notes to aid in the storytelling. Think of this deck as a split between a blog post and a typical deck. Additionally, the original talk included several interactive moments that are not included in these slides.
leads the product organization in Europe, working with hundreds of global customers building digital products. Prior to Productboard he built digital products and teams at Amazon, AT&T, Capital One, and Microsoft. Productboard's mission is to enable companies around the world to build products that matter. Productboard achieves this mission through building its customer-centric product management platform that enables businesses to capture customer feedback, prioritize what to build next, and align the organization around the strategy. About Stephen and Productboard
the secrets of Silicon Valley, hoping to unlock the growth and product/market fit achieved by companies such as Amazon, Google, Netflix, or Meta. Most of these conversations connect to how these organizations set and scale strategy with goal- setting frameworks such as OKRs. This talk summarizes the learnings from organizations where OKRs work, where they don't work, and how Productboard sets goals.
best book written on OKRs. Most of the advice you will find via searches on Google or Youtube will repeat the same "best practices" that largely miss the point of OKRs. If you ignore everything from this talk, please just read this book. It's clear when I meet with companies implementing OKRs that no one has read the book. It is crucial for at least the leadership team to read this together.
tens of articles and watched around ten videos on best practices and where companies fail with OKRs. After an hour or two in the content, I realized that many of these people (not all, but most) are repeating the same bullet points and I became skeptical that these authors and speakers actually implemented and worked in environments using OKRs. To save you time, here are some of the key takeaways from the content.
many goals, setting and forgetting their OKRs (I admit, this is a real problem I also see), set unrealistic goals, set goals that are unmeasurable and the company cannot determine if the objective is complete, and lastly there is no overarching strategy in which the objective contribute to.
most of the advice is generic, from the point of view of someone that has not implemented OKRs in a digital business. The content heavily describes the what and how of writing, obsessing on writing. This is important, but for leaders, operationalizing goal setting and goal-oriented culture is more important. And lastly, as mentioned before, it's clear that many of the authors are not experts and are likely not from businesses in your industry, diminishing the value of the advice.
and product managers at companies around the world, I noticed five common patterns within these organizations. The first is the presence of bonus or side projects that exist in additional to the OKRs. This behavior diminishes the purpose of OKRs to provide focus in an organization. Next, many leaders use OKRs as a checklist of what to get done, rather than setting clear goals and measures of success. A common complaint is misalignment around the OKRs, but when I dig in deeper, I noticed that it's actually misalignment on the strategy or priorities, which I will touch on later. And finally, many PMs complain about marketing-speak in the Objectives, leaving them with vague guidance that does not help them make decisions or tradeoffs. Before this talk, I asked PMs in the Twitter Product community where OKRs worked or didn't in their organization, and many said they did not work. The cause of this is not understanding why goal setting is important in the first place. I'll dig into this later.
customers, I came to a few conclusions. The start, OKRs are likely the wrong tool before the company finds Product/Market Fit. This is due to the rapid speed of iteration and change on a weekly basis. The most important learning is that the most successful companies have a culture of setting, reviewing, and celebrating goals. You could ask them to use a different framework other than OKRs and they would be just as successful. Achieving clear goals is in their DNA. Next, and this is controversial, but OKRs are not for every product or every team. OKRs assume a large market with great distribution and user volume. Niche products may struggle compared to apps like Youtube. But more importantly, OKRs empower exceptional talent. The truth is, employees early in their career or new to the business context will need much more situational guidance. If you choose to use OKRs, supplement Objectives with additional information connecting to the mission, vision, and business context.
strategy, principles, or vision. It's incredibly important to clarify these before getting into the room to debate objectives. I will touch on prioritization later and how important it is to align first on the top problems the business must solve. And lastly, the most important learning...
It's incredibly difficult to write 140 characters that are clear and inspirational for all levels within a company. It will take training, editing, and likely 3-4 OKR cycles to build the muscle of writing great objectives.
attributed author actually said this. But I do believe this is the worst quote repeated within the walls of business. Most product managers know to start with the problem. But for businesses to properly align, you must bring the problems to the table.
goals solve: growth, customer retention, or margins. From startups to the Fortune 100, most companies are focused on growth, measured by revenue. As those companies grow, they enter new markets and address new customer segments. In doing this, they will lose their initial Product/Market Fit and likely need to work on product improvements that minimize customer churn. And lastly, the best companies improve their margins. From software to hardware, there are inherent costs to development, market, and maintain products. Now in 2022 the macro-economic situation puts greater pressure on companies to improve their margins, some taking extreme measures with layoffs, hiring freezes, or shuttering experimental products to double down on what is work. These are abstract though, let me ground this in the most important business problems I face today at Productboard that influence the product goals and roadmaps.
abstracted to hide private business information, are top three problems to solve are Growth, Retention, and Retention. This means if we had to focus, the top problem to solve is growth. For Productboard, growth comes from expanding into new Jobs To Be Done (JTBD) and Personas. This is the specific lens that the product teams use for expanding Product/Market Fit. On the retention front, we focus on delivering better value for current customers, and we split between the new segments we are adding, and the existing customer base that got us here today.
I believe this is the best way to align leaders with teams, no matter the goal framework. It's four steps: 1. Set Strategy – leaders set strategy and gather feedback from the teams 2. Develop Plans – teams develop plans and share early drafts with leaders 3. Integrate Feedback – teams integrate feedback from leaders, making tradeoffs or cutting ideas 4. Gather Buy-in – final plans get buy-in from leadership before proceeding This motion, when drawn on a timeline looks similar to a W.
but you can map and track your alignment in any of your favorite tools from Google Sheets to Notion to anything else you happen to use. In Productboard, I am able to track the key activities across the teams, assign the appropriate owner, and ensure that the motion is successful across all of the teams. At smaller companies, I did this in my head. At scale, it's important to use a tool to drive transparency across the entire group.
setting goals. However, this section is the most important: creating a goal-oriented culture. None of this content should feel new, and you can find even more in-depth knowledge in the book mentioned earlier, Measure What Matters. You create the culture through conversations, feedback, and recognition. Let's dive in.
the 1:1 and 1:n conversations they have. Managers should be coaching their team to be great at setting, writing, measuring, reviewing, and reflecting on their goals. Leaders are responsible for setting the cadence and environment for discussing updates on goals. Find the right cadence for your business, bust most organizations update on a weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, and bi-quarterly basis. It's all dependent on the execution velocity. Last and most important. Create the forums for reflection on the goals. The process. The details. The outcomes.
simple questions. The first is for the manager to ask to their team: how can I support you? The second question is for the team to ask to the manager: how can I improve? With these two simple questions you create an improvement flywheel and as a bonus, seed a culture of feedback that will pay dividends in other areas.
you praise. To scale recognition, create ceremonies for peers to recognize each other. You can seed this by nudging someone on your team to share their comments directly with their peer when they mention it to you. This small nudge amplifies the volume of recognization happening across an organization. When people and teams achieve their goals or results, it is on you to recognize this. Most companies have All Hands at the company or department level. Find the right existing forum and add recognition into this. Highlight the key people responsible for making this result a reality. Lastly, all businesses have goals. Revenue goals. Expansion goals. Connect team results to achieving company goals at All Hands. Explicitly call out that these goals were made possible through the outsized efforts from specific teams or individuals.
you can never go wrong with celebrating progress and success. You also can't go wrong with celebrating effort when success doesn't happen. Your team needs you to believe in them, even if you are unhappy with the outcomes today.
job of visualizing how company objectives and product goals connect together. Counter-intuitively, the Reforge Stack starts with a roadmap and get brings in goals. They recommend this because the first roadmap is a strategic roadmap that gets you to the product vision. You set goals for the work along the way. Any future roadmaps are merely alignment around the execution and release plans.
Ideal Customer Profile (the minimum viable strategy elements) before articulating their goals, measures, and initiatives. This enables teams to take an annual view to their strategy and goals. It enables clarity of thinking before discussing specific features or sequencing of work. You can download the template at: https://www.productboard.com/blog/product-strategy-6-steps/
with two objectives for this year. You can use any software to do this from Google Slides to Miro. The key is to wrap work around objectives. Doing this reinforces the connection of the work to the goals.