Last year I made an effort to introduce more structure into my goal setting approach. This structured approach helped me to pick more meaningful goals and made it easier to track my progress, resulting in another successful year of personal growth.
Based on this positive experience, I wanted to make the product planning at work more structured as well. My attempts to formalise my approach eventually led me to OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) – a goal system used by Google and many other successful companies.
Now, this post isn’t meant to be about OKRs in general; for more info on that topic, you can read Measure What Matters or check out Google’s guide. But I’m mentioning them because there are some lessons which I can apply directly to my own goal setting approach.
In the rest of this post, I’ll explain which parts of my approach I’ve adapted thanks to OKRs and then dig into my personal OKRs for the year and beyond.
Changes to my approach
Goal definition & quantity
Last year I had too many goals. Or at least, I had a poor definition of what a goal should be. Many of my “goals” wouldn’t have benefited me on their own, they were just a part of
From now on, I’m going to clearly distinguish between my Objectives (what I want to achieve) and my Key Results (how do I want to achieve them). I’ll have to limit myself to a couple of objectives, but can stay flexible with the key results as I progress towards
Ambition & time horizon
The last few times when I set new goals, I only planned for a year ahead. This is not inherently bad, but it did limit me to only think about goals that could be achieved within one year. Measure What Matters reminded me to think big when picking goals. “Aim for the moon” suggests the author.
This time I do have some bigger objectives in mind which I probably can’t, and don’t even want, to achieve in 2019. But there is a lot of legwork to do this year if I do want to realize these goals in the years to come.
What I like about OKRs is that they give you the flexibility to play around with time horizons. The objectives can be big and bold, and take years to complete – but they are grounded by key results which do need a reasonable deadline.
Just because my goals might now be more long term, does not mean that the review periods should also be longer. On the contrary, the more ambitious the goal, the more risk is involved, and so the more important it is to regularly review your progress, your approach, and whether it still makes sense to pursue the goal at all.
I don’t need to wait until the end of the year to review my goals. I’ll try and do this on a monthly basis. I kind of failed at reviewing regularly last year, so I will need to re-schedule when I set my reminders and also make the deadlines more visible.
Objective 1: Work at a top
product company in 2020
I’ve been at Project A for almost a year and a half now and it’s been a great ride so far. However, it will always be a consulting role with limited potential to try new things and see them through.
So far, I’ve only worked at places that are still figuring out how to develop their products as they go along. I spend a lot of time on people-problems, like trying to convince them that user research is important, instead of focusing on the product-problems and actually conducting the research. I’d really like to work somewhere where the people just get it.
I set the goal for 2020 because I feel like I still need some time to practice and demonstrate my own product management skills to prove that I could work at any company.
Make a list of top product companies. The first example that springs to mind would be Google. And even though Google might be a candidate, it doesn’t need to be one of the major tech companies like The Four. I just want to work at a company that values modern product development principles and can prove it. And where the product interests me personally and the people do too. The list should be limited to a maximum of 10.
ETA: End of February
Publish a case-study for 3 of these companies. A case-study is a great way of showing how you think and how you work. Publishing three case-studies should allow me to cover enough industries, types of products and research methods to prove that I know what I’m doing.
ETA: One per quarter
Complete Khan Academy’s Statistics & Probability course. Statistics keep popping up everywhere in my work. They’re not a must-have yet, but with the rise of AI, they might become so very soon. Learning statistics will prove that I can tackle hard, number-crunching problems that top product companies are often faced with.
Objective 2: Take some time off to travel before starting another job
When I was at school I always worked in the summer. And after finishing University, I started to work full-time just three days later. The longest break I’ve ever taken from work or studying in the last 10 years has been about two weeks.
I’m not burned out or anything. Honestly, my work-life-balance has been pretty good. But I’ve always jumped from one responsibility to the next, and I regret never having taken a gap-year to just explore and experience things without worrying about what comes next.
For all I know I won’t even enjoy such care-free living. But responsibilities are going to keep piling up as I get older. So seeing as a job and potential city change might be on the way in 2020, this seems like my best chance to at least try it out.
Go on a long solo trip. To test whether I actually enjoy travelling the world alone, I want to go on another solo trip that’s longer than any trip I’ve been on before. I’ve already booked a 24-day trip to Indonesia in April as my litmus test.
Learn how to scuba dive. I want to try to learn at least one new non-tech skill per year. Since I enjoy travelling to coastal countries, scuba diving would be a perfect skill to start with.
As I mentioned last year, there are lots of other things that I want for 2019 that I didn’t list above.
I want to keep healthy by eating well and exercising regularly. I want to make sure my finances are in check by budgeting and investing wisely. I want to expand my circle of friends and become closer to existing ones. I want to see my family more often.
These goals aren’t any less important than the OKRs I’ve listed above, but they’re kind of taking care of themselves for the most part and don’t require me to change.
On the other hand, the above OKRs require me to step out of my comfort zone, work hard and take risks. I believe there’s no success without sacrifice, so bring on 2019 and its challenges, it will be worth it at the end!