Every month we gather as a team for the Koan Book Club. This month we read and discussed John Doerr’s new book, Measure What Matters, about the Objective & Key Results (OKR) goal framework. It was great timing given that we just rolled out OKR support in Koan!
What’s an OKR?
Setting great goals is both deceptively hard as well as unexpectedly valuable. Doerr’s passion for the OKR framework is based on its transformational simplicity and power to help teams actually accomplish their goals. The framework consists of two parts:
- Objective: what you’re trying to accomplish.
Objectives are qualitative, and should be inspiring, e.g. “Ship an amazing MVP!”. An Objective can be long-lived, or you might set the deadline to be the end of the year, the next quarter, or even the next month (especially if you’re a startup where things change very quickly). The objective should be hard; the point is to push yourselves as a team or organization. As Doerr writes: “When properly designed and deployed, they’re a vaccine against fuzzy thinking — and fuzzy execution”
- Key Results (KRs): how you’ll measure whether you achieve the objective.
A KR is measurable and verifiable; there’s always a black and white answer whether it’s achieved. When possible, use a metric with a number, e.g. “Grow to 1000 active users in our private beta”. Setting around three KRs for an Objective is a reasonable place to start, and you’ll want to assign a specific person to lead the KR and be accountable to its’ success. Completion of all the key results means you’ve achieved the Objective.
Pretty simple?! Of course, the devil is in the details and a lot of the true power of OKRs comes through using them through the full goal lifecycle: setting the goal by declaring what’s most important and why, to measuring progress, to finally achieving the goal or failing, to learning from the experience and improving next time.
Doerr spends the bulk of the book covering OKR stories from Google, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Bono and many others to highlight the four OKR “superpowers”:
- “Focus and commit to priorities”: setting OKRs forces the conversation of what’s most important and makes it easier to let go of all the things that aren’t.
- “Align and connect for teamwork”: committing to transparency of OKRs across the entire organization means everyone knows the priorities and can self-organize to achieve the goals.
- “Track for accountability”: regularly and transparently measuring progress uncovers problems earlier and drives the team to win.
- “Stretch for amazing”: setting and then achieving or failing at hard OKRs will let you accomplish more than you ever thought possible.
Koan’s Book Club Summary: Measure What Matters is a great resource for teams and leaders and we strongly recommend it. There’s a reason that so many organizations are adopting OKRs — setting hard goals and then achieving them is at the heart of being an amazing team. The stories from Andy Grove, Bill Gates, Google and others about using OKRs are both practical and inspiring.
Some book club members pointed out a few quibbles — first that several of the different stories/examples seemed to contradict one another on some of the finer points of how to use the framework, and secondly that the book could have been a fair amount shorter and covered the same ground.
Of course, once you’re ready to adopt OKRs for your team or organization, we hope you’ll try the Koan product!