David Tuite

Measure What Matters

May 30, 2019

Measure What Matters by John Doerr is a guide to introducing and using Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) in organizations, interspersed with interviews with successful people who have used OKRs to great effect.

The first half of the book is about OKRs themselves. How to craft them and track them over time.

The second half of the book is about Conversations, Feedback and Recognition. It describes a process for performance management which helps people hit their OKRs.

These are notes I made while reading the book and thinking about how to use OKRs with my own teams.

The benefits of OKRs

  1. OKRs help you focus and commit to priorities. They impel leaders to make hard choices.
  2. Because all OKRs are public, it’s easier to connect each contributor and team to the organizations success. Top down support brings meaning to the system while bottom up buy-in brings alignment. It’s essential that the execs are fully and personally bought into the process.
  3. OKRs are driven by data and coordinated with weekly check-ins, grading and judgement-free accountability.
  4. OKRs motivate us to do more than we thought was possible and give us the freedom to fail.

Basic OKR lessons

  1. Less is more. A few highly focused OKRs are better. 3 to 5 at most. The things we say no to are as important as the things we say yes to. Each objective should have at most 3 to 5 Key Results (KRs).
  2. Goals should be set from the bottom up. To promote engagement, teams and individuals should be encouraged to create half of their OKRs. Motivation is corroded when all goals are top-down.
  3. OKRs are generated collaboratively. Collective agreement is essential to motivation.
  4. If the objective no longer seems practical or relevant, KRs can be rewritten or discarded mid-cycle. This permits flexibility. However, hastily abandoned OKRs teach us nothing.
  5. Aspirational OKRs should be uncomfortable. Stretch goal setting is important to create peak performance.
  6. OKRs are a tool rather than a weapon. They are not a legal document to evaluate performance against. OKRs should not be tied to compensation.
  7. It will take a number of attempts to get OKRs right. Be patient.

Making OKRs work

  1. Get buy-in from senior leadership. Nothing motivates people more than a goal that everyone, including execs, are saying is important.
  2. Communicate relentlessly. When you are tired of saying it, people are starting to hear it.
  3. Use objectives and key results as supportive forces. Objectives are inspirational and motivating, KRs are earthbound and metrics-driven. They typically include one of these gauges: revenue, growth, active users, quality, safety, market share or customer engagement.
  4. Keep them fairly short. Quarterly is good. There is no religion here. Tweak it if you want to align with sprint cadence or make them shorter when you are pre-product-market fit.
  5. To prevent hyper-optimization towards a KR at the cost of quality or safety, KRs can be paired. In a receipt reading app, the number of receipts processed per minute should be paired with the average number of errors found.
  6. It’s tempting to agonize over OKRs to try and get them perfect. Remember OKRs can be flexible mid-cycle. They are a work in progress. It’s important to get started.

Continuous performance management

  1. CFRs are the tool for managing people striving towards OKRs. Conversations, Feedback and Recognition. Use them instead of annual performance reviews to achieve more and have happier employees.
  2. OKRs should not be tied to compensation. Doing so will cause employees to sandbag their objectives.
  3. Conversations are standard 1:1 like meetings. Subordinate led. Focused on increasing performance.
  4. Feedback should be continuous, specific and come from a wide variety of sources.
  5. Recognition should also be continuous. Have clear criteria. Come from many sources and be tied to company goals.

David Tuite

Written by David Tuite who is a product manager at Workday and used to be a software engineer. You should follow him on Twitter