How we all tackled strategy: OKR implementation

How we all tackled strategy: OKR implementation

Greeting! My name is Serhii Kozhemyakin, I am the executive director of AGIMA. In the last few years, the company has been growing, there are more and more of us. And a year ago, we realized that with such a staff, we need to connect more people to strategic development. This is how the idea to introduce a new motivation system was born: instead of all the familiar KPIs, we began to gradually introduce OKRs. I will tell you what it is and how to work with it.

And for the help with the article, I thank our New Business director Vitaly Doshchenko, with whom we implemented the new system.

Intro. Why we wanted change

Since 2021, AGIMA has almost doubled in number of employees. This jerk happened quickly and almost imperceptibly. The staff increased, but we just worked in the old way. By the end of last year, we finally matured the idea that it was time to change the approach to management.

It was logical. Already in 2022, the number of our managers was 30 people. But at the same time, the number of processes and projects was so large that the head of one department did not know what was happening in another. In general, four were engaged in strategic tasks.

At the same time, we needed to develop the company, carry out reforms and grow further. But in the conditions when everyone was drowning in the operating room, it was difficult to offer something new. When we initiated the changes, they were not popular. When they came to us with initiatives, there was no one to implement them.

We needed a tool that would involve as many people as possible in strategic tasks. That’s why:

  • when many people understand the importance of innovations, they are easier to implement and the team is more aware;

  • when people themselves come up with initiatives, they take on part of the responsibility for the company.

At the same time, we did not want to lose the operating system. The main tasks had to be solved in the usual mode.

How we arrived at OKRs

Until that moment, we worked on goal setting, like many other companies – through KPIs. KPIs for employees and departments were quantitative and qualitative. These metrics influenced bonus motivation and allowed to maintain stable indicators.. But it was difficult to set strategic goals for the entire company and even more so to achieve them with the help of KPIs.

First, the system was flexible. Secondly, it did not fit our horizontal structure. And thirdly, it takes a lot of time to maintain it. At the next quarterly retrospective, we saw that not all strategic initiatives have been implemented. On the same day, we decided to implement OKRs.

OKR (from the English Objectives and Key Results) is a goal-setting system used by giants like Google and Uber.
The system helps align team goals through transparency and bottom-up goal setting.

OKRs differ from KPIs:

  • difficult to reach;

  • lack of influence on financial motivation;

  • collective responsibility.

The idea was risky. None of us tried to work with OKRs. Maybe that’s why we had several facaps later. We had to adapt and adjust the process along the way. But as a result, we got a new goal system for the company.

How we chose our OKR targets

At first, we wanted to take targets that we liked ourselves. But the point of OKRs is that they should be chosen and supported by the team. Plus, the goals must correspond to the general vector of the company’s development. In general, there were many criteria for selection.

Fakap #1. We set tasks based on the overall development strategy. And to make it more convenient to work on them, a list of steps to be taken was written for each task. It didn’t work, by the end of the quarter the task owners were listening to the results. The goal was formally achieved, but it did not bring any benefit. For example, it was necessary to make a presentation, but as a result, no one used this presentation.

We realized that it is worth shifting the focus to profit, therefore a pyramid of metrics is needed. We compiled it, and we took into account those goals, the achievement of which can be measured by metrics from the pyramid. North Star Metric became a turnover because we were already stable with profitability. We divided turnover into two separate metrics:

  • number of clients, approx.;

  • average profit from a client, krb.

As we moved towards the base of the pyramid, we detailed the metrics.

As a result, we got a set of low-level metrics based on it. Among them is the average place in the ratings, the number of meetings with clients at events, Churn-rate, the level of recognition among applicants, etc.

A side effect of implementing the metrics pyramid was to support the chosen goals at all levels of the company so that the initiatives did not fade away. After all, now it was clear to everyone why we strive for this or that goal.

Idea generation and goal selection

Once we decided on metrics, it became clear how to set goals. To make them concrete, we held a strategy session. It consisted of the following stages:

  1. We reflected on the results of the past period, remembered all the barriers and successes that affected the company’s income. For this we used the Miro board. All participants in the session were divided into groups, and each group could leave a victory or defeat sticker. That the card is in the green field means that this victory brought a greater contribution. The lower the red field, the greater the loss that hit the company. It looked something like this:

  1. Next, we formed key conclusions from the retrospective.

  2. Together we looked at the pyramid of metrics to see what components make up income.

  3. Divided into teams and generated project ideas that will help increase revenue in the next period.

  4. Ideas were ranked by voting.

After the strategy session, the most popular ideas became OKRs. Each OKR had to reflect one of the blocks of the metrics pyramid, i.e. be measurable and impact turnover. Also, the OKR could have several side results (Key Results), which are necessary for transparent tracking of progress, but necessarily directly affect the pyramid.

We entered all OKRs into a common document, about 20 pieces turned out. Here are some examples of OKRs we received:

Here, the key metric is the 15 cold offers we want to make to new customers, and the auxiliary metrics are the steps to form the Outreach department and test selling hypotheses.

Here is another example:

The key metric is 3 million rubles of additional PWA turnover on Flutter. And auxiliary metrics are various marketing activities, demo development and launching a wave of cold sales.

Roles were assigned for each OKR:

  • Owner – responsible for OKR;

  • Helpers – team members who participate in the implementation of OKRs.

  • Mentors are task curators, more about them below.

Against each OKR in the same document, each Owner made predictions on how he would get closer to the goal each week:

You can pick up a document template for OKR. At the very bottom there is a field with data for the current week, and the number of OKRs can be increased.

How to make the goals fulfilled

Fakap #2. Although we chose the goals all together, and then tied them to the pyramid of metrics, according to the results of the test quarter, the feasibility of OKRs left much to be desired (~50%). At first, the teams energetically set to work, but then they cooled down. There were several reasons: sometimes the goal lost relevance, sometimes there was not enough time for its implementation, and sometimes difficult stages of implementation were procrastinated.

To deal with this, we have taken the following measures:

1. Introduced regular cadences. Meetings of the work team once a week, at which mini-reports (cheques) are written. Meetings are mandatory, they guarantee rhythmic work on the goal.

2. Chekin. According to the results of each meeting, a mini-report is created in the Telegram channel. We made it open to absolutely all employees, so that everyone could comment on what was happening, and also so that the team would be motivated to write about OKRs in a more human language.

The color on the screenshot from the board indicates the progress towards the goal: green – everything is according to plan, yellow – we are behind by 20%, red – we are behind by more than 20%.

3. Mentors. After some time, it turned out that reports and meetings are not a guarantee that everything will develop smoothly. In some cases, the work was done for a tick, just to fill the progress bar. Mentors have the authority to cancel OKRs that have lost relevance, monitor the completion of plans and weekly checks.

Fakap #3. Initially, we fixed 10 tasks for each mentor. But it turned out to be too much. A lot of time was spent on OKRs, there was almost no time left for efficiency. Therefore, it was necessary to recruit more mentors – so that each one spent no more than 2-3 hours a week. The number of targets on one mentor has been halved to five.

Democracy

We’ve made all the artifacts—the metrics pyramid, the document with all the strategic goals, and the checkin channel—public and available to all employees. In addition, at the weekly joint meeting of the company, we periodically tell about the progress to those who do not read the channel, and offered to speak with their own initiatives.

Such transparency should increase employee awareness — so that more people in the company understand what the strategic goals are and can align their daily work with them. In addition, we promote the opportunity to voluntarily participate in working groups on OKRs to influence company strategy.

Fakap #4. We began to receive many initiatives regarding new products. At first, we willingly hired them, but the initiators quickly lost enthusiasm. They were still engaged in the main tasks, but a new burden fell on them. That is why later we became selective. It is understood that it is necessary to limit the number of goals and compare resources.

However, the very approach to OKR has made the company more open internally. Everyone can monitor the achievement of metrics and goals. This was not our goal in the beginning, but it became a nice side effect. Our company has become more turquoise.

5 lessons we learned from implementing OKRs

The main achievement is that we managed to involve all company managers in working on strategic goals. It is clear that we are facing challenges, the transition to OKRs is not going smoothly. But we can already see that the OKR reach has risen to 62%. Indicators are gradually, but growing. We even made OKRs for implementation OKRs to measure the progress of implementing the new model.

Now we plan to raise the percentage of completion to 80%, do a retrospective at the end of the year, look again at the problem areas, and then extend the OKR system to the product and project teams. But even at this stage we have learned several lessons. You can use them as a checklist:

  • It is worth starting with the pyramid of metrics – so that the goals for OKR are not random and correspond to the company’s strategy.

  • The process of introduction and implementation of OKR should be made as transparent as possible and involve as many people as possible in it – this will divide the responsibility among everyone.

  • It is better to implement regular cadences – OKR goals should not hang in the air, you need to return to them and return the rest. For example, through regular meetings or reports.

  • OKRs work better if each goal is answered by a specific person – a mentor. Without a mentor, it is more tempting to approach OKR goals in a formal way.

  • Not just any initiative should become an OKR goal — you should consider the company’s resources: time and human resources.

We’ll talk more about how our experiment is progressing in future articles. In the meantime, write in the comments how your companies work on strategic goals and what percentage of employees are involved in this process. We will be happy to discuss this topic.

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