OKRs: Implementation and Challenges

As Pusher continues to expand, we have an increasing need to maintain and improve alignment across teams. At the beginning of the year, we decided to adopt the Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) system to put this into practice.

OKRs have a wide following from some of the greatest companies in the tech world. We felt that by setting company and team goals together, we would have a higher level view of the direction we were heading to allow people to make tactical decisions that fit with them.

We’re not going to go into too much detail about what OKRs are here, but more on our process, the challenges we faced and benefits we discovered.

The Case for OKRs

While we’re relatively new to OKRs, it doesn’t mean we’ve been in a state of anarchy for the past years of our existence. Towards the end of 2013 however, we realised there were significant benefits we could achieve by being more systematic in some areas:

  • Alignment. We recognised that the activities of the company, teams and individuals needed to point in the same direction but hadn’t been great at staying committed to it

  • Transparency. Individual teams weren’t always clear in communicating what they were doing to the rest of the company, leaving some uncertain as to what others were doing

  • Purpose. Most crucially, people weren’t really working towards a higher goal, instead thinking mostly in terms of what their own teams needed

With these specific issues in mind to improve, we decided on trying out the OKR system and seeing how well it would work for us.

Getting Buy-In

While most people love the benefits of greater alignment, we’d be lying if we said that everyone was enthusiastic about the proposal from the start.

We’ve fostered a healthy skepticism about company-wide process changes, and a significant number of us were deeply worried about the cultural impact of diluting success into numbers. While OKRs profess a non-judgmental approach, it’s certainly not what it looked like at first.

There were two key things we needed to make clear:

  • No-one will be punished for missing targets
  • No-one will be compensated for hitting targets (which might make them less ambitious)

Failure and experimentation are a critical part of the culture that we’re trying to encourage. By removing both the fear of failure and complacency in success, we hoped to instill ambition when setting our OKRs.

Our OKR Process

Drawing upon/stealing from Asana’s approach, we decided to establish our OKRs over a week-long session of meetings. Individual teams met first, such as Engineering, Marketing and Support/Developer Relations, followed by a final All-Hands meeting where we went through our OKRs together.

To improve transparency, we decided early on that every person in the company should be free (and indeed encouraged) to attend any meeting, even just as an observer.

Aligning with Company Goals

To make sure we were all on the same page, we deviated from the general OKR process by holding an All-Hands meeting first to clarify overall company goals, before splitting into our teams to set OKRs. Going through this process together highlighted a lot of uncertainty, which could’ve derailed efforts to improve alignment altogether.

During individual team meetings, each team-based OKR needed to be justified in relation to company goals. Allowing anyone to sit in at different meetings helped as they were able to lend new perspectives to teams used to their ways. Teams were thus mindful of company goals and set their own in relation to what the company needed.

OKRs Implementation and Challenges

The Results

Once our OKRs were set, we wanted to ensure that we were able to maintain transparency and keep them in mind. Our compiled list of OKRs is easily accessible in Google Drive and visible in-print on the office wall (we should probably get bigger printouts though).

So far, OKRs have noticeably improved inter-team communication and transparency –
we also implemented a survey for team members to provide feedback on the OKR process, allowing for honest critique to be considered for our next round of goal-setting.

Concluding Thoughts

OKRs are incredibly useful, but it took us a while to grasp the benefits of the system and let go of our cautiousness with such a change. Here are some crucial takeaways from our OKR process:

  • Ensure that people understand missing targets is not ‘failure’ to be judged or punished

  • Distinguish between company and team OKRs, and ensure the latter serves the former

  • Modify OKRs to serve your purposes, and don’t be afraid to experiment to find something that works

We really can’t say how well OKRs worked until the end of this quarter. We’re optimistic, though – we’re already much better aligned internally and focused on the bigger goals. No matter what the final outcome is, we’ll always strive to observe our own process, learn from it and improve.

Already using OKRs? Tell us about your experiences and lessons you learned while implementing them!

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