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Driving results by creating effective goals as a TPM

Happy New Year!

It is a brand new year and a perfect time to retrospect and set goals for the year. As a TPM, you often have project/program goals that you are working towards. We need to apply some of the same principles to personal and professional goals. In order to reach your goals, you have to be intentional. It is like mapping out your route before you get into the car.

Setting goals helps you be more strategic and protects you from getting bogged down by day to day fires or tactical requests. You should set goals for both professional and personal aspects of your life. Today, I am focusing on just setting goals for the current year.

We will explore how to

goals for technical program managers

SMART Goals for Technical Program Managers in 2023 and Beyond

Your goals need to be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-bound). Have you wondered why so many people give up on their New Year’s Resolutions? New Year’s Resolutions are not SMART! They are generally unrealistic and not achievable. They are a reaction to something that is top of mind from the previous couple of months. So make sure your goals for the year do not fall into the same trap.

Write goals that will create a meaningful impact for you and your team. This will lead to achieving desired results and move forward on the career path. These goals need to all with technical program manager responsibilities and competency levels.

New Year Resolutions are not SMART! No wonder some many people give up on them in couple of months!

Create A Rough Draft

As you step into the new year, think about what is most important and meaningful for you to achieve this year. You can just start jotting down bullet points or rough notes. This first draft is to be free flowing, to get you started. Once you have your list, distribute your desired goals into must haves and nice to haves. This is your classic prioritization exercise.

Refine Your Goals Based on Company OKRs

Now that you have your highest priority goals (about 3 - 5) - it is time to refine those rough points into something specific. There are many different methodologies out there that you can use to set your goals. The OKR (Objectives & Key Results) method is one of the most common. If you are new to OKRs, Measure What Matters by John Doerr provides a great introduction.

However, I wanted to share my goal setting methodology that has helped me in my career.

  • It starts from thinking about the Impact you want to have. The Impact can be personal to you or benefit a community (team, org, family, neighbors) depending on the context in which you are setting your goals. It is the Why behind your goals. It is similar to setting an Objective and can span multiple time periods. Let me take a hypothetical example for a fitness professional. Impact would be something like “Launch a personal fitness training business”. Note, that there is no specification of time here as this could be a multi-year effort.

  • Next, you need to think about what specific Goal Management strategies will help you achieve that Impact. In a work setting, you can think of Impact as a joint outcome/reward that the entire team gets. However, your goals as a TPM are slightly different than an engineer working on the same project. Continuing the example above, my Goals would be 1. Get necessary certifications and 2. Build awareness in my client base. As you can see, you can have more than 1 goal per impact.

  • The third step is to define your success criteria. This is what will help ensure your goals are measurable and achievable. Success criteria can be numeric or binary. Oftentimes, for TPMs it can be difficult to define success criteria since our success is not measured by lines of code or #bugs fixed. Try to be as specific as possible and avoid binary measures as they often end up being activities Performance Metrics. In my example above I can define my success criteria as follows:

Goal 1: Complete the CPT and CNC certifications. (Or I could say complete 2 certifications - but I wanted to be more specific on which ones)

Goal 2: Mail Flyers and Advertise on Facebook (This is a binary measure)

A better way to define success measure is Goal 2: Generate 100 leads

Oftentimes, I noticed that we get trapped into thinking that finishing a set of activities means we achieved our goals or reached our success criteria. One way to avoid that is to question yourself - will finishing this activity always result in success or impact?

Let’s take another example - this time for a TPM. As a TPM, we often define new processes for the teams/orgs we support. The goal could be “Define a new process to provide more visibility and predictability to engineering leadership” and a success criteria could be “Write up a new escalation process and share with leaders/stakeholders”. Now, a question I would ask myself is “If I wrote a document outlining the process and then shared it with all the right people, but no one adopted the process itself or it never took off, would I still consider it to be a success? ” So what should be the right success criteria? Maybe something like “Implement and get adoption of the new process with at least 2 teams in Q1”. Now at the end of the quarter, you can easily say if that happened or not. And if say 3 teams adopted your process, then you exceeded the expectations you set.

  • Finally, you want to write up the “How” - meaning what are some things you will do to get to that goal and success criteria. This is your opportunity to define activities you will take on. Do make sure that each activity has a valid reasoning behind it. Ask why doing thing X is important or how will it help.

Using the personal fitness example one more time, let’s define the How for Goal 1.

Goal 1: Buy study material from xyz. Meet 3 other personal trainers and learn about their experience

Goal 2: Leverage a local FB group and do a poll to gather interest Create flyers and mail local zip-code

You can definitely have a longer list in the How section as long as it doesn’t become “busy work”.

As a TPM, I like to think of the How in three parts: 1 - Technical, 2 - Program Management and 3 - Leadership/Communication. I have talked about these axes previously and they are the building blocks of your success. When you have 1-3 Impact areas and 3-5 goals, using the axes to anchor yourself ensures that you are not skewed towards any one axis.

Iterate On Your Goals and Then Finalize

Before finalizing your goal planning, I encourage you to read your document 2-3 times at a minimum and possible over a couple of days. This rumination process will help you see your document with fresh eyes each day. This is the time to trim the fat and make it crisp. I also encourage you to get it reviewed by someone you trust (friend, mentor) and ask for their feedback.

Share With Key Stakeholders and Leadership

Share your goals with stakeholders for clarity and accountability. Involving others can offer support and opportunities for collaboration, enhancing the chances of goal achievement.

However, it is important that everyone you interact with understands your goals. They can sometimes help you achieve them. You will also feel more accountable to these as you share with more people. I strongly believe in the power of the Universe - you have to put it out there so it can happen!

I hope this will help you in setting your personal or professional goals every year.

Goal Setting Template for TPMs

Impact #1…n
<The why/vision or joint outcome> 
<Your specific goal to achieve the impact from a TPM standpoint>

What is my Success Criteria?
<How will you measure success>

How will I achieve this goal? 
<What will I do across the 3 TPM axes (Technical, Program Management, Leadership)

<Limit # Impact to 1-3 and Goals per Impact to 1-3. This ensures you are not trying to do too much>

Here's an example of 8 Program Manager Goals you can set. Make sure you add in technical aspects of your responsibilities and build your domain expertise.

Master the Art of the TPM Interview


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are OKRs?

OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) are a goal-setting framework used by organizations to define and track their objectives and the key results they want to achieve. Objectives are ambitious and qualitative statements that express the desired outcomes, while Key Results are specific, measurable, and time-bound metrics that gauge the progress towards achieving the objectives. OKRs provide a clear and transparent way for teams and individuals to align their efforts with the organization's overall strategic goals. Read more...

Why do we need OKRs?

What makes good OKRs?

What are SMART goals?

What is the best way for TPMs to do OKR planning?

Why is goal setting important for achieving meaningful impact?

How can setting goals help in professional and personal growth?

What are some effective strategies for setting impactful goals?

How do you measure the success of your goals?

What role do stakeholders play in goal achievement?


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