Scaling OKRs, Part 7: What to expect as you scale OKRs

The questions you answer change as you scale

Hey folks,

I’ve wrapped up over a month of travel and have seen so many folks in person that I haven’t seen in years. It’s been amazing. Special shout outs go to the folks who produced Product At Heart in Hamburg, Germany and Agile on The Beach in Cornwall, England. Both events were top notch and a ton of fun. I’ve put in some photos below from my time at both.

This week we finish up our series on scaling OKRs. Our focus in this newsletter is the expectations you should have as you begin to scale OKRs. Specifically, we’re going to dive into timelines, knowledge management and org-wide coordination. Let’s dive in.

- Jeff

P.S. Josh Seiden and I are more than halfway through our new book on OKRs. You should join the launch community and come with us on the journey to get this practical book out to folks like you.

Article: Scaling OKRs, Part 7: What to Expect as You Scale OKRs

This series on scaling OKRs has covered the role of strategy, how to identify high-level OKRs for the organization’s goals, starting small as you scale OKRs throughout your org, how to reconcile and approve OKRs with teams and leadership and the OKR cycle. In this final edition of the series, we get into expectations as you scale. Specifically, let’s dive into timelines, knowledge management and org-wide coordination.

Timelines: When should we expect to be “at scale?”

Every time I give a talk or teach a class on OKRs, this question comes up. “How long will it be before we’re fully running on OKRs?” I resist the urge to give them the product management answer for all questions, “It depends.” The truth is it does depend – on domain, industry, culture, process maturity, incentive structures and a thousand other things. However, in my never-ending effort to provide practical answers, I recommend organizations budget at least a year for an OKR implementation and transformation.

A year gives most organizations four full cycles to get the goals into place and work to be planned accordingly. The challenges of OKRs at scale begin to show up and the company has at least 3 subsequent opportunities to figure out ways to overcome these challenges. A year also provides time for some OKRs to be achieved and for others to be adjusted. This is all good practice for an organization that is new to the framework.

Finally, a year will give leadership a clear sense of how good the company is at doing product discovery and then using the insights gained from that discovery work to adjust their planning. In the likely event that the organization isn’t particularly adept at sensing and responding as they work, a year-long cycle provides time for teams to get trained and practice discovery on real projects.

Knowledge management: Staying informed, efficiently

Scaling OKRs means scaling discovery work. That discovery work will drive a continuous, inbound stream of insight at the team level. If you have dozens of teams doing discovery you’ll need to define a way to manage all of that inbound data. Where is it going to live? How will we share it? How will other teams find it? Most importantly, how do we minimize the number of teams duplicating effort on the same issues.

There is no one-size-fits-all answer here. Your org’s culture and tool stack will determine which products you use to capture the learnings and to make it available broadly. The most important thing to instill in your teams is to actually use these tools to share what they’re learning. Encourage them to be proactive with sharing what they’re planning on doing so others can react before the work is done. Instill a discipline that requires each team to search the knowledge management database before running their own experiment. Big orgs with lots of teams generate a lot of insight. In many cases the thing one team is trying to learn has likely been discovered by another.

Org-wide coordination: Ensuring alignment across departments

Leadership roles change with OKRs. One thing that stays the same is “seeing the forest for the trees.” At scale there will be lots of micro-movements happening. Your job as a leader is to ensure they’re all pulling towards the same goal. Do the departmental OKRs still make sense as leading indicators for the organizational strategy? Are the pivots being made 2-3 layers down from the top relevant to where we want the company to go as a whole? Are we learning things consistently across silos that may impact our overall strategy/ These are the questions we need to ask regularly.

If there are discrepancies between strategy and more tactical execution, it’s your job to adjust the teams’ focus. OKRs provide the objective data for that course correction. This isn’t just the highest paid person’s opinion. This is evidence-based course correction. This is organizational agility. This is where knowledge management can empower you. If you choose and use the right toolset, the patterns of the insights generated by the team become clearer allowing you to make better, broader decisions.

There’s tremendous value to your business implementing OKRs. Start small, figure it out at the team level and then scale up. As you do, new challenges emerge. Use the smaller wins to build evidence for bigger and broader deployment of the framework. Set expectations appropriately and, most importantly, adjust the implementation plan as you learn new things about how your teams and company react to this new way of working.

What I've been up to

As mentioned above, I’ve been traveling again. It reminded that I do not want to travel this much any more. I love seeing places and people and old friends but, if nothing else, the pandemic taught me to love being home.

I did speak at the Product At Heart conference in Hamburg, Germany:

And I finally made it to Agile on the Beach in Cornwall, England. Here’s an awesome photo of literally everyone who was there:

Otherwise it’s been more client delivery of trainings, workshops and keynotes and working through the manuscript for the new book. I do hope you can join us in the launch community to see how we’re progressing and to give us some feedback on the choices we’re making for the book.

Watch, Listen, Read

Watch: Platonic on Apple TV+ – I avoided this for a while despite being a big fan of both lead actors. However, so many people recommended it to me that I had to give it a shot. It’s fun, relatively lightweight and it makes me laugh.

Listen: War Ina Babylon by Max Romeo — A reggae classic and must-listen for those of you who have an affinity for the genre (as I do).

Read:  Chip War: The Fight for the World’s Most Critical Technology – I have to admit that I was not looking forward to this month’s book club book choice. I will admit when I’m wrong though and, so far, this book has been fascinating. We’ve talked data as the new oil but without microprocessors there’s no data. In fact, there’s nothing when it comes to how the world runs today. The concentration of chip manufacturing is so small that it poses a global risk pretty much on a daily basis. So, yeah, light reading. :-)

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