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.