The 50-50 Goal

May 17, 2024 Engineering

Large companies are inherently number-driven. This is not a bad thing per se: Aligning around measurable objectives has huge benefits and allows an organization to keep itself accountable.

However, if you work in larger tech companies, you will quickly come into contact with goals like this:

  • "We are working on improving our sign-up rate by 20% in the next quarter."
  • "The goal of the platform rewrite is to reduce defect rate by 50%."

These numbers seem fine at first but once you start digging into it, you learn how extremely arbitrary these are, because:

  • It is entirely unclear to the team how to increase sign-up rate at all.
  • The platform rewrite is going to increase reliability, but there is no certainty into how it will affect the metrics.

When I worked on web performance at Meta, I came into contact with this very early and my rational personality was quickly overwhelmed: How can I come up with a number that is truly achievable? Do I need to scope out all exact work streams ahead of time and hope that they are all successful? How are goals like this made?

Luckily, I had an amazing colleague back then who told me the one secret about goals at Meta, which she called the 50-50 goal: Choose a target that feels achievable 50% of the time (so you will have an equal chance of not hitting it). At the time this was confusing but I've seen this used extensively at many platform teams at Meta and only now, after many years, I finally understand why this system works:

  • 50-50 goals are about embracing failure: If there's an equal chance of you missing the goal, you set yourself up for failure. And, in this case, that's a good thing! No one actually cared whether the sign-up rate increased by 20%. It's important that it increases at all. The trick is to remove the psychological burden of missing a goal and instead focus on actually driving these goals.
  • These goals help with alignment: Setting an ambitious target will make it clear to everyone in the room that they need to get creative. It embraced risk-taking and encourages people to think outside the box.
  • It creates excitement across the organization: By choosing ambitious goals, you will more effectively communicate the goal of the project. This helps to get buy-in from other teams and stakeholders and sets the stage for better collaboration.

So, if you ever think about setting a target for your team, think about the 50-50 goal. Oh and don't forget to communicate that it's a 50-50 goal. You don't want to set wrong expectations.


Other Notes

June 13, 2024
Engineering/The 50-50 Goal
May 17, 2024
May 2, 2024
April 3, 2024
Engineering/Infrastructure/Deploy Workers Programatically
April 2, 2024
March 7, 2024
Engineering/Feature Flags
February 21, 2024
Engineering/Demo Culture
February 16, 2024
February 1, 2024
Engineering/ML/Embeddings
May 5, 2023
Engineering/ML/Jaccard Similarity
May 4, 2023
May 2, 2023
Engineering/Front-End/Modern Front-End Problems
November 3, 2022
Engineering/Test Matrixes
February 25, 2022
February 25, 2022
Engineering/Front-End/React’s Escape Hatch
February 21, 2022
Other/Notes
January 1, 2022

About the author

Philipp Spiess
Philipp Spiess [ˈʃpiːs]

Engineer at Sourcegraph.
Prev: UI Engineer at Meta, curator of This Week in React, React DOM team member, and Team Lead at PSPDFKit.