It can actually be hard to distinguish a wish ("I want to update our Data Engineering stack to support our future scale") from an actual goal ("We need to update our Data Engineering stack because our scale is about to bring us down"). So teams often go through the Goal setting period when they define their goals.
I've talked about the OKR methodology for goal setting before. Now I'd like to highlight help both you and your team set the right goals.
Top-down vs bottom-up
Those expressions can be used to describe a company's management methodology or a go-to-market strategy.
This can also be applied to goal setting.
Top-down. You start with the desired result and work backwards to identify the steps needed to achieve it. Suppose you want to achieve a 500k€ MRR (Monthly Recurring Revenue) by the end of the year. This is the goal. It is a 80% increase compare to right now. Then, considering a constant growth it, we should grow 5% per month. How do we make that happen? You dig and identify the metrics that need to be improved in order to reach your goal.
Bottom-up. You start by analyzing the data and working your way up to the bigger picture. For instance, based on past figures and recent investments, you can expect a 5% MoM (Month-over-Month) growth. This translates to an 80% increase over the course of a year, and therefore, you plan to achieve a monthly recurring revenue of 500k€.
Very often, both can be used in parallel in order to cross-check the assumptions you make.
TIP: When you're a smaller company or opening a new line of business it is very often easier to set a high-level target (TOP) and then find out what it means for the various layers below (BOTTOM). Then you can challenge all hypotheses and circle back a few times until you build a strong enough belief.
Make it personal
When Company goals are defined, team goals often derive from them. And then Personal goals are derived. Like a cascade. But Personal goals are often not that personal and are only a subset of the Team goals. You should have both.
But as an individual it's not always easy to set the right Personal goals. Your company needs you and also needs you to grow as a person.
Here is a list of hard and soft skills you can use. Use it directly if you see fit or you use it as a reference to build the goals that will fit the skills you want to grow.
- Master SQL. Maybe you already know some good SQL. Maybe you don't. In both cases, you might want to go to the next level. It will help you boost your resolution speed when working on an ad-hoc question or also understand what is happening behind the hood in your BI tools. It can be linked to team goals like: reduce transformation costs, migrate to BigQuery, build a metric store.
- Learn about git or dbt. git is used to save code running into production. dbt is used to ease data transformation in database. Both could be valuable to learn git even more than dbt but you can do both at the same time. Linked team goals: stabilize transformation processes, integrate data platform from recently acquired company.
- Learn about clusterization. This is a nice one. Very often Marketing team would like to send personalized messages to specific audiences for activation purposes for example. At the beginning it's easy "French customers" and it's a simple and nice WHERE clause. But then it gets harder. "Customers about to churn" or "Customers with similar interests as those who bought our most recent product". Very data topic much linked to the Marketing operations. Linked team goals: reduce churn, boost repetitive checkouts, suggest personalized programs, ...
- Learn about Forecasting methods. Your company has an old existing time series forecasting model currently running in production. Improving forecasting can help a lot reduce supply chain costs but also predict when you'll need to recruit new sales or invest in marketing. I've seen good forecasting models being used in the past and the people building them looked like god to the sales team. Like it was the data team actually building the future. Linked team goals: reduce supply chain costs, plan workers schedule, turn off servers during low activity periods, ...
- Boost your writing capabilities. You very often ship analyses and conclusions to Business Users. You want to maximize the impact of your work and you don't want your conclusions to be lost in translation. Invest in your writing capabilities. To work on this, you can decide to publish a monthly data newsletter, to write a wiki, or you wan decide to work more often in notebooks rather than in slides.
- Expand your network outside your company. Engage with peers around so you can discuss new topics, learn how the same topic is tackled somewhere else. There are many communities around giving you a sense of ownership and helping teams reduce basic errors.
- Get involved in prioritization and scoping. Tasks will differ from the data day-to-day with more communication and research. It's a very good opportunity to learn more about priorities from other teams and sometimes to know which team you'd like to spend more time with. When you'd like to move towards management positions then this is a very good opportunity. You can start as small as improving the ticketing workflow for Business Users to ask new questions for example.
- Mentor 2 coworkers in the company. Business Users might want to get better at using data day-to-day. You can volunteer to help them 1 or 2 hours a week and help them run deeper analyses. Teaching is learning twice so you'll become an expert and they will become the Data Champions you needed. Those who will then help you spread the word about the benefits of using data to make decisions. Two birds, one stone. (Or should I say 2 Huspreys).
I am convinced that setting goals helps make sure teams move along a defined direction so each one can make the best decisions every day. It's not only about the company's goals it's also about you and how you'll grow alongside the company.