OpenTable just wrapped up Q2 goal planning. Every time we go through one of these, I refine my approach to goal setting, and wanted to codify some of my thoughts.
I’m a big believer in OKRs (aka “Objectives and Key Results”). They’re originally from High Output Management by Andy Grove, and were largely popularized in the tech sector by Google.
Writing a good OKR is hard
My standard rules:
- The objective should be aspirational, and be something that can get people excited. For search, for example, one of my objectives is “make deploys, indexing, ranking, and autocomplete crazy fast and stable.”
- For teams, I think many good objectives can stay the same quarter over quarter, serving as the core mission of the team.
- Measurable (numbers, not “crazy fast”).
- A spectrum — not boolean (e.g., “launch X” is just succeed/fail), because you want to be able to measure progress over the course of the quarter.
- Aggressive. Google’s standard is to hit a 0.6 average in grading OKRs. People who are new to OKRs are often uncomfortable with this, but managers need to push hard on this.
- Intelligible. Key results are a valuable communication tool to engineering/design teams and to counterparts throughout the rest of the company. People need to be able to understand what you’re measuring.
- Time boxed. We do quarterly planning, so our goals are typically time boxed to the quarter. For some big new launches (that might take more than a quarter of work) I’m okay with doing goals a quarter in advance, but this should be rare.
- Key initiatives are not part of classical OKRs
- For product managers who are working with engineering teams on a day-to-day basis, I think it’s also important to highlight big projects, because these big projects are a good opportunity to align with other teams and highlight complicated/impressive projects the team aims to work on.
- Initiatives are the PM or team’s hypothesis on what they’re going to do to meet the key results they’ve outlined. It’s really critical that key initiatives are hypothesis though — teams succeed or fail based on their key results, not on whether they deliver specific products.
OpenTable does OKRs by product development team, led by product managers. This means that my team has their own set of OKRs, but I think we’re missing out on OKRs that aren’t always tied to the business and on OKRs for other functions (like individual engineers).
Communication of the OKRs is just as important as writing them
We generally set aside a week at the end of every quarter for a series of death meetings to review every single team’s set of goals. It is striking how variable the approaches are for different teams.
I think the best goal meetings:
- Has a POV, and is making the case for why the work of this team matters in a macro sense
- Tell a story about what was accomplished, what will be accomplished, and how they’re related to the team’s core mission — and makes the delivering team the hero.
- Explains some of the hardest problems the team has faced and is trying to solve in simple terms. I work with our data science team, and it’s particularly important for them — even a highly technical CTO won’t know what ensembles and mixture of experts are in the context of our business.
Finally, I tried something new this planning process which I’ll be sure to include in the future. A demo. In retrospect, this seems obvious — every good planning or mid-sprint check-in should have demos, so why shouldn’t an end-of-quarter? — but I think it’s easy to get too focused on the stats. Product companies should show how they’re building products.