PRODUCTHEAD: John Cutler’s North Star Metric

PRODUCTHEAD: John Cutler’s North Star Metric

PRODUCTHEAD is a regular newsletter of product management goodness,
curated by Jock Busuttil.

product falling into place #


tl;dr #

Plans for the short and long term are often easier to define than those for the medium term (1-3 quarters)

A North Star Metric is a leading indicator of sustainable growth

It is the single metric that best captures the core value that your product delivers to customers


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every PRODUCTHEAD edition is online for you to refer back to

hello #

My approach to product management frameworks and methodologies is to understand the context and then to apply the right tool for the job. You still need to know why it’s best to use that particular method in that specific situation, and you still need to apply the tool correctly.

Dogmatically evangelising a single technique or tool (like OKRs *cough*) for use in every company is just as absurd as attempting every home improvement task with only a hammer.

Of course, there will be situations where OKRs (for example) are the best choice for an organisation. At that point the challenge is to get them working well, which is often more dependent on the openness, trust and culture in an organisation than the simple logistics of setting teams up to use them.

So in the spirit of having a more comprehensive set of tools and techniques at your disposal, I’d like to introduce you to John Cutler’s North Star Metric. The approach is not “the one true way”, nor is it guaranteed to be the right method for your organisation, but in understanding how and why it’s meant to work, you can hopefully learn useful lessons from it for your own context.

Speak to you soon,

Jock Busuttil

what to think about this week #

Bets, boards, missions and North Stars

John Cutler, Product Evangelist at Amplitude, showcases some simple hacks he’s used time and time again as an advisor to help nudge organizations forward and get them thinking in new ways.

Understanding the ‘messy middle’

[JOHN CUTLER / MIND THE PRODUCT]

North Star playbook

A team using the North Star Framework identifies a single, meaningful metric and a handful of contributing inputs. Product teams work to influence those inputs, which in turn drive the metric. The North Star is a leading indicator of sustainable growth and acts as a connective tissue between the product and the broader business.

Help your work to align with the bigger picture

[JOHN CUTLER & JASON SCHERSCHLIGT / AMPLITUDE]

Defining your North Star inputs & flywheels

So you’ve figured out an inspiring North Star Metric. Your team is excited. But by design, a good North Star Metric is not immediately actionable. To operationalize the framework, it will be necessary to align on a set of key North Star Inputs.

While well-defined inputs are an essential part of the North Star Framework, they are often overlooked. During this session, John Cutler, co-author of the North Star Playbook, will share a foundation to pick the right inputs across varying use cases and explore the importance of testing a flywheel hypothesis.

Seeking alignment on the inputs that drive the metric

[JOHN CUTLER / THE BEAUTIFUL MESS]


Product Management Coaching

Whether you’re new to product management or have been a product manager for years, a coaching session can help you to step up your career.

We’ve coached people wanting to get into product management, product people with nobody in their organisation to manage them, and experienced product managers preparing to apply for a promotion.

We can help you prepare for your product manager interview, including mock interviews.

A proportion of the fees from every coaching session is donated to charity.


“Jock has been instrumental in my personal growth as a product leader but also as a person.”

Ludovic Lacay

Ludovic Lacay
Co-founder & Chief Product Officer, Napo


Find out more about product management coaching


Persistent models vs. point-in-time goals

There is a big difference between persistent models and work (or goal) related models. OKRs, for example, are a work related model. Work related models involve a specific time-span (e.g. a quarter). The team attempts to achieve The Goal by end-of-quarter. Meanwhile, a north star metric and related inputs persist for as long as the strategy holds (often 1-3 years).

Balancing the two models

[JOHN CUTLER / THE BEAUTIFUL MESS]

Words before numbers (North Star statement exercise)

Teams often jump straight to metrics and measurement. Or they copy what they think Company X does based on a blog post, assuming Company X has it all figured out (they don’t). They skip the most important part: exploring and clarifying their OWN ideas, beliefs, and assumptions. As tempting as it might be, it really pays to avoid outsourcing this thinking. In the exercise we focus on words and clarity.

The goal is a metric that does the job you need it to do right now

[JOHN CUTLER / THE BEAUTIFUL MESS]

recent posts #

5 tips to ace your first impression at a new job

Because so much of product management is about working with people, it’s important to take time to reflect on the kind of first impression you make to those people. In this latest entry for my series of 100 things I’ve learned about product management, I share some coaching advice to help you make the best possible impression every time you start working somewhere new.

Best foot forward

[I MANAGE PRODUCTS]

Replatforming the cash cow

Recently people all seem to be encountering the same problem. Their engineering teams are choosing to work on projects that make them look busy, but which don’t actually move things forward. What they’re usually working on is a convoluted — and arguably doomed — attempt to replatform a legacy ‘cash cow’ product.

A strong signal to discover the replacement product

[I MANAGE PRODUCTS]

The unifying principles of product management

A recent tweet by John Cutler provoked some interesting reactions. It got me thinking about whether there are unifying principles of product management that apply in all contexts.

Become one with everything

[I MANAGE PRODUCTS]

upcoming talks and events #

I’ve spoken at various product management and technology conferences around the world and online. I share ideas primarily on the topic of product management, and this tends to overlap with agile and ethical product development, leadership and strategy, and fostering healthy product cultures and communities.


“Day 2 saw an impressive presentation by Jock Busuttil on user testing. He asked the attendees to lend each other a smartphone and take a picture. What a turmoil that caused ;-) ”

Walter Schärer

Walter Schärer
Marketing & Business Development Director, BlueGlass Interactive


If you’d like to book me to speak at your event, please get in touch.

can we help you? #

Product People is a product management services company. We can help you through consultancy, training and coaching. Just contact us if you need our help!

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Helping people build better products, more successfully, since 2012.

PRODUCTHEAD is a newsletter for product people of all varieties, and is lovingly crafted from the collapsed core of a massive supergiant star.

Jock is a freelance head of product, author and conference speaker. He has spent nearly two decades working with technology companies to improve their product management practices, from startups to multinationals. His clients include the BBC, University of Cambridge, and the UK's Ministry of Justice and Government Digital Service (GDS). In 2012 Jock founded Product People Limited, a product management consultancy and training company. He is also the author of the popular book The Practitioner's Guide to Product Management and the blog I Manage Products.

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