhere domestically. But, then you want to expand into international sales. You might need to revise your product goals to create a shipping system that works across the board.

Teams also use product goals as an accountability tool for managing larger projects with multiple teams. Ensuring that each team addresses certain standards makes it easier for upper management or executives to see how the team is using their resources and how they fit into the company’s strategy.

How do product goals relate to the sprint goal?

Sprint goals help get everyone on the same page — but, they are only local to each Sprint. They serve as guidance to help focus each Sprint within an iteration but are not permanent. Product goals, on the other hand, last beyond one iteration. This means that they have a more lasting effect within your organization by design.

So… what’s the difference between a product goal and a sprint goal?

A product goal can summarize what happens during every Sprint (a short-term timeframe) within a longer product roadmap. This helps you think about where you’re trying to get with your product — but it also allows new members on your team or stakeholders to quickly grasp the importance of each task that goes into production… even if they’re new to development.

And what about the product vision?

The product vision is one of the tools to achieve your product goals. It summarizes what you’re trying to achieve and is generally long-term. This helps outline the overall goal for this specific project and keeps the team grounded and on focused.

Product goals are the link between the product itself (and the work that goes into it) and the product vision. Like sprint goals, they guide your team. However, product goals are usually more strategic than sprint goals. These types of goals can include some long-term thinking within the vision of your product. That means they’ll require more than just one single iteration to achieve.

Why do I need product goals?

While the Scrum Guide doesn’t explicitly state that you require product goal, it’s safe to say that if your organization has Scrum (or other agile processes) as its methodology, you should consider creating one (or more). This is because they act as a guiding light for your team.

It’s also important to note that companies don’t take the time to set goals for their teams all too often. They might jump right into their projects without thinking about why the necessity in the first place. This can cause chaos among the ranks and lead to people not knowing their expectations (or why they’re doing what they’re doing).

Developing product goals is a great way to prevent these potential issues from occurring and help you focus on what your true end-game really is. By establishing clear objectives, your entire team will be able to work more cohesively with one another. All this can tremendously reduce your chances of miscommunication down the line.

As stated earlier, product goals are simply standards or numbers that the company sets to give teams various directions for their future projects. Essentially, they are expectations that the team needs to meet before any further development can take place.

What are some key elements of product goals?

Product goals sometimes feel fluffy, which isn’t great. So what elements make a good product goal?

  • They are set in stone (or written down). Basically, they’re not verbal.
  • They’re specific, measurable, attainable, and time-bound (setting SMART goals will help you here).
  • They are measurable, either through a number or a yes/no answer. The EBM framework offers more metrics to guide you.
  • They’re aligned with the product vision.
  • They’re ordered.
  • They should be fairly easy to understand — while you can get really technical with them, it’s important that everyone in the organization knows what the goal is and how their work contributes to it. That means they shouldn’t need a committee or focus group to figure out what the goal is.
  • They are market-driven (as opposed to Backlog driven) and respond to emerging market conditions.
  • And, they focus on intent rather than solutions.

How do I get started with product goals?

The best way to start is usually by looking at your current products and seeing if any parts of them aren’t working well together or work against other products you have.

If this is the case, try brainstorming ways to combine efforts on those sub-par products so the team can use them better. This will consider that all teams are working toward a common goal, not against one another.

If the product goals of different teams within your company do not line up with each other, then try collecting information from multiple sources about how those products work together to see where they overlap — this should help you figure out where there is a disconnect between them and what needs to be done in order to fix it.

Remember: Product Goals should be detailed enough that they can guide decision-making without requiring too much context. For example, saying we want “sufficient capital” is not very helpful — what does ‘sufficient’ mean? Saying we need $2 million dollars is probably more helpful.

Trouble finding your product goal?

If you can’t find your goal, it’s probably because it isn’t detailed enough yet. If you’re finding that this is happening to all of your goals, try talking amongst your team members to help each other get specific. Some things to consider:

  • What are the consequences if we DON’T reach our goal?
  • What would happen? How bad would it be?
  • Who would get hurt/benefited by these consequences?
  • What do we want instead?
  • How will reaching this goal improve our situation?
  • Is there anything blocking us from reaching the goal right now (i.e., resources)? If yes…
  • What are they, and how else might we obtain them to achieve our goal next time around?

These are just a few things to get you thinking. If your product goals are still not detailed enough, then try creating actual tasks that need to be completed and made into user stories (i.e., “As a team member, I want to complete X because it will help us achieve our primary goal of Y.”). These smaller goals can help your sprint planning sessions move along more smoothly and help ensure that nothing is forgotten or left out.

Implementing product goals: tips for project managers

The first step for any manager or team lead who wants their team to have product goals would be to simply set them. By doing so, you’re already taking the first step toward making your team more efficient as well as helping your company become more productive as a whole.

Remember that whatever those goals are, they should be across the board and not specific to any team, project, or individual. It is also a good idea to have other people involved in deciding these goals as well — this way, they will have an input into what should be done and how it can be accomplished.

From here, you want to work with your team members to establish objectives for each product goal so that everyone is on the same page while still contributing something unique to whatever task is at hand.

For example, while every member of a team might share a common goal of speeding up lead generation through digital marketing efforts, each person could bring something different to the table, such as better understanding social media audiences, creating more engaging videos for YouTube, etc. With this in mind, it’s important to make sure that all team members feel included and welcome each person’s unique perspective.

Top tip: Remember that there is no one “correct” answer when setting up your goals, but you should always have a clear vision of what you want before you begin organizing them into tangible plans.

Final thoughts

Product goals are a simple yet powerful tool for product development teams. They’re easy to understand, they help you stay on track, and they can be helpful from start to finish.

Managing products is hard, but methodologies like product goals can be a guiding light when there are a million different things going on at once. Whether you’re just starting product development or have been working on a product for months, it’s always good to revisit the basics and remember why you started.

Using diagramming tools like Cacoo can be a huge help. For example, you can create a product goals diagram with Cacoo’s online whiteboard tool. Once you’ve got your diagram created, you can use the built-in sharing functionality to share it, so everyone knows what they’re doing, why, and how to get there as a team.

Georgina Guthrie Georgina is a displaced Brit currently working in France as a freelance copywriter. Before moving to sunnier climates, she worked as a B2B agency writer in Bristol, England, which is also where she was born. In her spare time, she enjoys old films and cooking (badly).