A tool to help product managers accomplish more
Product improvements and product innovation too frequently suffer from accomplishing less than we want. The urgent is often in the way of the important. If you want to get the important work done more of the time, you’ll find OKRs (objectives and key results) helpful. Also, if you’ve tried OKRs and didn’t like them, this discussion will help you too.
We need an OKR expert to learn more about this, and joining us is the woman who wrote the bestselling book, Radical Focus, that tackles the use of OKRs and startup culture with an eye to getting the right things done. Her name is Christina Wodtke, and she is a lecturer at Stanford, sharing insight into human innovation and high-performing teams. She has designed products with LinkedIn, Zynga, Yahoo! and many others, as well as founding three startups, and the online design magazine Boxes and Arrows.
Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers
[6:13] Why are OKRs (objectives and key results) important?
OKRs are powerful for accomplishing important things that aren’t otherwise getting done. If a task is important and urgent, it always gets done, but sometimes the things that are unimportant but urgent get in the way of the things that are important but not urgent. OKRs give those important strategic projects a sense of urgency, scheduling them and helping you get them done.
OKRs’ cadence causes you to touch them every Monday, when you commit activities toward your OKRs, and every Friday, when you celebrate progress. OKRs allow people to meet their goals.
[13:27] What are the steps for putting OKRs into practice in a product team?
Start using OKRs with a high-performing product team. Your objective should be inspiring. The key results can be hard to choose. Think about results that suggest you’re keeping your customers satisfied and committed to staying with you. For example, measure leads converted, renewals, or word-of-mouth referrals. Choose good, strong, honest signals of success. Don’t choose key results that you can make happen by doing them. Choose results that are in response to the activities you’re doing. At first you won’t know how many results to use; make a guess.
Every Monday, everyone commits to doing something toward the OKR. In a healthy company with psychological safety, team members can ask each other, “Why are you doing that?” or “Do you really think that’s going to work?” On Fridays, celebrate progress. This is critical. Everyone shares what they’ve done during the week and how they’re progressing toward the OKRs.
[19:59] What is an example of using OKRs?
Suppose we have a small B2B company, and we want to grow, but we’re getting distracted from the real problems. We think we need a CRM, but before getting a CRM, the CEO says the OKRs for the next quarter should be around retaining current customer and turning leads into customers. Out of those, which is most important? Turning leads into customers is great, but if we can’t keep them, let’s focus on retention first. The CEO states the objective, using language of optimism and aspiration, “Our current customers feel so supported by our services and software that they eagerly sign up.”
Next we figure out the key results, e.g., emails from customers saying thank you for the software. Next quarter we will choose new key results. Before trying something big and expensive like a CRM, we could start with a simpler solution like a single spreadsheet. Keep in mind that OKRs don’t do everything. They’re just a piece of the larger system of modern product management.
[27:59] What’s the cadence of OKRs?
The cadence depends on the needs of the company. If you’ve found product market fit and are looking to accelerate growth, you’ll have a different pace than if you’re looking to move into a new market. If you’re moving into a new market, run lots of experiments to test hypotheses. Choose key results that are strong, early indicators that you might have hit product market fit, then keep running lots of tests.
At the end of the quarter, we have a formal closing of the quarter. Focus on learning. Have a retrospective, see patterns, and note the hypotheses that moved your numbers. Talk about what kept you from meeting your goals. Then you can repeat or adjust your OKRs for the next quarter.
[32:34] What is the timeframe for OKRs?
I think that at large companies all missions are five-year objectives. For these companies, have annual OKRs, supported by quarterly objectives. For startups or intrepreneurs who want to move faster, use quarters (three months) for your OKRs. Six weeks is the smallest timeframe I would run an OKR in.
[35:33] Would you like to share any other tips for implementing OKRs?
A common mistake is setting up the OKRs and not following up with the weekly meetings. A bad or quickly written OKR that you have weekly meetings about will be significantly more successful than a perfect OKR that you never follow up on.
Too many people use OKRs as product management. Get your product tasks in a pipeline. OKRs aren’t the magic silver bullet that will fix everything, but they are inspiring and motivating to get teams on the same page.
Action Guide: Put the information Christina shared into action now. Click here to download the Action Guide.
- Learn more about Christina and OKRs at cwodtke.com or eleganthack.com
- Check out Radical Focus and The Team that Managed Itself on Amazon
“When you are tired of saying it, people are just starting to hear it.” – attributed to Jeff Weiner
Thank you for being an Everyday Innovator and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and developers. If you enjoyed the discussion, help out a fellow product manager by sharing it using the social media buttons you see below.