How to Choose the Right Metric
Using lead and lag metrics to track progress - for your product and life.
Summary: Use lead metrics to measure progress towards a long term objective. Find leads by looking for measurable and understandable predictors of the long term outcome.
I was scrolling through Twitter when I saw this great question from Krishn:
This reminded me of a common problem in product management: how do we correctly measure progress? I shared my answer (featuring an on-brand typo 😓).
Lag metrics are long term goals. Lead metrics are predictors of achieving those long term goals. In most situations, lead metrics are the ones that are more helpful to track because they are more moveable.
Let’s take some common product/business goals (lag metrics) and turn them into more useful lead metrics:
These lead metrics are much more actionable than the lag metrics. It makes my PM heart so happy to see!
Today, I want to share how to find lead metrics, how to use lag metrics to coordinate broader teams and how we can apply these ideas to our personal goals. If you want to understand how metrics are broadly used for product strategy, check out the primer I wrote.
📍 Finding the Lead
Lead metrics are things you can measure today that indicate if you are on track to hit your long term goal.
When building products, most of your goals will be tied to growth. While growth can be seen in many areas — more revenue, higher adopotion, deeper engagement — it all centres on creating more value for your users. Specifically, value is created when a user hits certain Aha moments — moments when a user receives significant value from your product.
The best lead metrics measure the value created by your product. If you can continue to create more value, your product will grow as a result. In this way, success is a lagging indicator of generating user value.
Let’s ground this in some real examples:
A famous example of finding a lead metric from user value comes from Facebook’s path to 1 billion users. Chamath Palihapitiya, then the head of growth of Facebook, anchored the team around a single point of the Facebook user journey: getting to 7 friends in 10 days.
Chamath found that users who met this milestone (this Aha moment) saw more value in Facebook and stayed on the platform longer. In other words, they received sufficient value that they were more likely to become an active user. With enough of this value creation, the growth team reasoned that they could grow to 1 billion users — and they were right.
A good lead metric has three qualities
Dead simple: optimise for understandability as opposed to precision. This will make it easier to rally around the metric.
Measurable: use a quantitative measure over a qualitative one (ex. user delight)
Moveable: choose a metric that will be sensitive to change to best measure progress.
⭐️ Lag to align teams
Does this mean lag metrics are useless? No, definitely not.
Lag metrics are helpful for defining milestones and coordinating multiple teams with different goals.
Let’s return to Chamath’s world. The growth team focused on “7 friends in 10 days”. But the marketing and infrastructure teams likely had a different focus. How do you unify all of these together into a single company?
Use a lag metric (a milestone) to make sure all boats are rowing in the same direction.
❤️ Lead metrics in life
I started this newsletter because so many ideas in product management also apply to navigating life. This is especially true with using lead and lag metrics!
We all have goals. They could be to run a marathon, get married, become healthier, or read 20 books in a year.
But you’ll notice that these goals (and many of our personal goals) are lag metrics! To better operationalise life goals, let’s apply what we know to find lead metrics.
Don’t settle for lofty, new-year-resolution style goals. Force them to be actionable to drive real progress.
Lead metrics can help you track progress towards a long term goal. Lag metrics, on the other hand, can help you unite disparate work streams under one banner.
Lead metrics should measure the value created by your product.
Great lead metrics share three qualities: they are dead simple, measurable and moveable.
Lag metrics are useful for coordinating broad teams. Use them to set milestones of progress.
Apply the idea of lead and lag metrics to life. This can help you make progress on seemingly nebulous goals.
🖼 Internet Things I’m Enjoying
The Potential of Blockchain Technology by Chris Dixon (recommended by David and Brad): A fascinating take on the limitations and opportunities within crypto.
Come for the creator, stay for the economy by Patrick Rivera: A great piece on how creators can create micro-economies to deepen relationships with their fans.
Mario Gabriele - From Lifelong Obsession to Thriving Business by Nathan Barry: An inspiring (and highly tactical) story on how Mario went full-time into his newsletter, The Generalist.
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See you next week,
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Hey, Will! Thanks for sharing that, I loved it :)
I have a question
Can we say that OKRs it's a lag metric and KPI it's a Lead metric?
I have been going through this phase of defining lag and lead metrics, thanks Will for bringing in more clarity:)