Good OKRs restate success as improvement
The #1 issue I see with product managers new to OKRs is the challenge moving from activity and output to value and outcome goals.
Unlocking the true power of Objectives and Key Results depends on setting value-based goals because it’s the only way to focus on what really matters, and measure whether teams are on the right track. Product managers who learn how to make this shift can expect exponential improvement in working on the right things at the right time, and abandoning work that doesn’t deliver far sooner, before the “sunk cost” fallacy takes over. Unfortunately, the engrained habits of years of activity focus and project thinking continues to lead product managers and their teams astray.
OKRs are always focused on measures of improvement
Success can’t be measured by simply “doing” things — it can only be measured by improving something.
This is crucial because
- Reason #1 — We want to move from a tasks-focused to a results-focused culture
- Reason #2 — If all tasks are accomplished, and nothing improves, that is not success
- Reason #3 — All action plans are just a series of hypotheses
We’ll lay out the forces behind these reasons, and a way to address each:
#1: Moving from task- to results-focused culture
No organization can survive with an army of mindless automatons.
OKRs help management to shift from holding teams accountable for delivering “stuff” to always re-centering on the results. Everyone on the team should be able to state exactly why they’re engaged in the effort, what success looks like, and how it’s measured. The Product role, as the chief keeper of the “why” and “value” perspectives, has the opportunity to lead with articulate, passionate advocacy and evangelism across their team.
A big part of Product leadership is facilitating thoughtful conversations with management when they push to keep “resources” busy with “tasks,” and want to measure “productivity.”
Returning to a measurable definition of success aligned to the Key Results is one way to focus the conversation on what matters.
#2: Redefining what “Done” and “Success” look like
Many teams ship stakeholder-requested features to great fanfare and celebration.
Days, weeks and months later, no one goes back to measure whether that feature has actually delivered the anticipated results. It won’t take too many discovery and delivery cycles sunk into work that doesn’t deliver before an organization is out of business, and by then it’s simply too late. Product can avoid this by keeping focus on the feature’s mutually-agreed upon success criteria after launch.
Both quantitative (data & surveys) and qualitative (live interviews) approaches can be employed to track progress against the real meaning of success.
#3: Accepting that everything is just a hypothesis & how to de-risk
Product continuing to work with these concepts opens the door to the necessary system, process, and mindset shifts to exponentially increase OKR effectiveness.
Moving from task- to results-focus, and redefining what “Done” and “Success” open the door to management and teams alike embracing the humility to accept that everything they’re working on is really a hypothesis.
The way forward involves Thinking Big, Starting Small, and Learning Fast, continuously aligning progress against OKRs at a regular cadence and pivoting as necessary.