After witnessing Product and Technology teams struggle with the same non-productive operational habits, Janna Bastow knew there had to be a better way. She founded ProdPad to provide education and promote better product management practices. While she’s passionate about Agile methodology, Janna is also well-versed in other areas of business management including lean strategies, organizational practices, and goal tracking. We’ve both seen the rise of OKRs and Agile being paired for the ultimate strategic impact.
Here’s a snapshot of our conversation!
Matt: The practice of the agile methodology and OKRs have complementary strengths. The two concepts integrate and overlap to help Product and Technology teams achieve better outcomes. Do you feel they can be supportive of one another? Or is it an either/or scenario?
Janna: Totally - OKRs provide a guiding principle and a shared understanding of what success looks like, while agile processes enable the team to work through as many experiments as they can in an iterative manner, giving them a higher likelihood of hitting those OKRs.
M: What do you say to a product manager that says they don’t need a roadmap because they already have OKRs? How do OKRs and roadmaps best work together?
J: A common industry attitude is that roadmaps are out of fashion and OKRs are the new hot thing but truly, they work best together. Think about lean and modern roadmapping and what OKRs stand for….
Objectives: What you need to achieve
Key Results: What good looks like or/ how you’ll measure whether you achieve the objective
These are all well and good as guidelines for what success looks like, but unless you can communicate what actions you plan to take to get there, you’re not going to get very far. This is where Initiatives come in, and are basically the glue between Objectives and Key Results. Unfortunately, OIKRs don’t sound as nice. :)
Affectively, initiatives outline the area of focus framed by your Objectives and Key Results. The roadmap is then a set of directions for how you’re going to get there or the experiments you’re going to run to solve the problem. A roadmap without OKRs is just a list of things to do, and OKRs without a roadmap is just a bunch of goals but no action. Together, they form a cohesive product strategy.
M: At Koan, we strongly believe in the necessity of reflection for goal achievement. It even plays a key role in our user experience. Agile has something similar with the role of retrospectives. How can teams leverage this for continuous improvement?
J: Looking back on the work is just as important as doing the work. Lean is all about Build, Measure, Learn. But if you’re not measuring and learning from the work, you really have no idea if what you’re building is the right thing. I often see people get stuck in the ‘build, build, build’ cycle without pause. This goes for both the product you’re building, as well as the process that the team follows to build the product. Retrospectives help the team look back on what they’ve built and how they’ve built it, and iterate to improve over time.
M: Related, how do you think OKRs can help contribute to building an inclusive culture?
J: They essentially help companies bring autonomy and alignment to all team members; middle management doesn’t need to micromanage everything that needs to be done or assign the method. OKRs establish what success looks like and then the team is empowered to work together to figure out how to solve for success. Using the collective knowledge of the team versus just the boss better enables a broader variety of perspectives to be included and heard.
M: And finally...have to ask at least one COVID question...have you noticed any interesting trends or changes in the Agile approach since the pandemic started and teams are predominantly working remotely now?
Absolutely, the need for clear communication is stronger than ever. While there’s nothing better than being face to face for hashing out a problem; the new norms of working are creating better articulators. In the agile world, the complementary adoption of OKRs have been growing over last year which also pairs nicely with the heightened pressure for companies to perform. For many companies, teams are revisiting strategies established pre-pandemic and also learning new ways to work together….OKRs are a wonderful tool for such an environment.
Janna Bastow is co-founder of ProdPad, software that helps product managers plan and deliver better products. Janna also organizes ProductTank events around the world, including Mind The Product, a global community of product managers. She likes to inspire great product conversations by asking: “What problem are you trying to solve?”