Defining OKRs at Company Offsite
This year at our company offsite we spent most of our time trying to implement the OKR system developed by Google – now a hot topic among productivity advocates. I won’t bore you with the abstract pros and cons of OKRs (you can read up on those from a number of different sources); instead, I want to focus on our personal experience with trying to actually use them in the real world.
If at First You Don’t Succeed…
This isn’t my first go-round with OKRs. We tried to implement them at our last company offsite as well. We failed – well, sort of. Much like New Years resolutions, we stuck to using our OKRs for the first couple weeks with varying degrees of commitment from the team until they finally fell by the wayside around the middle of Q1. We did achieve nearly all of our high-level company goals for the year though. Does this mean OKRs are just another overhyped productivity stunt? I don’t think so.
Last year we had a very small, tight-knit team (there were only 6 of us at the offsite) and, in retrospect, I’m not sure we really needed anything as official as an OKR plan to keep us on track. Not only that, but the stage of the company meant that we needed to be extremely mobile from a directional standpoint. When you’re still in the exploratory phase of starting a company you need to be able to react very quickly to feedback from your user base and the market. This mobility doesn’t always lend itself to sitting down with everyone and spending the time to draw up a new set of OKRs.
…Try, Try Again
This year the team is bigger, and the company more mature, making the need for written objectives and performance management that much greater (and more difficult). As the team grows it is becoming increasingly more important that we find a way to effectively manage what everyone is working on. With 18 people it’s no longer feasible for me to just walk around and ask people how they’re getting on. I did a lot of research before the offsite, and I honestly felt that OKRs would be the best way for us to reach our goals. So I decided to try again…
To their credit, the team jumped into the spirit of defining OKRs with a good deal of enthusiasm. We split the team into roughly three departments (User Success, Sales & Marketing and Development), with a few people who float between the groups. Each department was then tasked with defining their own objectives and key results which would contribute to achieving the high-level company goals.
And they seemed to find it pretty useful as well…
“Analysing OKRs has helped me focus my work towards measurable outcomes that will help the company as a whole, and i can easily see how my day-to-day tasks contribute to our overall goals” – Chris, Developer
“Initially, it was hard to get away from brainstorming at a task-level, but once we got the hang of it I think getting the big picture stuff right really helped us to plan things in a more structured and purposeful way.” – Jen, Marketing Associate
There were a one or two hangups of course. Most of the team had never had to write OKRs before and there was a certain learning curve to contend with (which took up some time). Also, as with anytime you get a bunch of people (we’re 18 now) talking about the same subject, meetings tend to drag on a bit and people start to get fatigued and tune out. I think next time we would benefit from a longer offsite and not trying to cram too much into one day.
We Are an Effective Team!
Overall I was very impressed with the way the teams dealt with their OKRs. Each department came back with a pretty comprehensive list of Objectives and Key Results which, if we can accomplish all of them – and I think we can, should set us on the right path for achieving our company goals.
It remains to be seen of course if we will be any better at sticking to our OKRs this time around. We’ve certainly tried to make it as easy as possible by utilizing tools like Asana for task tracking and a KANBAN board so that the progress of bigger projects are visible to the entire organization.
I’ll keep you updated on our progress!
And Now for a Really Bad Joke…
Q: How do pirates measure productivity?
….told you it was bad.