Improving Organizations with OKRs

September 8, 2021    Process DevOps Agile Improving Organizations Productivity

Improving Organizations with OKRs

Objective and Key Results (OKRs) were a hot topic at DOES 2021. Since then, I’ve spent more time reading and watching resources about OKRs. I’ve become more impressed with how OKRs have helped companies keep goals in mind and have measurable results.

I’m attempting to put my thoughts together from the resources I’ve found and mention in this post. I’ll explore my thoughts on how to apply them to my life and in the companies I’m apart of. I’ll start with my learning path and then add some more thoughts and information below.

DOES 2021 Sessions

I had a great time attending DOES 2021 virtually. It was the first time I heard about OKRs. Here are some of presentations about OKRs.

Driving Cultural Revolution With OKRs at Vodafone UK [3]

OK NOTOK OKRs — 3Ms: Mindset, Mission and Measurement with Jon Smart with his slides [4]

OKRs & DevOps: From Micromanagement Misery to Finding Flow - with Dr. Mik Kersten [5]

A few months later, IT Revolution hosted a Watch Party[6] for Jon Smart and Dr. Mik Kersten’s talks in July 2021. There was a lot of interesting discussion and it was great to watch them again in the background “with” others.

There was some concern that with the rising popularity, that it would become boxed and marketed like Agile. It’s much more than a certification, but a tool to transform organizations and keep the objectives in view.

Gene Kim ~ “We can’t let OKRs fail due to poor implementation and thinking”.

Mr. Smart ~ There’s a risk we lose the reason why.

Dr. Kersten ~ It’s a better structure for planning

Measure What Matters Book

A few weeks later I saw Measure What Matters at the library on the shelf. I didn’t know it was an essential tool for Intel, Google, the Bill Gates Foundation and even Bono with his foundation work. This book comes from the “creator” or OKRs and is a great starting point for learning about OKRs.

John Doer learned a lot from Andy Grove at Intel. He took some ideas and put them into OKRs. Mr. Doer is a venture capitalist and used OKRS as a tool for many companies he worked with. He then pitched the idea to Google when there was 30 employees and it’s been in use ever since.

Jon Smart (at the watch party above), said that after this book was released the interest and adoption grew quickly. Dr. Mik Kersten ~ “why now? I’ve been doing them for 9 years. Maturing feedback, flow and learning. Need to align to create the innovation we need.”

Felipe Castro

A Tasktop webinar with Felipe Castro [1] led me to Mr. Castro’s review of Measure What Matters. His main “ugly” of the book is that a lot of the KR examples don’t include numbers.

"To measure what really matters, we need to focus on the outcomes we want to achieve."

I highly suggest his blog, whitepapers, Beginner’s Guide to OKR [8], and website. His insight and training looks highly valuable and I would pursue them if I had an organization that wanted to pursue OKRs.

What are OKRs?

OKR is a tool that helps focus on Outcomes and Effective OKRs: Focus on Outcomes and Finding Flow ~ Mr. Castro at TaskTop webinar [1]

OKRs have 2 parts, Objectives and Key Results.

“OKR (Objectives and Key Results) is a goal setting system used by Google and other companies. It is a simple approach to create alignment and engagement around measurable and ambitious goals” [8]

“I will _____ as measured by ____ “ [8]

Objectives

Objectives help identify the core values and purpose of your company, define the “north star” or primary goals and keep them visible for everyone in the company. These objectives can be Aspirational or Committed goals. All team goals should cascade from the top level OKRs and need to focus on Outcomes.

Simon Sinek’s Start with Why, TED Talk is related and fantastic as it teaches us to focus on why we are doing what we are doing.

One example from Measure What Matters [7] is of YouTube objective to achieve 1 billion minutes viewed in a week. This was a 4 Quarter, highly aspirational goal. Another, that John Doerr used when pitching it to the Google team was a football CEO, then head coach, then smaller team coaches.

Key Results

“a set of metrics that measure your progress towards the Objective. For each Objective, you should have a set of 2 to 5 Key Results. More than that and no one will remember them.” [8] and How to write a good OKR

Jon Smart at DOES [4] shared these points

  • Top down and bottom up
  • Outcomes and experiments (feedback and dynamic)
  • Multi-year, annual, quarterly outcomes
  • Transparent and aligned
  • Aspirational and Inspirational goals
  • Empowerment and Autonomy

Why should we consider OKRs?

According to Measure What Matters, OKRs give us 4 super powers

  1. Focus and Commit to Priorities
  2. Align and Connect for team work
  3. Track for accountability
  4. Stretch for Amazing

I’ve worked in companies where the overall goals/vision are stated once a quarter or less, but then aren’t discussed often. I think that OKRs will help employees keep the goals in mind and guide the prioritization of work by enabling questions “how does my work help achieve these goals?, should I really be working on this now?” Often there are too many items in the backlog with little hope of getting them all done, so keeping the vision in mind will help avoid a lot of wasted efforts.

C level leaders will benefit from thinking through the Objectives and have something to review often to measure progress.

These ideas meld well with Lean Startup by Eric Ries of experimenting and being ready to pivot if something isn’t working. They also fit with Value Stream Mapping and Management which I believe is becoming more and more important.

How would we implement OKRs?

  1. C level
  2. lower departments
  3. Individual
  4. Managers checkup
  • Commitment & Consistency from leadership
    • it’s a journey
  • Find and empower OKR champions. Make sure they have the bandwidth from [1]

Watch Measuring What Matters: Putting OKR into Practice | Featuring: Felipe Castro, OKR Coach for more good insights

Tools

I found a few tools (don’t focus on the tools, but they could proved to be helpful). I bet they’d help you track how many times they are viewed, when they’ve been updated and help the OKR champions stay on top of it.

What’s next for me and OKRs?

I’m not sure, but I’m going to keep learning about these. I’d like to introduce them at Omnitech and in the organizations I work with. I think these ideas would need C level backing, but would be very helpful.

I’ve been thinking about some personal OKRs. Here’s one I’ve started for 2021. I don’t think I have it quite right, but it’s a start

Objective: Become a valuable source in helping “Improving Organizations”

Key Result: Internalize and Continue learning

  • Listen to 1+ IdealCast podcast per month
  • Find someone to meet with and hear their improvement story
  • Read 1 book a month and blog about it
  • 1-2 blog articles per month on the topic
  • lead 1 L&L per quarter on the topic
  • share ideas and links as often as possible

I’ve also added Measure What Matters to my Improving Organization Readings article.

Please let me know your experiences with ORKs and any resources I should know about on Twitter @aligneddev or in the comments below. I have a lot to learn!

References



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