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Actionable OKRs for Product Leaders

Actionable OKRs for Product Leaders

How to create an ambitious culture focused on outcomes


Stephen M. Walker II

May 05, 2022

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  1. Actionable OKRs
    Stephen M. Walker II

    Senior Director, Product
    May 5, 2022
    How to create an ambitious culture focused on outcomes

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  2. Disclaimer
    This version of the deck includes slides with speaker 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.

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  3. Stephen is the Senior Director of Product at Productboard. He 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

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  4. What To Expect Today

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  5. Most of the companies I speak with want to know 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.

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  6. Why OKRs Fail And How to Avoid This

    How to Align Your Manager with Your Teams

    Connect OKRs to Your Strategy to Roadmap
    What To Expect Today

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  7. What To Expect Today
    Practical Generic

    Aligned Apathetic

    Strategic Tasks

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  8. Practical
    Why OKRs Fail

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  9. The Best Book On OKRs

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  10. The Best Book On OKRs
    Measure What Matters is the 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.

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  11. Common Advice About OKRs

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  12. Common Advice About OKRs
    Preparing for this talk I read 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.

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  13. Too Many

    Set & Forget


    Not Measurable

    No Strategy
    Common Advice About OKRs

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  14. Common Advice About OKRs
    Most companies fail by setting too 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.

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  15. Generic

    Where, What , How

    Focused On Writing

    Not From Experts

    Not From Your Industry
    Most Advice

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  16. Most Advice
    To summarize what I saw in the advice... 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.

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  17. Bonus Projects




    Wrong Measures
    What PMs Told Me

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  18. What PMs Told Me
    In my conversations with Productboard customers 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.

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  19. Not Before PMF

    Culture of Goals

    Right Product, Team

    Misaligned Priorities

    My Learnings

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  20. My Learnings
    In my day to day work talking with 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.

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  21. My Learnings
    Most prioritization problems are actually misalignment around the 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...

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  22. Most people
    are not great
    My Learnings

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  23. My Learnings
    Most people are not great writers. Internalize this. 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.

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  24. Alignment
    How to Align

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  25. Start With The Problems

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  26. Start With The Problems
    I am not sure if the 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.

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  27. Alignment In 3 Acts

    The Motion

    The Culture

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  28. Start With The Problems
    What are the biggest problems?

    How do we keep score?

    What keeps us from scoring?

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  29. All Business Problems



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  30. Most Companies Growth

    Losing PMF Retention

    Bad Economics Margins
    All Business Problems

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  31. All Business Problems
    Most businesses have 3 problems that product 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.

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  32. Productboard Top Problems To Solve In 2022



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  33. Productboard Top Problems To Solve In 2022
    While these are 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.

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  34. The Motion




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  35. The Motion
    Disclaimer: I did not invent this concept. However, 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.

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  36. The Motion

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  37. Map Your Alignment
    How we
    track the

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  38. Map Your Alignment
    We happen to use Productboard at Productboard, 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.

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  39. Conversations


    The Culture

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  40. The Culture
    I talked about prioritization and the motion for 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.

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  41. Coach



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  42. Conversations
    Leaders and managers drive impact in the company through 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.

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  43. Teams

    How can I

    How can I
    support you?

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  44. Feedback
    To create a culture of feedback, start with two 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.

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  45. Peers



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  46. Recognition
    Culture is created through the actions and behaviors that 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.

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  47. Recognition
    "We celebrate progress and
    success too much at this
    company" – Nobody, ever

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  48. Recognition
    This quote is a joke. But the point is, 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.

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  49. Strategic
    Connect OKRs

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  50. Strategic
    Closing this out, let's look at how to connect OKRs from strategy to roadmaps. It is actually quite
    simple when you take a goal-focused approached to the work your teams will do.

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  51. Strategy Stack

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  52. Strategy Stack
    The Strategy Stack from Reforge does a great 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.

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  53. Team Product Strategy
    How we set

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  54. Team Product Strategy
    Teams bring together Vision, Company Objective, and 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/

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  55. Objective Roadmaps

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  56. Objective Roadmaps
    This is fake roadmap for Twitter in Productboard 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.

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  57. Questions?

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