May 22, 2015

Inside Contactually: OKRs Didn't Work for Us

OKRs, or Objectives and Key Results, is the hottest thing in startup culture nowadays, even hotter than in-office Makerbots and kombucha fountains.

Well, I have to be honest -- we decided this quarter to abandon OKRs.

I'll let you read up elsewhere on OKRs (actually, watch Rick Klau's awesome video, it's really all you need), but essentially, it's a framework for assembling and disseminating plans for a quarter. It works at the company, team, and individual level.

What Worked

  • It necessitated actual planning and thought into what the next quarter looked like.

  • Transparency was built in - everyone could see what everyone was going to do.

  • The adherence to SMART criteria for key results made sure that everyone was accurately goaled.

What Didn't

  • Planning was a nightmare. Despite all my pushing, we sometimes never locked down OKRs until a month into a quarter!

  • The dance between company, individual, and team -- we could never figure it out.

  • There is still too much uncertainty when writing OKRs, we would be in a constant revision cycle with each team lead.

  • We experimented with a couple different versions of displaying OKRs, and ended up settling on using a simple Google Sheet. Which became... just another Google Sheet. That no-one looked at.

  • The biggest: we are on a quick iteration cycle with our stage of business, and within weeks, the "locked in" OKRs would be outdate and obsolete.

So we went back to our roots

Early on, a friend of mine suggested a framework called 30-60-90. It's a dead simple framework. One page, three columns, each representing a 30 day (or month) increment from where you're at at the time of writing.

Why it works for us:

  • It gives us the granularity we need, so we can plan what we are doing in each 30 day increment.

  • Reviewing it every month helps update based on what we learned in the past month.

  • We decided to use Google Slides, which is a perfect format for amount of content (keep it short), and presentation use. We can have it rotating up on a TV, and have it up on screen during meetings. This is critical, as it forces each team to report on how they are doing on their goals, and everyone gets face time with the document.

  • We start with a completely new document each month, and start rotating it up on screen. It's clear to see when a team's goals aren't up to date!

  • We also split it up into the different things that we wanted each team to plan around. What's your top goal? What are you going to keep doing? What are you going to differently? What is one completely crazy and different concept you're going to try?

OKRs aren't the problem, though

The OKR framework is an awesome concept in theory, and in practice at many companies. It just didn't work for us. We never believe in following anything dogmatically, instead believing that we should find what works for us, right now. OKRs didn't, oh well, move on, let's try 30-60-90. And that so far is sticking!

Interested in Contactually? Check out our openings!