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Inside Whatagraph: Our Journey with OKRs

What is OKR? A framework that originated at Intel in the late 70s and was later popularized by companies like Google, Objectives and Key Results are a way to set measurable goals and keep teams within an organization focused. We’ve been experimenting with OKRs at Whatagraph, and we’d love to share our story so far!

Table of Contents: 

  1. Introduction to OKRs
  2. The process of implementing OKRs
  3. Where we are now
  4. Key takeaways
  5. Our reading list

October at Whatagraph started on a high tide: We had just closed the 3rd Quarter with record sales, our marketing metrics were all in the green, expectations for Q4 were optimistic and our MRR goal was motivating. 

However, to reach sustainable growth with the somewhat limited resources that we (and most startups) have, we had to keep the team focused. Not just on their own projects and tasks, but on the overall company goal. So we decided to implement Objectives and Key Results (OKRs).

What the hell are oh-k-ahrrrs?

OKRs are a popular methodology for setting measurable goals that ensure people across the organization are focused on the same priorities and track their progress towards reaching them.

They were first introduced in the late 1970s at Intel. Now OKRs are used by such industry giants as Amazon, LinkedIn, Dropbox, Uber, Google, as well as smaller Agile teams.

OKR definition

If you’re wondering how they’re different from KPIs, check out Felipe Castro’s article.

OK, Rs, let’s do this!

The decision to implement OKRs didn’t happen overnight. Teams at Whatagraph have been working with Agile and Scrum for quite a while, but to make OKRs effective, we knew that all departments – Sales, Product, Marketing, Customer Success, and Operations – had to understand the main purpose and benefit of this new framework.

Our reasons to adopt OKRs at Whatagraph, and on rather last-minute terms, were based on the main benefits that they bring:

  • Alignment – to reach a certain MRR goal, we needed all teams to focus their priorities and find more efficient ways to cooperate with one another.
  • Agility – to make sure we deliver the highest value in the shortest amount of time, we had to reduce waste and increase innovation.
  • Autonomy and engagement – to make sure everyone understands how their daily work impacts the bigger picture, we had to choose clear success criteria.

The first step was, obviously, to set a clear company Objective and assign measurable Key Results. We ended up focusing on monthly recurring revenue (MRR), which, in return, shaped our company-level KRs around leads and churn.

The second step was to set department-level OKRs. Admittedly, this brought in some confusion and each department head had multiple drafts created until the final result. We’ve asked them to share their main challenges:

Edvinas Vosylius Whatagraph

 

Edvinas, Sales VP: “The main challenge for me was the lack of knowledge around OKRs. They look simple, but are, in fact, hard to write. Especially when you’re doing it for the first time.”

 

 

 

Martynas Gedminas Whatagraph

 

Martynas, Product Owner: “I was worried that the team will have a preconditioned anxiety about reaching the goal. That they will see it like it’s unattainable, in return feeling demotivated.”

 

 

 

Laurynas Arminas Whatagraph

 

Laurynas, Customer Success Manager: “Not knowing if my expectations will align with the upper management’s vision was my biggest reservation.”

 

In the end, each department had 2-3 Objectives set that were all focused around the main company goal – MRR – and spiraled down to individual-level OKRs. Here’s a good example from Perdoo on how the OKR structure could look like for a sales team:

Sales team OKR example

Where we are now

A month has passed since the implementation of OKRs at Whatagraph, and it hasn’t gone by without some re-adjustments. After writing down the initial Objectives and Key Results, the next important step was figuring out how to track our progress.

While there are numerous apps that help with this sort of thing, like Weekdone or Achieved, for now, we decided to stick with good ol’ spreadsheets. We do weekly check-ins at department and company level to measure our progression and assign a confidence score to each KR. 

Instead of assigning numerical values, we chose to simplify it to three colors: green meaning we’re positive we will reach the KR, yellow – we’re running into some bumps but still think we can hit it, and red – we see this area is underperforming and requires more focus.

Here are the main benefits and challenges our team members have noticed since adopting OKRs:

Agne Kuniutyte Whatagraph

 

Agne, Head of UX/UI: "Pros: Immediate sense of focus across departments. Instead of endless to-do lists, we now have a quarterly milestone and OKRs help us focus on reaching it. Challenges: OKRs can take a lot of time to implement correctly."

 

 

 

Vytautas Preiksaitis Whatagraph

 

Vytautas, Developer Team Lead: "Pros: Everybody is on the same page and is working towards the same goal. It is also easier to onboard new employees. Challenges: Making sure your department OKRs align with the company OKRs and actually bring value."

 

 

 

Giedre Dubisevaite Whatagraph

 

Giedre, Business Operations Manager: "Pros: Instead of lingering on failures you focus on what else you can do in your role that will bring everybody closer to the main goal. Challenges: Finding clearly measurable goals for some of the teams."

Key takeaways

OKR implementation at Whatagraph is by no means complete. There are already obvious gaps and misalignments between teams that will have to be re-evaluated for the next quarter. However, here are the key things we have learned in the process that are crucial if you’re considering setting OKRs are your own company:

  1. Don’t go overboard when setting OKRs for the first time. Pro tip: Make sure you limit yourself to 1-2 Objectives and 2-5 KRs.
  2. Understand that OKRs focus on achieving a goal, not explaining the process. Pro tip: When writing, try phrasing it as “By the end of the quarter we will have done” instead of “We will be doing.”
  3. Key Results are easiest to follow when they’re incremental, not binary. Pro tip: When writing, try phrasing it as “Generate X number of sessions to our new blog” instead of “Launch a new blog.”
  4. OKRs should be ambitious, but achievable. Pro tip: Your goal should be ambitious to the point that obtaining 80% would mean you’ve achieved your target, and anything beyond that is considered.
  5. Weekly check-ins should go over what was done, how it affected key results, and what’s planned next.

Reading list:

  1. The Beginner’s Guide to OKR
  2. OKR and SCRUM: How to connect two powerful frameworks
  3. How to combine OKR and Agile Product Management?
  4. OKRs from a development team’s perspective
  5. How we score OKRs at FreeAgent
  6. Lessons Learned: 8 Tips for Using OKRs to Focus a SaaS Marketing Team
  7. Listen: There Be Giants – The World's First OKR Podcast
  8. Watch: TED Talk by John Doerr "Why the Secret to Success is Setting the Right Goals"
Justina
Written By Justina
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What is OKR? A framework that originated at Intel in the late 70s and was later popularized by companies like Google, Objectives and Key Results are a way to set measurable goals and keep teams within an organization focused. We’ve been experimenting with OKRs at Whatagraph, and we’d love to share our story so far!
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