Key Outcomes: The North Star of Product Development

Sep 28, 2023

What is a North Star?

The term "north star" refers to the brightest star in the constellation Ursa Minor, which is almost motionless in the night sky. Navigators have long used this star as a reference point to find their way without the need for a map or compass. In the context of product management, a north star is the guiding principle that defines the purpose of a product and the value it aims to deliver to customers.

The Benefits of Having a North Star

Having a defined north star brings several benefits to a product team. Firstly, it provides clarity and alignment within the organization. By clearly stating the product's vision and mission, a north star helps everyone understand what the team should be optimizing for and what trade-offs can be made.

Secondly, a north star communicates the impact and progress of the product to the rest of the company. By aligning the product organization with a common goal, it creates a sense of purpose and empowers teams to work together towards a shared objective.

Most importantly, a north star holds the product team accountable to an outcome. In many organizations, product teams are measured based on the number of features they ship rather than the impact they have on the business. A north star shifts the focus from output to outcome, ensuring that the team is driving meaningful results.

Defining the North Star Metric

What is a North Star Metric?

A north star metric is the key measure of success for the product team in a company. It is the metric that defines the relationship between the customer problems the product team is trying to solve and the revenue that the business aims to generate by doing so. In essence, it is the metric that encapsulates the product's impact on both the customer and the business.

Making it a Metric

To work out a north star metric, it is essential to identify the one action that provides the most realized value to the customer. This action should be closely tied to the product's core value proposition and should reflect what the customer truly values about the product.

For example, Spotify and Netflix might consider the number of songs streamed or the number of movies watched as their north star metric. This metric encapsulates the value they provide to their users and can be used as a measuring stick to prioritize feature development and track the product's health.

Using the North Star Metric

The north star metric serves multiple purposes within a product organization. Firstly, it helps with prioritization. When faced with multiple feature ideas, the team can use the north star metric as a guide to determine which features will have the biggest impact on the desired outcome. This ensures that resources are allocated to the most valuable initiatives.

Secondly, the north star metric is invaluable for data analytics. By monitoring the north star metric, the team can get a snapshot of the product's health and track its progress over time. This allows them to identify trends, make data-driven decisions, and course-correct if necessary.

The Role of the North Star Metric in Product-Led Growth

A north star metric is also a key component of a product-led growth strategy. By focusing on the one action that provides the most value to the customer, the product team can drive adoption, retention, and expansion. This customer-centric approach not only leads to a better user experience but also fuels business growth.

Guiding Teams and Stakeholders

The Challenge of Guiding Teams and Stakeholders

Product managers often find themselves in a position of influence without authority. Guiding teams and stakeholders can be challenging, especially when everyone has their own goals and priorities. However, having a defined north star can make this task easier.

Uniting Everyone Towards a Common Goal

By agreeing on a north star, product teams and stakeholders start every conversation from the same place. This shared understanding of the product's mission and vision creates alignment and fosters collaboration. It allows everyone to work towards a common goal, making important decisions more straightforward and effective.

The Role of Branding and Storytelling

Branding and storytelling play a significant role in the success of a product. A strong brand and a compelling story can differentiate a product from its competitors and attract customers. As a product manager, it is essential to weave the north star into the brand's narrative and communicate it effectively to customers.

Externally, the north star becomes a selling point for users. It represents the product's unique value proposition and can influence customers' decision to choose one product over another. When the north star is evident in everything the product does, it helps communicate the story of the brand and creates a sense of identity and purpose.

Finding Your Product's North Star

The Importance of Finding the Right North Star

Finding the right north star is crucial for the success of a product. It sets the direction for the product team and provides a clear focus for their efforts. However, selecting the right north star requires careful consideration and analysis.

Building It Right

To find the right north star, it is essential to align it with the product's strategy and what customers value. The north star should reflect the core value proposition of the product and capture the moment when customers find value in using it.

For example, Facebook's early north star metric was the number of users adding seven friends in the first ten days. This metric represented their strategy of fostering social connections and engagement. By understanding what actions lead to customer retention, Facebook was able to focus on a leading indicator of future revenue.

Getting the Basics

Once the north star is defined, it is crucial to get the basics right. This includes thoroughly understanding and building the product's vision, strategy, and goals. It's important to research, test assumptions, and gather feedback to ensure that the north star is visible and understood by the entire team.

Additionally, it's essential to communicate the vision and hold stakeholders accountable. As a product manager, it is your responsibility to keep the vision at the forefront of everyone's mind and ensure that the work aligns with the north star. Ownership and attention to detail are key to driving the product's success.

Embracing Change

Finally, it's important to understand that the product and market will evolve over time. The north star should be flexible enough to accommodate changes in customer behavior and market trends. Iteration and adaptation are necessary to maintain product-market fit and drive ongoing success.


In the dynamic world of product management, having a north star is essential for keeping teams focused, aligning stakeholders, and driving meaningful outcomes. By defining a north star metric that reflects the product's value proposition and aligns with the business goals, product teams can prioritize effectively and track their progress.

Finding the right north star requires careful consideration and a deep understanding of the customer's needs and desires. It's a continuous process that involves research, testing, and adaptation. However, when done right, the north star becomes a powerful tool that guides product development and fuels business growth.

So, as you embark on your product development journey with our Product Strategy and Leadership course, remember the importance of having a north star. It will serve as your guiding light, helping you navigate the complexities and challenges of product management, and ultimately leading you to success.

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