Radical Focus

Radical Focus

Author
Christina R Wodtke
Year
2014
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Review

The second edition of Radical Focus is one of the better books on implementing OKRs. OKRs are really powerful in the right context. It’s refreshing for a proponent of OKRs to come out and say they’re not useful everywhere. Christina doesn’t recommend their use in operations teams and proposes subtle adaptations of them for exploratory or long-lead-time work. There are many good OKR explainer books, but I feel this one does a great job of describing some of the rough edges and challenges.

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Key Takeaways

The 20% that gave me 80% of the value.

  • A system for getting things done →
    • Pick a goal that is important and inspiring
    • Clarify that goal so it is measurable and well understood
    • Repeat it regularly so everyone continues to pursue the goal
    • Be clear about how you’re working toward the goal each week
    • Dedicate your time to accomplishing it
    • Hold each other accountable
    • Measure progress along the way
    • Adapt if plans if they aren’t working
    • Be ready for failure, ready to learn, and ready to try again

What are OKRs?

  • OKRs are a way of setting focused goals that are inspiring and measurable. Combined with a system to keep them top-of-mind they can be used to create focus around a bold goal and achieve it.
  • OKRs stands for Objective and Key Results.
    • The objective is what you want to do → e.g. launch a killer game!
    • The key results are how you know if you’ve achieved them → e.g. downloads of 25K/day, revenue £50K/day
  • The Objective is a goal for a set period of time. An objective should be…
    • framed in a single sentence
    • qualitative
    • inspirational (get you out of bed in the morning)
    • time bound (usually a quarter)
    • actionable by the team independently (no dependencies)
    • is hard but not impossible in the time frame
  • The Key Results are how you know if you’ve achieved your objective at the end. Key results should be
    • Quantitative
    • Roughly 3 per objective (min 1, max 5)
    • Balancing measures (e.g. user growth, conversion)
    • Difficult not impossible (5/10 confidence, a 50/50 shot of achieving it)
  • How do you generate KRs?…
    • Look for words in the objective sentence that could be quantified
    • Try ‘free listing’ (group, rearrange, de-duplicate) and stack ranking by trustworthiness, ease of measuring, available baselines?
    • Think through implications and list anti-goals
    • Use a reference baseline if you can
    • Don’t make the mistake of using a project or task
      • We use KRs because they allow you to change approach and tactics if they don’t work
  • How to convert tasks into KRs…
    • Why this project? Why is it important?
    • What will it accomplish / change?
    • How do you know if it’s successful?
    • What numbers will move if it works?
    • How does that tie into the company’s objective?
  • Using OKRs helps you move the team from output thinking to outcome thinking
  • You’re time-constraining things that are important but not urgent, thus making them urgent
  • OKRs are great for bringing about change, don’t use them for business as usual work. Many service departments evolve rather than innovate. Operations teams like these don’t need OKRs. Instead they should use Health Metrics protect what you’ve already accomplished.
  • OKRs should help you work out what to do each week
    • Make commitments to each other at the start of the week.
    • Celebrate what you’ve achieved at the end of the week.
  • If what you’re doing doesn’t move forward any of your OKRs it’s a waste of time
  • OKRs should give you permission to say no and push back on low impact work
    • The enemy of timely execution is distraction
  • You’ll need to use weekly check-ins to keep the OKRs real
    • Listing OKRs keeps them top of mind
      • Start the Q with a 50% chance of hitting each KR. Check your confidence as a team each week. Have a conversation about how you’re tracking and why the change?
    • Listing your weekly intentions, the 5 or so things you’re doing to help OKR progress helps you focus on the right things
    • Listing health metrics stops you gaming the system (sacrificing something important just to hit your OKRs)
    • Listing a 4 week forecast of the most important activities that need to happen, helps you and others coordinate a plan of action
    • Here’s a template…
    • OKRs
      Intentions for the week
      Objective: 1 KR 1 · Confidence % KR 2 · Confidence % KR 3 · Confidence % Objective: 2 KR 1 · Confidence % KR 2 · Confidence % KR 3 · Confidence %
      P1: Task 1 P1: Task 2 P2: Task 3 P2: Task 4 P3: Task 5
      Health Metrics
      Next 4 weeks Forecast / Heads up
      H.Metric 1 H.Metric 2 H.Metric 3
      Item 1 Item 2 Item 3 Item 4
  • Prerequisites to implementing OKRs
    • Executives need to trust the team
    • You need a simple and memorable mission
    • You need a strategy
    • You need product metrics to be instrumented
    • You need psychological safety

Pipelines over roadmaps?

  • The author suggests pipelines are a better format than roadmaps to store potential initiatives. Roadmaps have dates, Pipelines support the flexibility of OKRs and use impact / effort / confidence for prioritisation.

Check-ins and status updates

  • The cadence of check-ins is the magic behind OKRs. You end up repeating your goals and adapting what you do to hit them a lot!
  • Use the check-ins and check-in document as a conversation starter and treat the conversation as a chance to iterate and get feedback.
  • Have the check-ins on Monday, have a Friday session to celebrate work done
  • You can improve weekly status emails with OKRs
    • Lead with your team’s OKRs, and how much confidence you have that you are going to hit them this quarter
    • List last week’s prioritised tasks and if they were achieved
    • List next week’s priorities (only three P1s, and a couple of P2s)
    • List any risks or blockers
    • List any notes (anything that doesn’t fit into the above)
  • Do the hard work to decide on a single company objective
    • Why only one? Complexity increases rapidly with each objective. If you have 5 OKRs, and 5 KRs, everyone has to remember 20 priorities
    • Having a single objective helps everyone remember it and act on it
  • Avoid having too many OKRs. You can’t focus on company, team, department and personal OKRs all at once.
    • Have a single company OKR. Have product team OKRs, and nothing else.
    • Focus OKRs on the product team level. Any ‘functional OKRs (like responsive responsive design) should be replicated and included in Product Team OKRs
    • Cascading OKRs doesn’t scale. It only makes sense in small organisations with flat hierarchies
    • Trust your teams to set their own OKRs based on company strategy.
    • If you have a mission, a strategy and an annual OKR they won’t go far wrong
  • Be careful when first introducing OKR cycles. Don’t implement OKRs across the entire company at once, your first OKR cycle is likely to fail, which can cause disillusionment
    • Instead, consider one of these different approaches:
      1. Choose a single high-performing team to go first → then trumpet their success
      2. Start with a single OKR for the entire company.
      3. Start by applying OKRs to projects, to seed the Objective-Result mindset. Ask:
        • What is the Objective for this project?
        • How will we know if we’ve succeeded?

OKR setting meeting format

  • In advance:
    • Allow employees not in your 10 to submit the objectives they think the company should focus on (send the mission, strategy and existing OKR as inspiration)
    • Ask Attendees to come with their own thoughts too
  • In the session:
    • Part 1: Select the objective
      • Stick the best and most popular suggestions on the wall
      • Ask those in the room to stick their suggestions up
      • Group and deduplicate
      • Stack rank and narrow down to three options
      • Discuss, debate, stack rank
      • Then pick just 1
    • Part 2: Select the key results
      • Get those in the room to freelist as many metrics as they can think of
      • Affinity map them (group)
      • Stack rank and pick three types of metrics
      • Write the KRs without values first (e.g. X DAU)
      • Calibrate to 50% confidence
    • Part 3: Discuss as a set
      • Are they aspirational and inspirational?
      • Do the KRs make sense are they hard? Can you live
      • Tweak them if needed
  • This meeting format was for executives to set the single OKR, but can be adapted for use at team level too.
  • What the entire 2 week process for setting OKRs across the company can look like
    • Grade OKRs 2 weeks before the end of the cycle
    • Give employees 24hrs to submit candidate company objectives
    • Exec team discusses the objectives proposed. They choose one at an offsite.
      • Get CEO approval (1 hour walk through, and a day for teams to iterate on feedback)
      • Execs introduce the OKR to direct reports… and ask them to set team OKRs
    • CEO-led all hands meeting to discusses why the OKR is what it is for that quarter, and calls out a few good OKR examples set this time round
      • Speaks to last quarter’s OKRs, pointing out a few key wins
      • Keep the tone positive and determined
    • Product teams decide on OKRs using the same meeting format as above
      • Do the same with sub-teams
      • Publish 1 week before the end
    • Have a short revision and review period

Approaches to managing and scoring OKRs

  • Is it worth scoring your OKRs?
    • Yes. Numbers have a way of bringing reality to the forefront.
    • Scoring numerically with improve the quality of you KRs over time. You’ll get better at making sure they’re measurable and unambiguous. The key to which is to ask are we able to measure this at the end of the quarter?
  • Aim to use results scoring, confidence scoring can be a good entry point and milestone scoring can be useful for longer time to value projects
    • OKRs are powerful because execution is driven by outcomes, not by plans or initiatives
    • Being anchored on actual results helps teams become more innovative, pivot, and experiment.
    • Once we reckon with reality, we can decide how to proceed
      • What needs to change to make more progress?
      • Was this not accomplished because it was not that important?
      • Does it need more attention?
Practices
Results Scoring
Confidence Scoring
Milestones Scoring
What
Update of the results seen so far
Is the team on track to deliver the results?
How much of the initiative has been completed?
Pros
· Clear & transparent. · Incentivises metric driven KRs. · Incentivises checking & getting results before EOQ.
· Can show progress before results are realised
· Can show progress before results are realised
Cons
· Can be demoralising as score doesn’t reflect effort put in
· Risks delivering the initiative without the results · Risks become a project management process
· Risks delivering the initiative without the results · Risks become a project management process
  • Results Scoring
    • Agree exact thresholds for each grade when setting the KR… to force a calibration conversation between the team and the reviewer
    • Score
      How to think about it
      1.0
      Complete success 🚀 
      0.7 to 1.0
      Achieved. Amazing. 🟢
      0.3 to 0.7
      Partial achievement and progress made 🟡 0.6+ is still really good!
      0.0 to 0.3
      Failure 🔴
    • How to assess the score at the end of the quarter
      • Scoring throughout the quarter is more important than obtaining the final score.
      • But It’s still critical to do a final score: to reflect, gather learnings, and incorporate learnings into the next cycle.
    • 🚧 Avoid setting and forgetting! Put in check-ins throughout the Q. Share progress openly, raise awareness.
    • OKRs are graded and shared publicly
      • Admit if you miss
      • Celebrate what you’ve learnt
      • Celebrate if you get 80 percent
    • A low score isn’t always bad news:
      • The initiatives could have failed but provided valuable learnings
      • A KR could have been deprioritised, for something more important
      • You could realise you’re tracking the wrong metric
    • Score OKRs numerically at the end, and mid-quarter too. Have a moment of reckoning, then identify what to focus on and what to drop for the coming six weeks.
    • If you’re distinguishing between stretch and committed OKRs only a score of 1.0 represents achievement for a committed OKR.
  • Confidence Ratings:
    • Calibrate your OKR so you have a 50% confidence of achieving it
    • Report your % confidence weekly as it changes
    • Expect the confidence rating to swing widely from week to week
    • Call the OKRs two weeks from the end of the Q (call them at 10 or 0 and start planning for the next Q) → double down on ones you might be able to hit
    • Advantages: Keeps them top of mind and prompts conversation about risks and issues

Different flavours of OKRs

Exploratory OKRs
· For early stage exploratory work and R&D teams · Define your end state in a quantitiative way to hold yourself accountable · KRs to help you understand if you have something or not · Leaves room for experimentation · Example: · Objective: Market can’t live witihout our tool for drawing pictures in email · KR: Pre-oders at X · KR: 3 B2B deals signed · KR: X beta users
Hypothesis OKRs
· For gathering data you need to prove your on the right track · For validating your straegy · The objective is a success state, the KRs prove if it’s true · If you achieve the KRs you can prove you have product-market fit · The objective is your value proposition and should include your target market · Failing your OKRs tells you enables you to move on and pivot Example: · Context: a brand has pivoted from B2C to B2B · Objective: Customers embrace our product · KR: X units sold · KR: X returns · KR: X number of positive reviews
Milestone OKRs
· For big initiatives you need milestone OKRs along the way · Outcomes you hit to know if your efforts are pointed in the right direction · Reduces risk for multi-quarter projects · Creates room for iteration, you can shift your strategy if something isn’t working. · The objective is open around shipping the thing, so the KRs are what’s important · What would happen if we did this well? What signs would we see? ·
  • If you want your work to have impact, don’t make a to-do-list. Decide what impact you want to have and work toward that, measuring the entire way.
  • OKRs aid organisational learning through reflection
  • The short Friday status email/slack update helps builds cross-team learning. They make it easy to stay up to date, and they highlight work that’s worth having further conversations about

After the numbers come the narrative

  • The scoring is just a guide, not the final assessment.
  • At EOQ (end of the quarter) reflect on the OKRs scores, the business-as-usual and KPIs, team events, new challenges, and opportunities of the past quarter.
    • Keep a running document of
      • Highlights: great results on projects and business-as-usual
      • Groundwork: areas where we made progress, put in a lot of effort, but have not seen results yet
      • Lowlights: areas where we didn’t make progress or new challenges that emerged
  • The score informs the narrative and our understanding but no one remembers scores

Tooling

  • Buying a tool is the last step you want to take, not the first
  • The right way to adopt OKRs is to adopt them in a lightweight fashion first, then experiment with different approaches first.
  • The first quarter you feel you have truly mastered OKRs, then go shopping.
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Deep Summary

Longer form notes, typically condensed, reworded and de-duplicated.

Introductions

  • Ideas are easy, getting that idea to work in reality is the hard. If you need the help of others you’ll need a way to get them to focus on the right thing.
  • OKRs stands for Objectives and Key Results. They’re a way of setting focused goals that are inspiring and measurable
    • The objective is what you want to do → e.g. launch a killer game!)
    • The key results are how you know if you’ve achieved them → e.g. downloads of 25K/day, revenue $50K/day
  • OKRs are great for bringing about change, don’t use them for business as usual work
  • 20,000ft view of the OKR system:
    1. Set inspiring and measurable goals
    2. Make sure you and your team are always making progress toward that desired end state.
    3. Set a cadence that makes sure the group both remembers what they are trying to accomplish and holds each other accountable
  • The Objective is inspiring and motivates those people who don’t dig numbers. The Key Results keep the Objective real.
  • Good objectives inspire you to work on the problem
  • Good key results leave you a little scared you can’t make them
  • You’re time-constraining things that are important but not urgent, thus making them urgent
  • OKRs should help you work out what to do each week. Do work that moves progress forward.
    • A weekly public setting of priorities is powerful
      • Make commitments to each other
      • Celebrate what you’ve achieved at the end of the week
  • The enemy of timely execution is distraction

Lessons from the executioner’s tale

  • Solve the problems you have, not the ones you imagine
  • If somebody new was appointed into your role, what would they do? Now why don’t you just do that?
  • OKRs need to be hard goals. The kind you only have a fifty-fifty shot of achieving
    • It can be upsetting to set a goal that the team knows they cannot achieve
  • If what you’re doing doesn’t move forward any of your OKRs it’s a waste of time
  • OKRs should give you permission to say no and push back on low impact work
  • It’s easy to forget OKRs as every day the opportunity to do something novel and shiny arises
  • You’ll need to use weekly check-ins to keep OKRs top-of-mind
    1. OKRs
      Intentions for the week
      Objective: 1 KR 1 · Confidence % KR 2 · Confidence % KR 3 · Confidence % Objective: 2 KR 1 · Confidence % KR 2 · Confidence % KR 3 · Confidence %
      P1: Task 1 P1: Task 2 P2: Task 3 P2: Task 4 P3: Task 5
      Health Metrics
      Heads up 4 week forecast
      H.Metric 1 H.Metric 2 H.Metric 3
      Item 1 Item 2 Item 3 Item 4
    2. Listing OKRs keeps them top of mind
      • Start the Q with a 50% chance of hitting each KR. Check your confidence as a team each week. Have a conversation about how you’re tracking and why the change?
    3. Listing your weekly intentions, the 5 or so things you’re doing to help OKR progress helps you focus on the right things
    4. Listing health metrics stops you gaming the system (sacrificing something important just to hit your OKRs)
    5. Listing your forecast of important items that you expect to happen over the next 4 weeks helps you and others coordinate a plan of action
  • We value the things we make together, so set OKRs as a team
    • Be mindful of sandbagging or being too ambitious. Calibrate to 50% confidence

The Framework

  • Why We Can’t Get Things Done
    • We haven’t prioritised our goals. If everything is important, nothing is important
    • We haven’t communicated the goal obsessively and comprehensively. When you are tired of saying it, people are starting to hear it
    • We don’t have a plan to get things done. You need a process that helps you make sense of the work you need to do and keeps you on track. You need a system of commitment, celebrations, check-ins to actually make progress
    • We haven’t made time for what matters. Bring the pressure or urgency to important thing
    • We give up instead of iterating. Track efforts and progress throughout the quarter. Else nothing will happen
  • A Path to Success
    • Pick which goal matters most, and not be greedy and unrealistic and try to do everything at once
    • Clarify conceptualizing that goal: What does it look like, when is it accomplished, what exactly do you want?
    • State that clear, conceptual goal in all messaging, over and over, until everyone understands and pursues it.
    • Make a plan that will keep you moving forward, even when you are tired and disheartened.
    • Dedicate time to accomplishing the goal, instead of endlessly hoping for a tomorrow that never comes.
    • Be ready for failure, ready to learn, and ready to try again.

Why OKRs Matter

  • OKRs can work if you are a person or a company.
  • Most struggle with a lack of focus. OKRs are used to create focus around a bold goal.
  • The Objective is a goal for a set period of time (usually a quarter).
    • An objective should be…
      • framed in a single sentence
      • qualitative
      • inspirational (get you out of bed in the morning)
      • time bound
      • actionable by the team independently (no dependencies)
      • is hard but not impossible in the time frame
  • The Key Results are how you know if you’ve achieved your objective at the end
    • Key results should be
      • Quantitative
      • Roughly 3 per objective (min 1, max 5)
      • Balancing measures (e.g. user growth, conversion)
      • Difficult not impossible (5/10 confidence, a 50/50 shot)
    • How to generate?
      • Look for words in the objective sentence that could be quantified
      • Try ‘free listing’ (group, rearrange, de-duplicate) and stack ranking by trustworthiness, ease of measuring, available baselines?
      • Think through implications and list anti-goals
      • Use a reference baseline if you can get one
    • Don’t put down a project, allow yourself room if it fails. If a result is a result you can change your tactics if the numbers don’t move
      • How to convert tasks into KRs
        • Why this project? Why is it important?
        • What will it accomplish / change?
        • How do you know if it’s successful?
        • What numbers will move if it works?
        • How does that tie into the company’s objective?
  • Using OKRs helps you move the team from output thinking to outcome thinking
  • Coach people until they are thinking in outcomes
  • Every KR has a story to tell, and that story should be the objective
  • Prerequisites to implementing OKRs
    • Exec Trust. OKRs don’t help control what your employee’s do, they give them the freedom to do decide how to achieve the outcomes you want.
    • Mission. Needs to be simple and memorable, and act as a guide on how to spend time. The difference between a mission and an objective is time scale (3 months, 3+ years). A mission reduces the surface area, conversations are now about moving the mission and sequencing.
    • Strategy (Knowing what to do). OKRs can only be set if you have a strategy. Strategy is what you choose to do rather than what you are forced to do by external forces. It doesn’t have to be a perfect, but start without one and you’ll risk wasting time and resources.
    • Metrics.The OKR methodology requires the ability to measure critical metrics and then move them. If nothing is instrumented and you don’t know how to do that start there.
      • A good metric is comparative, understandable, is a ratio or a rate, changes behaviour.
    • Psychological safety. Bringing a group of people into a room isn’t enough to make them a team. An effective team requires personal connections and psychological safety. People don’t feel safe unless they feel connected.
      • Start meetings with informal chat. Create expectations about working together.
  • Why a project completion can’t be a KR
    • Projects should live in your pipeline:
    • Project
      Impact
      Effort
      Confidence
      Result
    • Think of a pipeline as a list of exciting ideas that could move your OKR forward
    • image
  • The author suggests Pipelines are a better format than roadmaps to store potential initiatives. Roadmaps have dates, Pipelines support the flexibility of OKRs and use impact/effort/confidence for prioritisation.
    • A pipeline helps you assess which efforts are more effective and which aren’t
    • OKRs are all about setting the goal in order to have more flexibility in accomplishing your goals
  • Many service departments evolve rather than innovate. Engineering, design, marketing … most of the time they are working fine. Operations teams like these don’t need OKRs
  • Health Metrics protect what you’ve already accomplished while you try to grow new metrics via your OKRs.
    • Once in a while a Health Metric can be promoted to an OKR
  • The cadence of check-ins is the magic behind OKRs. You end up repeating your goals and adapting what you do to hit them a lot!
  • Use the check-ins and check-in document as a conversation starter and treat the conversation as a chance to iterate and get feedback.
    • Keep the meeting short it’s OK to say…“Everything is on track, no need to discuss.”
    • Set the tone of the meeting to be helpful and collaborative
  • Have the check-ins on Monday, have a Friday session to celebrate work done
  • Powerful three question survey after your sessions…
    • What should we keep doing?
    • What should we change?
    • What should the management team know?
  • You can improve weekly status emails with OKRs
    • Lead with your team’s OKRs, and how much confidence you have that you are going to hit them this quarter
    • List last week’s prioritised tasks and if they were achieved
    • List next week’s priorities (only three P1s, and a couple of P2s)
    • List any risks or blockers
    • List any notes (anything that doesn’t fit into the above)

On Radical Focus

  • Focus is the difference between excelling and failing
  • OKRs don’t work if you stuff them full of BAU initiatives
  • Do the hard work to decide on a single company objective
    • Why only one? Complexity increases rapidly with each objective. If you have 5 OKRs, and 5 KRs, everyone has to remember 20 priorities
    • Having a single objective helps everyone remember it and act on it
  • Product teams will have their own OKRs
    • Personal OKRs
    • Product Team OKRs ✅
    • Department OKRs
    • Company OKR ✅ (But limit to one per business model per quarter)
  • Don’t try to jam years of work into a single quarter
  • Don’t make a company an OKR set for every department.
    • I’ve seen companies who have a marketing OKR, an engineering OKR, and a product OKR as their “company OKRs.” A company OKR should unite the company toward a single goal. Not every department needs an OKR, but every strategic effort does.
  • Not everyone will lead; some will support. There are always situations where the most important thing to the company doesn’t need everyone’s full attention
    • Don’t let politics distract you from clear, concise OKR sets
  • Spending time on getting the OKR right → is better than losing focus. Be clear. Be simple. Be memorable

Implementing OKRs for the first time

  • Be careful when first introducing OKR cylces. Don’t implement OKRs across the entire company at once, your first OKR cycle is likely to fail, which can cause disillusionment
    • Instead, consider one of these different approaches:
      1. Choose a single high-performing team to go first → then trumpet their success
      2. Start with a single OKR for the entire company.
      3. Start by applying OKRs to projects, to the Objective-Result mindset. Ask:
        • What is the Objective for this project?
        • How will we know if we’ve succeeded?
  • OKRs are simple and hard → like running a marathon
  • Start with a small pilot:
    • Support teams struggle to align to company OKRs → let them use health metrics instead
    • Don’t invest in software until OKRs are running smoothly (your process should suit you, not the tool)
    • You have to be data informed before you adopt OKRs
    • Keep it simple - avoid process bloat
  • Take the smallest possible steps initially
  • A template for introducing OKRs thinking to product teams that think in features:
    • Feature Name
      • Hypothesis
      • Key Result
      • Method
      • Stories
    • This template helps with communication, prioritisation, collaboration and measuring success / learning

How to hold a meeting to set OKRs for the quarter

  • Setting OKRs involves taking a close look at your company and having difficult conversations about the choices that influence the direction
  • Keep the meeting to 10 people or fewer and schedule 4.5 hours
  • Session 1
    2 hours
    Break
    30 minutes
    Session 2
    2 hours (aim to finish early and cancel the second session)
  • In advance:
    • Allow employees not in your 10 to submit the objectives they think the company should focus on (send the mission, strategy and existing OKR as inspiration)
    • Ask Attendees to come with their own thoughts too
  • In the session:
    • Part 1: Select the objective
      • Stick the best and most popular suggestions on the wall
      • Ask those in the room to stick their suggestions up
      • Group and deduplicate
      • Stack rank and narrow down to three options
      • Discuss, debate, stack rank
      • Then pick just 1
    • Part 2: Select the key results
      • Get those in the room to freelist as many metrics as they can think of
      • Affinity map them (group)
      • Stack rank and pick three types of metrics
      • Write the KRs without values first (e.g. X DAU)
      • Calibrate to 50% confidence
    • Part 3: Discuss as a set
      • Are they aspirational and inspirational?
      • Do the KRs make sense are they hard? Can you live
      • Tweak them if needed
  • A 2 week process for setting OKRs
    1. Grade OKRs 2 weeks before the end of the cycle
      • Admit if you miss
      • Celebrate what you’ve learnt
      • Celebrate if you get 80 percent
    2. Give employees 24hrs to submit candidate company objectives
    3. Exec team discusses the objectives proposed. They choose one at an offsite.
      • Get CEO approval (1 hour walk through, and a day for teams to iterate on feedback)
      • Execs introduce the OKR to direct reports… and ask them to set team OKRs
    4. CEO-led all hands meeting to discusses why the OKR is what it is for that quarter, and calls out a few good OKR examples set this time round
      • Speaks to last quarter’s OKRs, pointing out a few key wins
      • Keep the tone positive and determined
    5. Product teams decide on OKRs using the same meeting format as above
      • Do the same with sub-teams
      • Publish 1 week before the end
    6. Have a short revision and review period

OKRs for product teams

  • OKRs are really important for in larger organisations that have cross-functional teams but functional reporting lines
  • They align teams to the objectives of the company and help coordinate work
  • Focus OKRs on the product team level. Any ‘functional OKRs (like responsive responsive design) should be replicated and included in Product Team OKRs

Cascading OKRs at scale

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  • Cascading OKRs doesn’t scale. It only makes sense in small organisations with flat hierarchies
  • Trust your teams to set their own OKRs based on company strategy.
    • If you have a mission, a strategy and an annual OKR they won’t go far wrong
  • Executives can set objectives for Qs beyond the current one, just leave out the KRs for those far in the future (the farther we predict into the future, the less accurate our predictions become). Picking the right metric and calculating the right amount of growth is a lot of work. It’s best done just-in-time.
  • Deliberate building in of strategy absence like this can promote flexibility
  • All self-sufficient teams can set their OKRs. These are autonomous, empowered teams that have all the resources they need to proceed.
    • Manager or peer review can be a helpful challenge.
    • Keep the review process short and iterative
  • Within 48 hours of company OKRs being set the rest of the company should be able to publish their OKRs
  • Allow anyone to critique anyone else’s OKRs)
  • Google didn’t worry about work duplication until you have multiple successful options
  • This is the only way to scale OKRs without dragging your company to a halt every quarter]
    • It requires you to have hired well, set clear outcome-based goals and give up control
  • Depending on product life-cycle and market conditions you might flex your OKR approach
    1. Market Share - Low
      Market Share - High
      Market Growth - High
      Question Mark Explore
      Star Expand
      Market Growth - Low
      Dog Exit
      Cash Cow Exploit
    2. Question Mark → use exploratory / hypothesis OKRs
    3. Star → Use traditional OKRs
    4. Cash cow → Don’t subject cash cows to OKRs
    5. Dog → exit, automate and defund teams instead of using OKRs
  • Service Departments supports product teams
    • Engineering, Design, Legal, Customer service, Marketing, Finance
    • They have just 5-20% of time to commit to improvement projects
    • Don’t use OKRs here (or measure workload for a Q before you do)
    • Use health metrics to maintain a steady state instead

Say to individual OKRs

  • There’s not enough time or focus to do individual OKRs and product team OKRs
  • Just say no
  • Consider using the role canvas instead
Goal (1-3)
Responsibilities
Skills (needed to fulfill responsibilities)
Knowledge (needed to fullfil responsibilities)
Interview Questions
  • How to manage using the role canvas:
    • Before your 121 …
      • review their progress vs the goals?
      • Are they fulfilling their responsibilities?
      • Do they have the needed knowledge and skills to do their job?
    • Discuss fewer things better reserve 50% of time for issues your report brings to you
    • Start with a personal question. Try going for walks instead. Write notes when you’re back.
  • Evaluate and Give Feedback Using the Role Canvas
    • You have got to learn how to give feedback well
    • Give feedback quarterly, even if you still do annual performance reviews
      • You can’t skip prep → do your homework, give fair feedback
      • Review weekly status reports and 121 notes
      • Separate important from trivial
      • Look for patterns of positive and negative behaviours
      • Let people know they’re appreciated
      • If there’s nothing to critique that’s OK, but there should always be something to praise
    • Get in the right frame of mind before the meeting: You are here to help. You work for the team. In service to the team, you are going to help this person be the best teammate they can be. You’re going to celebrate their strengths! You’re going to coach their weaknesses. You’re going to be there for them.
    • Bad form is something to be corrected. They just need help to see it and correct it.
    • You need to listen so you can react authentically and appropriately to the other person.
    • Invite them to come up with solutions to fix the issue
    • At the end of the conversation, ask your report if they have any advice for you
    • Document everything

OKRs and the Annual Review

  • Goals are powerful when they’re inspiring and short-term so they give us permission to focus on the most valuable things
  • OKRs provide radical clarity for everyone in the organisation on what they’re trying to achieve and where to spend their time.
  • Quarterly OKRs make every week in a 12 week quarter matter
  • Make goals as present as email
  • Goals should flow up and down, talented people and great ideas are everywhere
  • Instead of a one-time performance review event, use continuous conversations to coach and calibrate.
  • Grade OKRs and plan for the next cycle when you have 2 weeks left in the current one
  • Two different approaches for managing OKRs
    • Confidence Ratings:
      • Calibrate your OKR so you have a 50% confidence of achieving it
      • Report your % confidence weekly as it changes
      • Expect the confidence rating to swing widely from week to week
      • Call the OKRs two weeks from the end of the Q (call them at 10 or 0 and start planning for the next Q) → double down on ones you might be able to hit
      • Advantages: Keeps them top of mind and prompts conversation about risks and issues
    • Grading approach:
      • 0.0 = Failure
      • 1.0 = Complete success
      • 0.6 - 0.7 = Perceived as good
      • Agree exact thresholds for each grade when setting the KR… to force a calibration conversation between the team and the reviewer
      • OKRs are graded and shared publically
      • 🚧 Avoid setting and forgetting! Put in check-ins throughout the Q.
      • Share progress openly, raise awareness.

Different flavours of OKRs

Exploratory OKRs
· For early stage exploratory work and R&D teams · Define your end state in a quantitiative way to hold yourself accountable · KRs to help you understand if you have something or not · Leaves room for experimentation · Example: · Objective: Market can’t live witihout our tool for drawing pictures in email · KR: Pre-oders at X · KR: 3 B2B deals signed · KR: X beta users
Hypothesis OKRs
· For gathering data you need to prove your on the right track · For validating your straegy · The objective is a success state, the KRs prove if it’s true · If you achieve the KRs you can prove you have product-market fit · The objective is your value proposition and should include your target market · Failing your OKRs tells you enables you to move on and pivot Example: · Context: a brand has pivoted from B2C to B2B · Objective: Customers embrace our product · KR: X units sold · KR: X returns · KR: X number of positive reviews
Milestone OKRs
· For big initiatives you need milestone OKRs along the way · Outcomes you hit to know if your efforts are pointed in the right direction · Reduces risk for multi-quarter projects · Creates room for iteration, you can shift your strategy if something isn’t working. · The objective is open around shipping the thing, so the KRs are what’s important · What would happen if we did this well? What signs would we see? ·
  • If you want your work to have impact, don’t make a to-do-list. Decide what impact you want to have and work toward that, measuring the entire way.

OKRs aid organisational learning through reflection

  • OKRs are designed to create faster organisational learning
    • There are three ways to learn (from John Dewey) instruction, action, and reflection
      • The most important is the least practiced: reflection
        • Instruction is what we think of when we think of teaching, courses or reading. It’s the weakest approach to education by far
        • Action is learning by doing. Practicing, doing projects. Skills from learning by action go deeper, and remain with you longer, than the knowledge you get from instruction.
        • Reflection is to learn from experience, reflecting on what happened and what it means. Writing essays, Q&A, and discussion. In the Lean Start-up methodology, learning is also built in. You build hypotheses that you can then test, and reflect again, to learn in an accelerated way. If you run your OKRs in a quarterly cadence with the weekly check-ins and quarterly grading, you harness the same kind of reflection. Your OKRs set a goal, and everything you do that week to reach that goal is just hypotheses. Friday check-ins are for reflection on what your actions have taught you, giving you a chance to course correct for the upcoming week. Your hypotheses get better, and you make more goals. You also make time for reflection at the end of the quarter. Grading is not about passing or failing, but the honest conversations you have while doing it.
  • Those who do not slow down to learn from their mistakes are doomed to repeat them.
  • In organisations, no one is on only one team. There are often many overlapping teams
  • When not everyone can attend the same Friday bragging sessions, you may wish to add some formal cross-team learning events.
  • The short Friday status email/slack update helps builds cross-team learning. They make it easy to stay up to date, and they highlight work that’s worth having further conversations about

Is it worth scoring your OKRs?

  • If you choose to score OKRs providing numerical scores is critical. Numbers have a way of bringing reality to the forefront.
    • Scoring numerically with improve the quality of you KRs over time. You’ll get better at making sure they’re measurable and unambiguous. The key to which is to ask are we able to measure this at the end of the quarter?
  • A low score isn’t always bad news:
    • The initiatives could have failed but provided valuable learnings
    • A KR could have been deprioritised, for something more important
    • You could realise you’re tracking the wrong metric
  • Once we reckon with reality, we can decide how to proceed
    • What needs to change to make more progress?
    • Was this not accomplished because it was not that important?
    • Does it need more attention?
  • Score OKRs numerically mid-quarter too. Have a moment of reckoning, then identify what to focus on and what to drop for the coming six weeks.
  • Score again at the end of the quarter

Different Practices

  • As much as possible, score actual results
    • OKRs are powerful because execution is driven by outcomes, not by plans or initiatives
    • Being anchored on actual results helps teams become more innovative, pivot, and experiment.
Practices
Confidence
Milestones
Results
What
Is the team on track to deliver the results?
How much of the initiative has been completed?
Update of the results seen so far
Pros
· Can show progress before results are realised
· Can show progress before results are realised
· Clear & transparent. · Incentivises metric driven KRs. · Incentivises checking & getting results before EOQ.
Cons
· Risks delivering the initiative without the results · Risks become a project management process
· Risks delivering the initiative without the results · Risks become a project management process
· Can be demoralising as score doesn’t reflect effort put in
  • How to assess the score at the end of the quarter
    • Scoring throughout the quarter is more important than obtaining the final score.
    • But It’s still critical to do a final score: to reflect, gather learnings, and incorporate learnings into the next cycle.
    • Score 0.7–1.0: Achieved / Green
    • Score 0.31–0.69: Partially achieved / Yellow
    • Score 0–0.3: Not achieved / Red
  • This scoring interpretation incentivises ambitious OKRs by considering anything above 0.7 as achieved and anything above 0.3 as progress.
  • If you’re distinguishing between stretch and committed OKRs only a score of 1.0 represents achievement for a committed OKR.

After the numbers come the narrative

  • The scoring is just a guide, not the final assessment.
  • At EOQ (end of the quarter) reflect on the OKRs scores, the business-as-usual and KPIs, team events, new challenges, and opportunities of the past quarter.
    • Keep a running document of
      • Highlights: great results on projects and business-as-usual
      • Groundwork: areas where we made progress, put in a lot of effort, but have not seen results yet
      • Lowlights: areas where we didn’t make progress or new challenges that emerged
  • The score informs the narrative and our understanding but no one remembers scores

Tooling

  • Buying a tool is the last step you want to take, not the first
  • The right way to adopt OKRs is to adopt them in a lightweight fashion first, then experiment with different approaches first.
  • The first quarter you feel you have truly mastered OKRs, then go shopping.