"As a remote team, Koan is a valuable tool that helps us work together in tandem to define clear, cascading objectives, and stay up-to-date on how we're performing against those objectives."
VP of Product at ALG
Founded in 2014, African Leadership Group (ALG) is an ecosystem of institutions which share a common vision: transforming Africa by developing and connecting a new generation of ethical, entrepreneurial leaders. The company uses a personalized project-based approach to create agile, lifelong learners who can adapt to a changing world.
As a leader of the product and design teams, Seth Trudeau, VP of Product at ALG, was searching for a way to make sure that all of their initiatives were strategically aligned to the corporate vision.
From the onset, ALG has been an OKR-driven organization, with early objectives focused on building a transformative product ecosystem, developing internal processes, and increasing collaboration with other teams.
Yet, as they worked through OKR cycles, they discovered several issues that derailed the team from being truly successful with OKRs across the company. The first issue was related to education and training; most team members, including several senior leaders, didn't understand the OKR methodology, how to set proper objectives and key results, or how to monitor progress. In fact, many product managers were defining objectives independently, rather than incorporating the entire team into the goal creation process, causing everything to feel ad hoc and disconnected. The second issue stemmed from using a complex platform to manage OKRs, which had a disjointed user experience and ultimately caused team members to stop using the tool.
“Our OKRs were at a sufficient level of complexity and managing them in a spreadsheet wasn't going to cut it,” says Trudeau. “We knew that beyond defining our OKRS, we really wanted to create visibility and accountability around tracking them.”
Rapid growth across the company was always a priority for ALG. As a Product Management group, they were launching several new products as well as entering multiple new markets with their existing products. This growth spurred an initiative to adopt a software-based tool to manage these strategic initiatives.
Trudeau had experience using OKRs in previous roles and was knowledgeable about how successful and effective OKRs can be. When looking for a solution to manage their objectives, a key priority was to have the ability to define both high impact qualitative descriptors as well as meaningful quantitative metrics. The Product Management team was looking for a solution that could adapt to unique planning cycles and also support frequent goal-reporting to both small and large groups. These were necessary features because of the team's one-month sprint planning cycles, as well as their internal routine consisting of both team-wide and organization-wide progress reports on goals.
ALG started using Koan in February 2019, which immediately proved to be a tool that the entire team enjoyed using. The OKR and status tool helped the team to achieve alignment and focus, ultimately increasing visibility into organizational priorities and facilitating open communication and collaboration.
“One of the best things that Koan does is ask people to define priorities for the week ahead in the Weekly Reflections. It prevents people from having a laundry list of tasks and makes sure that they have intentionally prioritized tasks based on what drives outcomes,” says Trudeau.
By using Koan, the ALG team has already seen positive results. Over time, the team became more familiar with the process and the quality of the OKRs they are writing each cycle has improved. They are also seeing stronger engagement and collaboration across the organization, with approximately a 90% Reflection completion rate.
“Koan is essentially hard-wired into our team’s DNA. Every week, we submit our Reflections, update our OKR metrics, and report back on progress,” says Trudeau.
As a leadership development university, ALG is focused on finding solutions to the world’s biggest challenges. Using a software tool like Koan to manage OKRs has helped ALG stay focused on solving these challenges. Since adopting Koan, ALG has tripled in headcount and has expanded from one to five markets, with plans to double market reach in the next 12 months. In addition, despite the pandemic, revenue is expected to triple or quadruple in 2020.
ALG has always operated as a remote-focused team. Even before the pandemic, the teams were spread across six different countries, so Koan has been used to support a distributed team from the very beginning. Once the pandemic hit, leadership decided that ALG would be a permanently distributed team. All commercial office space has been relinquished and all employees are encouraged to work from wherever they choose. Consequently, from this decision, ALG’s workforce is now spread across 14 different countries spanning 11 different time zones.
With employees working across the globe, Koan enables the ability to both minimize the amount of time spent in team meetings, as well as to make the most of the synchronous meeting time together. Rather than using live meetings for status updates or surfacing challenges, team members discuss problems and major decisions.
ALG recently underwent a massive organizational redesign, moving to a more cross-functional structure. In establishing a new way of working, ALG has spun out a separate company called The Room, which is a platform that brings together the world’s most mission-driven, passionate individuals to come together to co-create the future. Seth and his team are spearheading The Room, and continuing to use Koan across the entire organization.
“As a remote team, Koan is a valuable tool that helps us work together in tandem to define clear, cascading objectives, and stay up-to-date on how we're performing against those objectives,” says Trudeau.
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