UX Goals, Signals, Metrics: Align Business and User Goals

Defining goals is the first step in the goals, signals, metrics framework

A goal you can act on defines a measurable end state. In addition, many long term goals require you to check in at regular intervals to ensure you are making progress. If you’re training for a triathlon, for example, you may have an end goal of completing in under three hours. In order to achieve that goal, you’ve broken down goals for each phase, as well as goals for minimizing transition time. Throughout training, you have check ins where you assess your progress and make adjustments to your training based on this information. What you measure is specific to you: your fitness level, history of injuries, limited schedule, to name a few.

Improving the user experience of digital products is a similar process and, like training for a triathlon, requires unique metrics based on the individual product and circumstances. The goals, signals, metrics framework is an extremely useful tool for getting your team focused on what you need to measure in order to improve the user experience of your products. First, define your goals—what is your team trying to accomplish? Then decide what signals indicate you are moving towards—or away from—those goals. Finally, decide how to measure the signals over time. In other words, what metrics at the product-, feature-, or interaction-level can be measured? As with triathlon training, set a number and time period and include periodic check-ins to measure your progress and make adjustments based on those metrics. In this three-part article, we’ll focus on setting goals.

Define Business Goals

The first step in the goals, signals, metrics framework is to force stakeholders to define their business goals. This might be the hardest step but it’s essential for your team to move forward. We’ve all been approached with some semblance of “this needs to be redesigned” or “we need you to create the design for this new feature.” Why? If you don’t get the “goals” part right, you’re going to be measuring things that won’t help you improve your digital product. Ask stakeholders what business challenges they are trying to solve. Why redesign at all?

Align Business Goals with User Goals

Don’t stop at defining business goals. Business goals aren’t going to be of much use to your team if they are based on assumptions or if they conflict with your users’ goals, motivations and behaviors. Leadership may be aware of generalized negative customer feedback and they have asked the product team to update the interface or add new features. Often these requests are centered around the user interface—how the product looks. But really these stakeholders are asking the team to ensure the product is making customers happy so those customers keep doing the things that make the business money. But what happens when the things you want customers to do isn’t what they want to do? That’s why you first need to align business goals with user goals. When you achieve that alignment it’s a win-win. The customer achieves their goals and the business achieves its goals.

Businesses that have never conducted user experience research before likely have a lack of alignment. At the very least, they have a lot of assumptions that have never been validated. This problem needs to be fixed before you can move forward. Here are a few common assumptions:

  • Our users don’t do X because of Y.

  • Users are dropping off at X point because of Y.

  • We need a mobile app.

  • Our site’s navigation is confusing to users.

  • Our competitor just released a new feature. Our users would benefit from this feature, too.

How do we validate these assumptions? Turn assumptions into research questions and conduct user research. The goal of the user research is to validate or invalidate our research questions. For example, let’s say our goal is to increase the percent of users who open the app a second time. Our business is tied to ongoing use, so if a user only opens the app once, the business will fail. One of our assumptions is that users don’t open the app a second time because there’s a problem with the onboarding process. One of our research questions could be: After users complete the on boarding process, why are they not opening the app again? Another question could be: for users who do open the app again after onboarding, what factors contribute to their continued use?

First, we want to use the information we obtain from the user research to ensure our business goals align with our user goals. If the app’s success is tied to ad revenue and users can’t stand the frequency of the ads, contributing to the sharp drop-off in use, we know business and user goals are not aligned. That means stakeholders need to revisit their goals and perhaps even the business model.

Let’s say that business and user goals are aligned. The user research will inform the signals that show that we are making progress—or not making progress—towards our goal of increasing the percent of users who open the app a second time. The research may show that the onboarding process is, indeed, part of the problem. So we can make informed adjustments and focus on measuring the impact of those changes. Or the user research might show that users need extra help importing their data. In this case, the product team will focus their efforts on improving that experience and putting metrics into place that will measure its effectiveness.

The type of user research your team conducts will depend on your research questions but may include:

  • Analyzing product analytics

  • Online research (for example, by compiling and analyzing data from product forums).

  • Internal/customer service research

  • Competitive research

  • Surveys

  • User interviews

  • Field studies

  • Usability studies

  • Diary studies

To summarize, first define your business goals. Next, ensure business goals align with user goals through user research. Otherwise, the long term viability of your product is at stake. User research will be used to validate assumptions and will inform the next step in the goals, signals, metrics framework: defining signals that show we are moving towards—or away from—our goals.

Wondering how to apply the goals, signals, metrics framework to your digital product? Our UX Goals and Metrics workshop helps your team get the UX insights they need to measure what really matters to improve your digital products.