Setting Quarterly Goals as a Developer and Developer Advocate

First Published: July 16, 2021

We've kicked off the third quarter! At the end of 2020, I wrote about reviewing your progress. The flip side of reviewing your progress is setting goals, and for a lot of people at work that happens quarterly. I've had some folks on my team ask for guidance on this process, so I thought I'd share that with you all as well.

Why Setting Goals is Important

Why is setting goals at work so important? Frankly, aside from just making progress on projects, setting and tracking goals gives you measurable proof of your achievements that you can use to campaign for a promotion, more resources, or even a better job. When the time comes that you have a budget need or you want to go for a promotion, having data and examples is the key. You want to be able to say, "I did these X things with Y results that impacted the business in these Z ways." If you're managing a team, you also use this data to help your team in those same ways: making the case for promotions, justifying budget, or getting buy-in on a project. (I see management as largely being about employee advocacy, to be honest.)

How to Set Goals

So how do you set these up? Work goals should:

  • Tie back up to team and organizational goals and KPIs (key performance indicators)
  • Be specific: what will be done and why?
  • Be measurable: how do we know if it’s successful? What data are we looking for?

You may have heard of SMART Goals: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-Bound. Depending on your experience, "SMART goals" may be one of those phrases that gets thrown around so much that you tune it out. Nevertheless, the concepts are still valid and helpful, so keep those in mind as you create your goals.

I prefer to think in terms of Tiny Experiments (shocking, I know). When I'm writing goals, I:

  • Set boundaries on when something needs to be achieved ("launch in 90 days," "write 3 articles per month")
  • Identify a chunk of work that is easy to know when it's finished ("launch MVP" not "work on new site")
  • Attach data and feedback to it ("track signups and grow by X%")

To learn more about tiny experiments, go read my article How to Finish What You Start, which formed the basis of my book Guide to Tiny Experiments.

Get Specific with Your Goals

One thing I see quite often is that folks will write down a specific item as a goal: Speak at X conference, Build Y feature. These are not good goals because they lack any sort of context. Why that conference? Is it particularly special or impactful? What's the intended outcome? A better goal would be something like "Speak at 3 conferences in the Nordics with attendance greater than 100" or "Improve customer experience by refactoring preferences UI" (bonus if you can tie either of these to a bigger company objective).

Let's take a look at two examples: one for a developer and one for a developer advocate.

How to Set Quarterly Goals as a Developer

If you're a developer working on an app for a company, that app has some sort of business value and related metrics around it. That might be revenue (if the app sells a product or service), time on the app, API calls, new instances spun up, or something else entirely. Depending on where you're at in your career and the organization, you may not know a lot about that side of things or even care to some extent (when I was junior I was just trying to close my tickets and live to fight another day). As you seek to progress in your career, these will be good things to ask your manager about or research yourself, whether or not you have any influence in defining those metrics.

You can tie your development goals to those objectives. For example, let's say session length is a metric your company values. You could plan features that might impact that and try to find some data to support it. Maybe you see from your API call data that one particular page is popular. You could run an experiment to add features to that page to increase that session time. So, your goal would be something like "Increase session time on Dashboard by 10% by building and shipping 3 informational charts." Your manager can help you come up with a good number based on previous data.

How to Set Quarterly Goals as a Developer Advocate

For developer relations, your objectives likely revolve around impact, engagement, and usage. You'll want to tie your goals back to those and use whatever data you can to support them. Let's say your company has a goal to increase usage by developers in South America. Your manager would likely have a goal attaching a number to that increase (let's say 10% for example), which you could then use in your goal: "Contribute to 10% usage growth in South America by speaking at 4 key developer events in the region."

Where to Go Next

Remember, I'm sharing this method of goal-setting in the context of your day job. You may not find it useful for personal improvement goals or goals for your own business and want to look at some alternative approaches. Coincidentally, my friend Vidya shared a great article in her newsletter A Curious Bunch about 5 Unconventional Goal Setting Methods. Check it out and let me know what you think. Also, go subscribe to Vidya's newsletter. She puts a lot of care and attention into it and it's well worth your time.

That's all for now. Was this helpful? Did it make sense? Let me know.

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