Since starting Qulture.Rocks, we've noticed a gigantic opportunity in helping companies implement some system that could serve as a management backbone around which everything in the company could revolve and organize.
On the one hand, we felt a lot of pain ourselves, being a high-growth company that became an order of magnitude larger (in terms of revenues but also headcount) in the past few years. On the other hand, we talked to many customers who described very similar pains to us, and that desperately asked us for help.
At the same time, we witnessed the explosion of OKRs as a management tool, first within tech companies in Silicon Valley, and then, especially after the publication of John Doerr's Measure What Matters, in all sectors and geographies.
OKRs seem to be an amazing tool that solves a bunch of problems for different types of companies, e.g. helping startups execute better, product teams make better prioritization decisions, and also helping large enterprises transform themselves digitally. But overall, there is a lot of confusion around what OKRs really are and how they should work when the books, podcasts, and blog posts meet the hard realities of practical implementation. Popular authors leave many questions unanswered, and even worse, contradict themselves and each other. As an anecdote that we believe perfectly illustrates how hard it is to find proper help in implementing OKRs, has a plethora of content produced by its current or former officers (e.g., this and this) and/or published in their official websites (e.g., this) that sound like:
We thought we could do better, and articulate one methodology that could help all these teams unlock their potential. The result is OKRs, From Mission to Action, an end-to-end framework that can be implemented by teams and whole organizations, that converses with other cornerstone organizational processes (such as budgets, performance reviews, and even compensation decisions) and that can be powered, if you chose so, by our own software products at Qulture.Rocks.
Where does it all come from?
OKRs, From Mission to Action, is an amalgamation of stuff we haven't created ourselves. What we did is we tried to solve all the contradictions and gaps left out by people who wrote about OKRs by looking up the genealogy tree.
For example, when we found holes or contradictions in John Doerr's Measure What Matters, we tried going straight to his source, which was Intel and its MBOs (they called it Intel Management by Objectives or iMBOs). If Intel still left us unsure, we tried going straight to their source, which was Japanese-influenced Total Quality Control.
In most cases, the paths all went back to a common source: Japan. The Japanese, such as Toyota, collated pinches of Joseph M. Juran's and W. Edwards Demmings' on "quality" and developed an algorith of sorts called Hoshin Kanri that turned strategy into day-to-day action. And once we started reading stuff about Hoshin Kanri, we were amazed (I can't stress enough how amazed we were, for real) at what these people had accomplished a long time ago. It gave us most, if not all, the answers we were looking for. Everything made sense.
That doesn't mean it's all Hoshin. It's what we used to fill the gaps. There's still a lot of the Silicon Valley flavor that came afterward.
The diagram below summarizes our major sources of inspiration:
Why "OKRs, From Mission to Action"?
It's a pretty descriptive name for a framework that's centered around OKRs - goals - but that is part of a bigger picture that starts with the company's mission - why it exists - and ends, if you will, with what everybody in the organization does in their day-to-day work.
The keyword is alignment: what we do today has to be ultimately aligned with the organization's reason of existing. But that connection is far from easy to grasp if we don't help people. And the losses of not helping people see the connection are gigantic: people will either be disengaged from their perceived meaningless work or make progress in the wrong direction by lack of guidance. Or, worse, both.
If we look at OKRs, From Mission to Action from a 1000-ft altitude, there are four main components to the framework, which we can see in this image below:
Let's briefly go over these five major components of the Mission to Action OKRs framework.
The mission of an organization must be the foundation of everything it does. We like to think that mission is the purpose of an organization's existence. In Jim Collin's words, it's how an organization would be - hopefully - missed if it ceased to exist.
As with many of the concepts that orbit OKRs, there are many definitions of strategy, and a surprising lack of good ones. We work with the following definition: organizational strategy is the sequence of steps your organization needs to take to achieve its mission, and why this sequence is the best. If you'd like to dive a bit deeper into what strategy is (and examples of Elon Musk's companies' strategies) read this post.
OKRs are a protocol, by which we mean a way to articulate goals that will help us achieve our first strategic milestones. They are composed of objectives (aspects of the business we want to improve, such as "Improve our sales efficiency") and key results (metrics and specific target values that, when reached, will help us prove if the objective was attained, such as getting the "Average sales cycle for all sales teams" metric to 52 days, down from a baseline of 60 days).
OKRs are results, and therefore should not be mistaken with efforts. We do stuff to get results, which are usually measured with output metrics. Getting results usually means getting said metrics to certain levels. Doing stuff, such as delivering reports, launching features, etc., are not results, but efforts that hopefully will lead to certain results.
Projects are large scale endeavors whose intended results won't be measurable in the short term. For example, we may decide that we need to change our CRM so we can have better analytics on our customers' whole journeys, from marketing to customer success, passing through sales development, sales and implementation. That project might take a few quarters and build on a set of capabilities we think are going to be crucial for our strategy. That's a project.
Actions are what we do on our day-to-day. They may be derived either from OKRs - the action plans we plan when we set OKRs and that we think might help us achieve them - or from projects - the stuff we need to get done today so as to unlock other phases of the project at the right time and cost.
As might have become evident by our diagram, actions have to be aligned with projects and OKRs, which have to be aligned with the organizational strategy, which has to be aligned with the mission, since achieving the mission is the ultimate goal.
Our guiding principles
When articulating OKRs, From Mission to Action, we stepped onto a few governing principles that you must know in order to decide if the framework is or isn't the right fit for your company. Let's get to them:
- Have an open mind
- Stand on the shoulders of giants
- Optimize for human growth
- Give context and get participation
- Require the right amount of rigor
- Sistematize and (only) then improvise