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Design Sprint

You have to look up to find your North Star


You’re busy. I’m busy. We’re all busy.

When everyone on the team is busy, it’s easy to get lost and forget your business goals. That’s why you need to identify your North Star.

And when your head is covered with projects and tasks, it’s hard to see the big picture. It’s tough to identify your goal, as a business and as a team.

You have to look up to see your North Star.

The growth sprint process allows you to clear your head and finally look up in the distance. That’s the first thing you’ll be doing on the first day of a growth sprint.

You see, this article is not about astronomy. It’s about knowing what’s foundational to your success.

Finding your North Star

What is the North Star?

Your North Star is your core goal. It provides the primary metric for your actions and success. The North Star Metric (NSM) is fed by sub-metrics.

Why is it important? Because it gives everyone on your team a clear metric to judge whether an action is warranted or not. And it helps validate whether you’re making progress that will impact your bottom line.

Sean Ellis popularized the term North Star, in his book Hacking Growth, written with Morgan Brown. He writes that using the term North Star “emphasizes that this metric becomes a guiding light to keep the team’s eyes on the ultimate goal of the growth hacking process, rather than becoming too fixated on a short-term growth hack they’re overly enamored of; one that may be wonderfully clever, or even create a temporary or illusory growth boost, but doesn’t actually contribute to long-term sustainable growth.”


The North Star is a metric

The North Star is also crucial as a tool to figure out what data to use and how to use it.

“Just as it’s easy to lose your North Star and find yourself veering onto the moors in pursuit of vanity or irrelevant growth metrics, writes Sean Ellis, it’s equally easy to get lost in the weeds of data analysis and lose the sense of urgency to start experimenting with ways to actually drive growth.”

By stating what makes a difference for your success (and bottom line), it blows away all vanity metrics that you could be tempted to consecrate as so significant.

Are “Likes” on Facebook truly significant for the success of your marketing effort?

Don’t look at me for the answer: look at your North Star.

It will tell you if the number of likes is helpful in achieving your business goals. And if this metric is aligned with the core values that you provide your customers.

Once you have identified your North Star, it becomes your point of focus, your guidepost. As the team at Grow says, it “It can be the difference between becoming a great company or one that’s on it’s way out.”


How to pick your North Star

Sean Ellis states that “the North Star should be the metric that most accurately captures the core value you create for your customers. To determine what that is you must ask yourself: Which of the variables in your growth equation best represents the delivery of that must-have experience you identified for your product? ”

We’ll come back to the growth equation in a subsequent article. Let’s say for now that, in the words of Sean Ellis, “this is a simple formula that represents all of the key factors that will combine to drive your growth; in other words, your core set of growth levers.”

So, what makes a great North Star?

  • It’s aligned with the core values you provide your customers.
  • It’s easily understood and shared by the whole team.
  • It’s telling you whether your actions and metrics are aligned with your core business goals.

“The North Star is a measure that tells you if your client is happy,” sums up Pentalog’s Chief of Growth, Jeff Mignon.

We can also summarize the NSM as a formula: if your NSM is equal to the average value of your product to customers multiplied by the number of customers, you’ve got a great North Star Metric.


Your North Star can change

Is the North Star immutable? No. You can choose the wrong North Star, or you may have to change your North Star because your goals or something else has changed.

“Keep in mind that you might not select the correct NSM [North Star Metric] for your company on your first attempt to identify it, says the team at Grow. You may have to select a few different metrics and work backward, identifying other metrics that would support it in an attempt to figure out what is the best NSM for your company at this time.”


What is your North Star?

Now, let’s turn to you:

  • Do you know what is your North Star?
  • Does everyone on your team know what your North Star is?
  • Do you have the data and metrics in place to figure out your North Star?

“In order to determine your growth equation and establish your North Star metric, of course the prerequisite is the ability to both gather data on customer behavior and measure product performance and the results of experiments. Only then can you know if your assumptions about both map to the reality of how people are using your product.” (Sean Ellis, Hacking Growth)

Finding your North Star is the first step in a growth sprint, and you can see why: without a clear metric in mind, understood by everyone, how will you know what to do or where to take your project?

Let’s yield the conclusion to Sean Ellis: “When you’re gunning for growth, it’s easy to find yourself in the moors, working madly on improving a metric that ultimately doesn’t matter. Picking the right North Star helps to reorient growth efforts to more optimal solutions, because it helps illuminate when the focus of your experiments isn’t producing the results you need.”

Do you need help finding your North Star? We’ll provide the astrolabe.

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