(Read 57) Measure What Matters
Release year: 2018
Author: John Doerr
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How do you measure your success as an individual? As a team? As an organization?
How do you know when you’re all done, or when it’s time to stretch and put some extra hours?
How can you tell what the impact will be of not reaching a specific objective?
Has a boss given you conflicting priorities before? Do you often fall in the trap of saying “yes” to your colleagues to the detriment of your own work?
These questions are not easy to answer, and they are all linked to the inconvenient fact that not all work, not even all deliverables, generates (business) value. This truth will often be counterintuitive. I don’t blame those who make the mistake of getting priorities mixed up. I have done the same many times, and still do. Here’s an example: I would be working on some difficult task that requires a high amount of concentration. Feeling burnt out, I’d open a tab and start watching some YouTube to blow off some steam, or maybe even play a video game for a few minutes, thinking that mental health trumps work. However, this comes at a cost: as I consume content, the work is not moving, while the deadline steadily keeps approaching. If I don’t balance things properly, I’ll have to rush my work to deliver in time, generating lower quality output and stressing myself more. Thus, because of my own choices, I end up generating worse output and stressing myself out. This appears like a failure on all fronts.
It doesn’t have to be that way. There is a system called Objectives & Key Results (OKRs) that aims to align our businesses, our teams, and our own lives, towards the outcomes we really want. The system sometimes gets a bad rap, but I think that’s because it is misunderstood. OKRs are really simple in practice. Identify an objective, and write down the key results that will let you know when the objective is reached. Writing down goals makes them real. Identifying the necessary milestones to reach for accomplishing a goal focuses us on working on what matters.
Does this seem too simplistic to you? I can imagine people thinking, “If it were that useful, everyone would do it, right?” And yet, it really is that simple. It’s simply management hygiene.
Here’s one thing Measure What Matters made me realize: For any complex endeavour to succeed, assuming you wish your success to be independent from luck, you need a good strategy and an excellent execution. I like to visualize the relationship between strategy and execution with this picture of an archer aiming for a specific location on a Go board (see figure below). Strategy is your best guess at the path that will lead your team to victory. Execution is your attempt at walking this path. Like the archer aiming for a target on the board, you might flinch and shoot your arrow at the wrong location, impacting the entire business in unpredictable ways.
If your company doesn’t communicate its business objectives to its workers, it’s similar to asking your archers to shoot their targets blindfolded. Conversely, if your company communicates its business objectives to its workers, it’s similar to arming the archers' bows with a laser sight. If I were a betting man, I’d easily give my confidence to a team equipped with laser sight, and who wouldn’t? They are put in an environment that pushes them to reach their target, an almost unfair advantage.
In this metaphor, what OKRs do is give tools to an archer to make it easier to shoot the target. A CEO knows what targets they should hit to ensure the future of their business (strategy). An archer tries to reach those targets. These people must collaborate to ensure the game is won.
The book goes more in detail about committed goals vs aspirational goals, stretch goals, and so forth. But above all, what it did for me is make me question how some businesses got as far as they did without OKRs. After reading about the concept, it just seems like common sense to me.
⭐ Star quotes
- (p. 11) Writing goals down makes them real.
- (p. 24) Stressing output is the key to increasing productivity while looking to increase activity can result in just the opposite.
- (p. 37) “We will achieve a certain Objective as measured by the following Key Results.”
- (p. 38) When you’re really high up in management, you’re teaching.
- (p. 46) Bad companies are destroyed by crisis. Good companies survive them. Great companies are improved by them.
- (p. 50) When you are tired of saying it, people are starting to hear it.
- (p. 54) Don’t allow the perfect be the enemy of the good. Done is better than perfect.
- (p. 55) Completion of all key results must result in attainment of the objective. If not, it’s not an OKR.
- (p. 88) Micromanagement is mismanagement.
- (p. 114) If you share a goal that nobody sees [due to an overly complex communication system], is the system truly transparent?
- (p. 119) Whenever a key result or objective becomes obsolete or impractical, feel free to end it midstream. There’s no need to hold stubbornly to an outdated projection – strike it from your list and move on. Our goals are servants to our purpose, not the other way around.
- (p. 119) When an objective gets dropped before the end of the OKR interval, it’s important to notify everyone who depends on it.
- (p. 122) In evaluating OKR performance, objective data is enhanced by the goal setter’s thoughtful, subjective judgement. For any given goal in a given quarter, there may be extenuating circumstances. A weak showing by the numbers might hide a strong effort, a strong one could be artificially inflated.
- (p. 124) Where OKR scores pinpoint what went right or wrong in the work, and how the team might improve, self-assessments drive a superior goal-setting process for the next quarter. There are no judgements, only learning.
- (p. 142) The reward of having met challenging goals is that you get to play again.
- (p. 159) Engineers struggle with goal setting in two big ways: they hate crossing off anything they think is a good idea, and they habitually underestimate how long it takes to get things done.
- (p. 175) Conversations, Feedback and Recognition give OKRs their human voice.
- (p. 185) Start rating your meetings and meeting organizers.
- (p. 211) When you know your company objectives like you know your last name, it’s very calming.
- (p. 244) If everything’s at green, you failed. You needed bigger ambitions.