We’re going to be entering our quarterly planning cycle at Box soon, which always brings up the topic of output vs. outcomes (note: the angst around goal-setting frameworks is not unique to Box by any means). One of the better books I’ve read on the topic is Radical Focus, which is basically a parable about implementing OKRs at a startup.
Ahem, yes, you read that correctly. I studied a book on OKRs.
Let me start by saying I'm not generally what you'd characterize as a "process person"; I tend to focus on getting things done and worry about improving the mechanics after, time permitting and team willing. But, I read (a lot) and always give a recommendation a chance (Radical Focus was cited by a former teammate who was ex-Zynga).
If there were ever a "page turner" of business planning books, this is it. It's in the same vein as Patrick Lencioni's management tales. I got a good bit out of it, specifically in terms of addressing myths around planning, and it's probably a book I'll return to every so often, much like Rework or Linchpin.
Also, the template / quadrant for tracking a product / initiative is very crisp and concise in my view, and something I leverage professionally (and sometimes personally)
At a high-level, the nuggets of wisdom I gleamed from the book can be summed up as a series of myths and corresponding solutions.
Myth #1: planning is a distraction from "real work"
potentially - when planning is done just for the sake of planning, yes, but, if you step back and look at it as a planning -> execution -> learning loop, you'll recognize the need for a shared method across your org to align and scale
operationalizing how you work and how you work across organizational boundaries can be your secret sauce and allow you to do more "real work"
Myth #2: quarterly planning is the wrong cadence
occasionally - there is ideal cadence for your group, it could be weekly or monthly or quarterly - it's something to test out and iterate on
the frequency is less importance than the regular rhythm - that's what completes the loop from just occasional / forced planning to improving execution through regular learning
Myth #3: OKRs don't make sense for my team
possibly - your team might be a functional reporting structure, in which case you’re thinking about the wrong "team" - focus on the products / initiatives
every individual spends their time across n groups trying to solve various customer / business problems - OKRs should be written across those horizontal / virtual teams and not around organizational hierarchy
Myth #4: our metric is status quo
definitely - maintaining SLAs around certain core product / business / operational makes absolute sense and should be table stakes
but KRs tied to ambitious objectives are different from health metrics that you don't want to adversely impact while going after systemic issues
Myth #5: our roadmap is our OKRs
correspondingly - the backlog of items you're shipping to move the KR needles tied to your objective are part of the package, but they serve a distinct purpose in terms of priorities, staffing, and momentum
and as you can see from the template, it's not onerous to track the roadmap, OKRs, and metrics in one clean snapshot
Myth #6: it's strange to be judged on progress of big bets
definitely - it's stranger still to be view a learning loop as a judgement tool; best to focus on the opportunity to get better at every check-in - better at prioritizing, better at hypothesizing, better at estimating, etc
adding in confidence % in addition to progress % and talking regularly about whether that's increasing or decreasing (and why) helps unblock and align
Myth #7: I'm hitting many OKRs with my roadmap
exactly - you should map your backlog to different objectives and some roadmap items could conceivably move the needle on multiple fronts (and thus should be prioritized higher)
the quadrant above isn't a template for all the work the team is doing; it's a snapshot per objective, so you should have multiple instances as needed across teams / products / initiatives / groups / councils / guilds / individuals
Would love to hear from readers (use the comments below) on their attempts at implementing OKRs, other goal-setting frameworks, etc
further reading / references
if you’re curious about the history of the OKRs framework, it traces back to Peter Drucker’s Management by Objectives, which Andy Grove translated into OKRs at Intel, where John Doerr picked it up and disseminated via his VC portfolio
“GSD & then improve mechanics” is a variant of this essay from Paul Graham
for more on “output vs outcomes”, check out this post on team mission scopes
NCTs (Narratives, Commitments, Tasks) are an alternative to OKRs, and you can read more about them here
childish drawing / interpretation