All startups seem to use OKR's. Do you? Here's why we ditched them

Robert Larmour
Robert Larmour
Chief Operating Officer at hiyacar
All startups seem to use OKR's. Do you? Here's why we ditched them

In our early days we were introduced to OKR’s by a very big and successful company and thought they would be a great addition to hiyacar. They would give the whole company the opportunity to have input on what we think is important, enable people to be responsible for their own projects and give the team visibility on how everyone was getting on. But this system was flawed (for us anyway).

What are OKR’s?

OKR’s stand for Objectives and Key Results. It’s a method that was made famous by Google as a top level project management tool. The company (or team heads) run a session on what they all think should be worked on for the next Quarter, this is called the Company Objective and that has 3 or 4 Key Results that all have a number in them (eg 10,000 downloads) to determine how well the company did at reaching that objective. Those Key Results are given a success score out of 10.

Then each team have their own Objective which is then broken down into 3 or 4 Key Results. Each team will also have a list of their priorities which need to be done to help reach their own Key Results, a list of projects that they want to get too if they complete their priorities and also a Health score that include things that should not be comprised on. Sounds complicated? Because it is. To make things worse, each person could also have their own OKR board that feeds into the team one which in turn feeds into the company one.

Here is an example.

The Google example used when introducing OKR’s is of an American Football team but I will change it to football as I know more about that :)

Manchester United may have a Company Objective of winning the Premier League and to do that their Key Results could be to get 90 points, to have a goal difference of +50 and to keep 20 clean sheets. If they achieve all those things then surely they will come top.

This will then be broken down by all the different ‘teams’ in the company, so the defensive coach will have his objective of ‘having the strongest defensive’ as that will help them get 20 clean sheets which will help them win the league. To achieve that, their Key Results could be to win X amount of tackles per game, to have a certain number of internationals in their defence and to bring a certain number of youth players through their system so they have strength in depth.

Everyone can get involved. The PR team can have their own board because they can help achieve the Company Objective by making sure they have a full house at each game as the revenue generated will help bring in new players.

Each Key Result has to have a large number against it and is scored on a confidence level of how likely you are to achieve it. The numbers should be ‘shoot for the stars’ so really hard to achieve and a score of 7 out of 10 is really good. If you get a 10 then your Key Result was too easy.

Why this didn’t work for us

First of all, setting OKR’s took a lot of time. A half day meeting agreeing what our Company Objective and Key Results should be. More meetings for each team to decide how their OKR’s would fit in. Making sure the OKR’s were looked at each day. Going through them each week or so to discuss progress. A few months of trial and error on what makes a good Key Result and how to score them correctly.

The intentions were good but for us, it just didn’t work.

It was a strained relationship

You know when something doesn’t feel right. Our relationship with OKR’s became strained and we started to ask some really valid questions.

Why quarterly? If you didn’t complete a Key Result and thought it was important then it rolled over so why have a deadline? If you completed it early then was that bad?

What happens if you scored a 10? Is that a great achievement or was it too easy?

Why are we giving ourselves targets that we are supposed to never achieve? We were purposely setting ourselves up for disappointment.

All the targets were focused on numbers we thought were important and never from our members point of view. Put another way, we were working on the wrong things.

I dread to think about the total time spent in meetings about OKRs. Remember that a 1 hour meeting with 10 people is not 1 hour, it is 10 hours of quality work not being done.

What do we do now?

Now we simply talk to our members, find out what is important to them and measure it.

We learn about what really matters and run tests to make it better. For drivers, perfect doing 1 search for a car, they request it and they get it. If we test something that works that helps this then we do more of it or build it properly, if it doesn’t work then at least we know and we don’t do it again.

No scoring that we will never hit, no long meetings deciding what our objective and results should be and no arbitrary deadlines. This makes the office calmer as it takes away the anxiety of targets and the team love working on things our members want, not what anyone else wants. The speed of how we work has also gone through the roof. OKR’s were stifling our startup instincts and slowing down quick experiments. The shackles came off 2 years ago and we do not plan to put them on again, ever.

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