Skip to content

On time Should Not Be A Success Metric. Set North Star Instead

Writing  ✺  Tech  ✺  Software

Having “on-time” as your team’s (or project) success metric is a dangerous endeavor.

On time Should Not Be A Success Metric. Set North Star Instead

First of all, please don’t get me wrong. Projects and sprints are meant to be delivered on time. But you should care more about other factors that allow you to measure true success.

For 15 or so years I’ve seen two types of projects being executed:

  1. Those teams who only care about delivering sprints on time and keep chugging along.
  2. Teams who actually care about aligning their work to business outcomes, measuring results and moving from there.

Here’s the problem with on-time as a project success metric. Expectations are set that all that matters is:

The problem with on-time as a project success metric is that a culture is created around that everything that matters is

Essentially you are ignoring what really matters:

You see, when on-time is your metric of choice, you are building for yourself, team and stakeholders. Ignoring the fact that you are building for your target market and your potential customers

Teams focused on this metric are essentially providing results for stakeholders, not for the business.

I have seen companies spend millions of dollars and years of work, only to close out the product and company years later.

A real world example (yes, this really happened)

Back in 2008 I used to work for a startup in NYC where I lived for a while. They hired 50 or so people to build the product and all they cared about was shipping features and meeting deadlines until the product was ‘done’.

A few million dollars later, the product was still not done. Stakeholders kept asking for more, and while the product never fully shipped.

And yet, once it did “ship” (keep in mind that this was a successful publishing company), crickets. No traction.

On time FTW, right?

Instead why not build a product that sells by

  1. Shipping fast.
  2. Focus on the right metrics.
  3. Iterate.

So what metrics should you be focusing on?

Actually it’s quite simple: a simple, single metric that aligns the value customers are getting from your product to your desired business outcomes.

In other words: A simple measure that can let you know that your customers are getting value from your product thus helping your business grow.

This is called a North Star Metric, or NSM.

(disclaimer: I did not coin this term, learned it a few years back).

Your north start metrics aligns every effort you do to a desirable outcome. It’s that simple.

Here are a few examples of NSMs out there

Intercom: Number of customer interactions

Shopify: Each customers gross merchandise volume

Hubspot: The number of weekly active teams

Slack: Messages sent within the organization

Do you see a pattern here? NSMs are the core, key most important metric product teams use to decide what they work on and measure results.

Not on time.

Business, users, revenue… actual results.

Who cares about on time if your product is not bringing in customers and keeping them.

Focus on the right thing. Find your NSM first.

The best way to figure out your North Star Metric is to get your team together and figure out what is the key most important value your most loyal customers get from your product.

See Slack’s example:

The value we get from slack is communicating with our team.

So their NSM… wait for it…. is:

Messages sent within the organization


So forget about on-time.

Think about your core value: what is it your product does so well for your customers?

Turn that into something you can measure.

Give it a name

Now you have your NSM.

Measure it as often as you need. (daily, weekly, monthly?) and keep tabs on it.

Align every decision and feature you work on to your NSM. Everything else is secondary.



Why I prefer bootstrapping over raising money

Rethink Your Calendar for Energy, Not Meetings