In almost every job advertisement for project or product managers, the two most important skills mentioned are good organisation and good goal management. Most of us probably skip this part without giving it much thought because we think we already have good organisational skills and know how to manage goals. However, after looking a bit deeper into my role as a product manager, I realised that organisation and goal setting are much more complex than I first thought, especially because it’s my job to set goals and organise the work not only for myself but for the whole team I manage.
I’ve always been a big fan of keeping track of goals, taking notes at meetings, listing all the things that need to get done, as well as using tools such as digital calendars to organise and track projects. Therefore, I never had problems organising my own tasks, but organising the work and setting goals for the whole team is a completely different story. The project or product manager’s job is to make sure that each team member has enough tasks (neither too many nor too few), that they know the goals they need to achieve as a team, and that they understand how their tasks contribute to the goals set. It’s also the project or product manager’s job to monitor the team’s progress, escalate problematic situations on time, take care of the communication with other stakeholders and continuously plan the next steps.
Without a successful organisation and well-set goals, the project will certainly fail at some point. Good organisation is no guarantee for the success of a project, but with it, we create a good basis for a potentially successful project. A good organisation of tasks and the setting of goals can therefore be understood as the key to the success of a project.
To know what our tasks are and what we need to do, we need to set goals. When setting goals, I use a combination of SMART criteria and the OKR framework. Since I work in a dynamic environment where priorities change quickly, goals that span several months quickly become irrelevant, so I set goals on a monthly basis. In setting goals, it’s always important to set a period of time that matches the dynamics of the work and during which the goals remain relevant in most cases – which doesn’t mean that it cannot happen that we simply have to abandon some goals.
SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-based) criteria help us to evaluate goals. Any goal we set must be specific enough, its achievement must be measurable and possible, it must be relevant to the situation we’re in, and it must have a deadline for completion.
The OKR framework, developed by Intel and then used by Google and many other big tech giants, breaks down goal setting into the following components:
- Objectives – a qualitative description of what we want to achieve
- Key results – metrics that, if all met, will directly achieve the goal
Each goal should contain between two and five key results, for example:
Objective: Improve customer support Key result 1: Reduce the average customer support response time from 60 to 30 minutes Key result 2: Increase the number of resolved queries per employee by 20% Key result 3: Introduce an additional way for users to communicate with customer support
It’s the responsibility of the project or product manager to ensure that the strategy of the product or service they’re developing is supported by properly formulated objectives. However, it’s also extremely important to involve the rest of the team in goal setting so that they can contribute their ideas.
To organise tasks efficiently, the three most important things to consider are one’s own capacities and those of the team, communicating possible obstacles in time, and avoiding postponing tasks. By knowing the capacities, we avoid mistakes in estimating the time for each task, by communicating in time we ensure that the project is completed within the deadline, and by avoiding the postponement of tasks, we ensure that the amount of work doesn’t accumulate and that we fulfil all commitments in time.
To successfully determine the capacities of team members and assign them tasks according to the workload they can handle in a given unit of time, it’s necessary to get to know your team well. In the beginning, it’s advisable to allocate tasks in the way you think is best and monitor the team’s progress daily and seek their feedback. At the end of a set period (one or two weeks), it’s necessary to review with the team members which tasks have been completed and which haven’t, and the possible reasons why. With the accumulated knowledge, we start a new cycle of planning and executing tasks. After several repetitions, we get a more realistic sense of the team’s dynamics and capacity, which helps us to plan. Perhaps the most important point to consider is the team’s well-being and motivation – we want our team to be enthusiastic about new tasks, constantly learning new things and reaching their maximum potential, but at the same time we don’t want them to get to a point where they burn out and are unhappy at work.
When organising tasks, tools and applications designed for this purpose are a great help. In my experience, the following tools have proved particularly useful:
- Calendar – Google Calendar or, for those who have multiple calendars that they want to integrate into one, Fantastical
- Note-taking – Apple Notes, Simplenote, Notion
- Project management (for project managers and more complex projects) – Asana, Microsoft Project, Monday
- Project management (for product managers) – Jira, Notion
- Email client – Spark
- Communication – Slack, Zoom
What are the most important organisational skills that every project or product manager should master? What tools and methods do you use to set goals? Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.