OKRs – Intro

These are my notes from reading John Doerr’s book: Measure What Matters: How Google, Bono, and the Gates Foundation Rock the World with OKRs.

What are OKRs?

OKRs as defined in the book:

A management methodology that helps to ensure that the company focuses efforts on the same important issues throughout the organization.

John Doerr: Measure What Matters

Who can use OKRs?

While the term OKR, which probably originated at Google, was largely used for organizational goal settings and related actions, this technique can be used by organizations of any size and even individuals. Understanding OKRs and helping implementing them can also prove useful for non-leadership rung employees since this can help measure your impact on the organizational goals.

How to do OKRs?

  • Objectives = many Key Results
  • Objective (1)–>(has many) Key Results.
  • OKRs are a management methodology to ensure focus on same issues company-wide.
ObjectivesKey Results
– “WHAT is to be achieved, no more no less”– “benchmark and monitor HOW we get to the objective”
– significant, concrete, action oriented, and (ideally) inspirational– specific, time-bound, aggressive yet realistic, measurable and verifiable
– long lived, often year or more, can be rolled over– quarter or less, evolve as work progresses
Comparing Objectives and Key Results

Objective = sum of all Key Results, if all key results achieved then objective should be complete

What does a Sample OKR look like?

Express a clear objective and follow it up with measurable key results.

Objective Improve web service SLA to 4 nines

Key Result 1 Launch v4.1 web service by March 30 with updates for redundancy and stability

Key Result 2 100ms response time for hosting platform

Key Result 3 99.99% uptime

Key Result 4 Add regional redundancy

Book Summary

The book is divided into 3 parts: superpowers, applications and methodology

Part 1: Superpowers

  1. Focus and commit to priorities: OKRs focus teams and companies on work that’s important and reject superfluous work. This forces leaders to make hard choices on priorities. Removes any lingering confusion on what people are supposed to be working on.
  2. Align and connect: OKRs should be transparent throughout the org. Individuals should link their OKRs up to team and teams should link up to company and sideways to cross-dependencies with other teams.
  3. Track for accountability: OKRs are data driven and enforce periodic check-ins, objective grading and continuous reassessment. The most important part is that any key result that is in danger triggers action to put it on track or be revised/replaced, if necessary.
  4. Stretch for amazing: By focusing, align and tracking, OKRs motivated people and companies to overperform.

Part 2: Applications

  1. CFRs: Conversation, Feedback and Recognition add up to “continuous performance management”, a replacement for annual performance reviews.
  2. Continuous Improvement: Structured goal setting and continuous performance management help organizations on the long road to operational excellence by improving one day at a time.
  3. Importance of culture: OKRs and CFRs aim to define and build a positive culture by aligning teams towards common objectives, creating transparency and accountability, and, structured goal setting.

Part 3: Methodology

Check out the OKRs – In Practice blogpost

Notable Quotes from the book

  • “Ideas are easy. Execution is everything.”
  • Edwin Locke: “hard goals” drive performance more effectively than easy goals. Second, specific hard goals “produce a higher level of output” than vaguely worded ones.
  • A two-year Deloitte study found that no single factor has more impact than “clearly defined goals that are written down and shared freely. . . . Goals create alignment, clarity, and job satisfaction.”
  • Andy Grove “Bad companies, are destroyed by crisis. Good companies survive them. Great companies are improved by them.”
  • Leaders must get across the why as well as the what. Repeat until the entire team understands the “why”. LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner *”When you are tired of saying it, people are starting to hear it.”
  • Andy Grove “For the feedback to be effective, it must be received very soon after the activity it is measuring occurs. Accordingly, an [OKR] system should set objectives for a relatively short period. For example, if we plan on a yearly basis, the corresponding [OKR] time should be at least as often as quarterly or perhaps even monthly.”

Statutory Warning

Focusing on goals solely leads to tunnel vision, infighting and possible unethical behavior. The book gives the example of Wells Fargo where the number of new accounts opened was set as a goal.

My critiques of the book

  1. Too many feel good survivorship bias stories
  2. Some of the case studies and examples are outdated, for instances, Google no longer does 20% time for side projects
  3. Silicon Valley name dropping is rampant throughout the book
  4. No negative case studies featured. The book appears to make the supposition that either OKRs work or you’re not doing it right
  5. If committed OKRs take up most of your resources and aspirational OKRs which run multiple years are supposed to stretch your team, how is a team not supposed to burnout?

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