January 14, 2014

My old colleague Michael Dearing (who is an outstanding seed investor in SV btw) shared this tweet recently:

“mcgd: The difference between companies who practice OKRs or equiv and those that do not is stark. n = hundreds”

I’ve definitely found this to be true in my experience so far. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this, OKR stands for “Objectives and Key Results”. OKRs are used in some form by many companies to focus teams around specific goals, track progress, and instill accountability throughout an organization.

There is surprisingly not that much written about OKR’s on the web in much depth. The best collection of info is probably on Quora or this terrific article by Angus Davis at our portfolio company Swipely.

From my observation, it’s a lot easier to manage by OKRs when a company is post-launch and there is some semblance of product market fit.  Or maybe, I’d put it differently.  When a company is pre-launch and pre-product-market fit, it’s easy to be much looser about OKRs since there is much less continuous feedback from users or customers and goals could potentially change dramatically in a short period of time.

I think that as a founder and CEO, it’s important to set a tone and culture for measurement and accountability from day 1. That’s why I am a fan of setting up a board even as an early stage company.  I’m NOT a fan of laborious board meetings and extensive prep.

But it’s easy for early stage board meetings to be just an “update” meeting.  “Here are the things we accomplished since last time.”  That’s fine and informative, but more or less rudderless.

Instead, I’d recommend using board meetings as a cadence for setting OKRs.  Early on, I’m a fan of meeting every 4-6 weeks.  Your OKRs should span 1-2 periods max. But then use the time to review progress towards your objectives, and set goals for the next period.  This is then an anchor for the OKRs for the rest of the team.

Of course, if things are going sideways, you should feel free to blow up the goals and priorities mid-stream. That’s the nature of companies at such an early stage.  But establish this discipline early and take it seriously.

Since I wrote my draft of this post last week, it sounds like there are a few efforts in SF, NYC, and Boston to host some workshops around this, which I think is great. I’ll be working on one as well – stay tuned!

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