Managing a product without KPIs is like driving a car without navigation — you’ll never know if you’re closer to where you want to be, and neither will your passengers. (“Are we there yet?”, for your road-tripping parents out there)
Key Performance Indicators are simply metrics you use to measure the effectiveness of your product. They may sound simple and obvious but getting stakeholders to agree on what actions are most important to track isn’t easy. But doing so ensures alignment, which is really important, as I’ll explain in another post about using KPIs to generate roadmaps.
The Only KPI That Matters
Edit: after reflecting on this, I’ve simplified the $$$ KPI to mean profitability instead of revenue or cost savings, as it’s important to ensure any revenue generated is scalable (for example, you could do a bunch of custom software development to generate revenue, but in the SaaS world, that doesn’t mean you made a good business decision)
The $$$ KPI: profitability, which can come in the form of “scalable revenue” or cost savings (or maybe both). If you’re not prioritizing your roadmap according to this KPI, don’t expect to be managing your product for long (even at a startup). But wait, what about helping users solve problems or reaching your company’s mission? Yes, those are definitely important but if you don’t have any users through sales, does it matter how great the user experience is or how much you want to change the world?
I’ve found it best to have only 2–3 KPIs, including the $$$ KPI, to keep things simple (and to avoid prioritization conflicts when using the KPIs to generate a roadmap). The other KPIs should be related to the $$$ KPI, though — most likely leading indicators of whether you’ll generate more profit. These KPIs may change over time as you learn more about your business, customers and/or users. Maybe you think logins or email opens are the most important metric, until you realize that there’s a particular feature that’s really moving the $$$ KPI.
As an example, with HelloWallet, we use the Financial Wellness Score as a KPI — if we can measure whether we’re improving our users’ personal finances, we’re more likely to keep existing customers and win new ones.
Monthly (maybe quarterly) is perhaps the cadence to track KPIs. Ideally you have a dashboard that’s updated automatically every night. But you probably don’t because it’s hard and there are a million other things that are more important (or are they?). Even if you have to manually update a dashboard, publish it somewhere so all your stakeholders can see it, and discuss the status of the KPIs regularly (including what actions can be taken by different parts of the organization to move the KPI). Otherwise you’ll never know if you reached your destination…