Wrike: 5 years with OKR

The subject of OKR (Objectives and Key Results) is now becoming increasingly popular in business. Many companies are considering introducing this methodology. We at Wrike switched to OKR in 2015, and at that time it was a fairly new and little-studied topic, at least in our country. Now, after several years, it seems useful to talk about our experience with OKR. And about our mistakes that could have been avoided. Evaluate the overall result that we received from the introduction of OKR in the company. Perhaps our experience will be useful for those who are thinking about whether to switch to OKR.

The OKR methodology is based on the principle of management by goals (what result we want to get), which differs significantly from management on the basis of the plan (who, what and when should do). Three key stages can be distinguished in the development of the OKR approach:

  • 1954 – Peter Drucker offers the Management by objectives approach in his book The Practice of Management.
  • 1983 – Andy Grove, co-founder of Intel, develops this idea in his book, High Output Management, ss. 50, 112-113.
  • 1999 – John Doerr, who has worked at Intel since 1974, invests in Google and brings back OKR ideas developed by Intel. Google quickly adapts this approach and, later, begins to promote it outside the company.

Active promotion of OKR to a wide audience, most likely, has been going on since 2012, when Google began to promote OKR, see video. So for a wide range of management this is still a fairly new topic, even if its roots go deep into the 1950s.

In 2015, we at Wrike made the first OKR approach. By that time, quarterly planning already worked for us, but it was organized quite randomly. Quarterly plans often included unnecessarily small details, and there were too many quarterly projects themselves. As a result, the plans themselves often turned out to be inconsistent and unrealistic. To start using OKR as a quarterly planning tool at that time was a logical step, and so we did.

The first OKR implementation was simple, too simple. The message was as follows: the second quarter must be planned according to OKR, period. No sooner said than done. Everyone was free to find out what OKR is. A “good” source of information on this topic was Wikipedia. Predictably, the first approach was not entirely successful. We took the OKR form, but did not understand the essence. Perhaps the process of quarterly planning has become a little more organized, but that’s all. For the next two years, the OKR topic did not develop with us; we were busy with other organizational changes that were more important to us.

In 2016, we actively expanded the development staff, then we introduced Scrum. See articles: “Scrum: Game Rules” and “Thin Scrum is Better than Good Agile.” Scrum gave us the opportunity to scale development, to make it organized, manageable and predictable. Now it is more than obvious that this was the most correct step, and it is good that we did not begin, contrary to all, to develop the OKR theme. It is naive to try to plan a quarter if you cannot plan a job even for the next two weeks. And it was in this situation that we were. The fact that we have established short-term sprint planning ultimately enabled us to meaningfully plan the quarter, and then the year.

In 2017, we restarted OKR. This time we began to seriously and deeply study the questions: “What is OKR?” and “How do OKR work?” I have a good article on this subject: “OKR: How to set goals and achieve them by 70%.” It is curious that the article continues to be read even three years after publication, this rarely happens. In addition, we were worried about the question: “How to combine OKR and Scrum?”. We found the answer to it in the concept that I talked about at one of the Wrike mitaps: “OKR: Strategic Planning on Top of Scrum” (video, slides)

The essence of the concept is to limit the use of OKR only to the strategic level, and Scrum to apply tactically. We put OKR only at the level of all engineering and product units (groups of Scrum-teams under the general management of Sr. Product Manager). We do not use OKR below this level, either Scrum or the management of the heads of development departments works there. This is our specificity. The original OKR approach implies cross-cutting goals, right down to the OKR of a particular developer. But our experience has shown that, together with Scrum, this concept cannot live. We abandoned it, leaving OKR only as high-level planning. In addition, we have got OKR companies for a year. It would seem that this is a key thing, and how could we work on OKR for two years without this? .. But, we could.

There were other difficulties, the overcoming of which took time. And although the situation has now improved in many respects, periodically we continue to encounter them:

  1. It happens that quarterly OKRs appear only a couple of weeks after the beginning of the quarter.
  2. It happens that we finalize plans for the next quarter, not yet evaluating the results of the previous one.
  3. Evaluation of the achievement of Key Results in many cases are subjective.
  4. Setting up joint Objectives between two functional units is difficult for us.
  5. Also, work on joint goals is often given a lower priority than work on goals within the direction and unit. This often leads to the failure of shared goals.
  6. Some managers are not able to correctly formulate goals for OKR. Instead, they continue to cost quarterly plans, passing them off as OKR.

It is worth noting that many of these problems are solved quite simply, due to better organization of work. In order for quarterly OKRs to appear on time, they need to start planning ahead of time. Despite the banality and self-evidence of such a decision, there were times when we missed it. Nevertheless, over time, the process of working on OKR has improved, and the problems listed are largely the exception rather than the rule.

However, to solve the situation with the fact that “some managers do not know how to formulate OKR goals correctly”, a different approach was required. The ability to do something does not come on its own, even if all the steps of the work are organized in a timely manner. Correctly formulating goals for OKR is really difficult, you need a skill. And for its acquisition, both theory and practice are important. The latter is absolutely necessary. In this matter, we were helped by internal training on the formulation of OKR. It included theory, practice, and parsing. As the author of the training, I conducted it in 2017 about 10 times, with various level groups from team managers to senior company managers. In many ways, it has benefited.

Now, in 2020, if we compare Wrike before and after OKR, we can say that the introduction of OKR was definitely useful. And here I want to note not only the positive impact of OKR on the productivity of the company as a whole, but also on the cultural changes that OKR brought for each employee. With OKR, the global goals of the company became clear and accessible to everyone, and the work of each became more meaningful and meaningful. OKR allows you to understand how a separate task, performed by you personally, affects the goals of the company and leads to business development. Of course, not for everyone, but for many it is important.

Nevertheless, if you could now rewind time and change something in the history with OKR, it would definitely be worth doing. Many problems could be avoided, much could be done better, and most importantly, much faster. If we had such an opportunity, then back in 2015 it was worthwhile to thoroughly understand the OKR approach, convey it to all involved employees, plan the implementation of OKR and organize the implementation. But then there was little information, or we did not search hard enough for it. Which is absolutely certain – there was no one to ask for advice. It’s good that now there is such an opportunity.

On April 20, 2020, very soon, the Online Conference “OKR Russia”, Where you can hear experts from many Russian companies that have implemented OKR. My small report will be there: “OKR: How to formulate goals correctly.” Initially, the conference was planned live, but in connection with COVID-19 was transferred to Online. But it’s good, the new format allowed expanding the audience to 500 participants, so now there is still the opportunity to register. Do not miss it if you are interested in the OKR theme.

Dmitry Mamonov,

P.S. In connection with COVID-19, many companies have switched to a remote work format, for the organization of which it is excellent Wrike. In addition, Wrike helps you work efficiently on OKR (see template), combining planning and execution.

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