A Real-Life OKR Story: siroop’s OKR Journey

People often ask me “Which companies are successfully implementing  OKR? Where can we learn more about the real challenges?” There is a lot of basic material about OKR floating around, but very few stories about what the journey looks like. That is why I love when my clients write about their experiences with OKR.

David Frei wrote a post about how they use OKR at siroop, the leading online marketplace in Switzerland. He talks about the challenges and the lessons learned since we had our first OKR workshops in January 2017.

You will see that siroop customized their OKR approach, and that is how it’s supposed to be. OKR is not a one-size-fits-all approach. If you have watched my webinar, you know I recommend starting with measurable outcomes, while David prefers to start with the Objective. siroop also decided to add another role besides the OKR Champions.

I have learned is that my job is to provide the techniques that work in 80-90% of the cases and teach the principles behind them. Each company is then free to iterate on those techniques in a way that fits their specific context.

I love how David highlighted the importance of the check-ins and how quick they are:

Teams measure their key results on a weekly basis, during a short check-in that takes no longer than about 15 minutes … The true value of OKRs lies within those regular check-ins. By knowing where we are, we can decide on how we want to go forward.

Seeing companies embrace OKR and witnessing the positive impact it has on their culture is why I come to work every day. As Urs Baumgartner, who led siroop’s OKR implementation, told me:

“I totally agree with David that OKRs really help us to focus and to align. It is very rewarding to see that they get into our DNA and the teams use in a very positive and energized way.”

Here is David’s post.

How we set goals @siroop

Setting goals is a challenge for any company, regardless of size or industry. We at siroop have adopted the framework of Objectives and Key Results (OKR). Originally created by Intel and applied today by a variety of companies around the world, OKRs have been increasing in popularity. But what are OKRs and how do we apply them at siroop?

What are OKRs?

In a nutshell: Objectives are qualitative statements, answering the question of “where do we want to go?” — e.g., Improve Customer Happiness. This is a clear objective which can be understood by everyone in the company. Key Results are a set of quantitative measurements, indicating whether we are reaching the objective mentioned above, for example:

  • Increase NPS from 7.4 to 8
  • Decrease return shipments by 25%
  • Increase Conversion Rate by 0.2%

An objective consists of 2–5 key results. The work we do should pay into our objective and influence our key result. As an example: if we put features in place which are useful for our customers, our NPS goes up. Teams measure their key results on a weekly basis, during a short check-in that takes no longer than about 15 minutes. Weekly reviews help everyone to understand, whether we as a team and as a company are heading towards reaching our goals. If our key results are on track, that’s great. If not, we have the chance to take corrective actions. The true value of OKRs lies within those regular check-ins. By knowing where we are, we can decide on how we want to go forward.

How we use OKRs at siroop

Ideally, different teams work autonomously while at the same time being aligned with the company’s overall objectives. Therefore, there is a need for a common goal to which everyone can contribute. OKRs fit in nicely between Vision & Mission, Strategy, and Initiatives, a.k.a everyday business. Even more so, they help to link everything together

Siroop OKR Journey

OKR as a link between Vision & Mission, Strategy and daily tasks

The first step in the process is defining the company OKRs. So that’s what we did when we introduced this framework. Company OKRs are usually set for a year, setting the general direction.

In a next step, our teams at siroop, under the guidance of the company goals, have created their own OKRs, which are set on a quarterly basis. Team contributions pay into the company’s OKR, thus creating alignment and focus simultaneously. If two or more teams work closely together, they create shared OKRs. Both teams are then working towards achieving their commonly set goals. By having quarterly discussions about goals, teams have increased agility and a clear focus on priorities for the following months.

Each team has someone who fills out the role of the OKR-Champ. The champ facilitates team check-ins and helps in setting up shared OKRs with other teams. We also have created the role of the OKR Ambassador. Volunteers from different departments who have an interest in the topic meet regularly to discuss feedback from the teams, provide guidance to the teams and they work on the process. We work hard to anchor OKRs in our company DNA and make it part of our culture.

The challenges we encountered

The framework certainly helped us in creating a common understanding of our goals and contributed to a better alignment between teams. It sounds great in theory, doesn’t it? In reality, it is a bit trickier than that. The framework itself is easy to understand but difficult to apply.

The first challenge for all the teams was to figure out, how we all can contribute to the overall company OKRs. Making team-goals explicit is one thing, but paying directly into company objectives was not as easy as we might have thought after the initial training.

The even bigger challenge was (and to some extent, still is) to come up with key results. Almost all the teams struggled with identifying measurements which indicate success and are value based. For functional teams such as Finance, HR & UX it’s difficult to come up with key results.

One of the flaws in our process was that we tried very hard to identify key results and group them together into objectives. However, the logical approach is to set the objective first and then create key results that inform us about its success first. To figure this out took some time and a change of mindset. Finding useful key results is still one of the toughest challenges in the OKR process. There isn’t really a one-size-fits-all-solution blueprint that you can follow. We are progressing on our use of OKRs mainly through training and exchange with others now.

Another challenge, which may sound more trivial than it turned out to be, is to find the time to define OKRs each quarter. We all tend to be tied up in our day-to-day business and therefore not necessarily take the time needed to have a comprehensive discussion about goals. What helped here is the work of the OKR-Champs within the teams. Early appointments and preparation are crucial.

Setting up OKRs last minute before the next quarter can lead to teams being out of alignment, spending a lot of time discussing insufficiently defined OKRs during the quarter and as a result finally not garnering the benefits OKRs can provide. To help teams avoid this trap, the Ambassadors and OKR-Champs have to guard the process in a very stringent way for the first couple of quarters.

After having had OKRs for more than a year now, we can say for sure that we have had a steep learning curve. Identifying goals is hard; finding meaningful measurements is even harder. But we have managed to learn each quarter and will continue to do so.

The post How we set goals @siroop was originally published by David Frei on Medium.

This post is also available in: BR