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From OKR to an Aligned O

Goal Setting
Product Team
Sharing The Vision
Team Processes

20 February, 2019

Jody Kelman
Jody Kelman

Director, Self-Driving Platform at Lyft

Jody Kelman details how in her role as a new product manager she was able to work through and solve the task of establishing relevant OKRs.

Problem

When I began working at my current company I entered as the first ever product manager for regulatory compliance. Regulatory compliance is often measured around risk profiles instead of clear quantitative OKRs, and the company didn't have a framework to evaluate the success of the program. Immediately after joining the company I was asked by the VP of Product to resolve this issue, and establish relevant OKRs within a relatively short time frame.

Actions taken

At first, I wasn't sure where to start. I read economics and operations textbooks. I Googled best practices on quantifying and evaluating risk from a product standpoint. I looked for best practices at other companies for how this had been done before. When these strategies failed, I looked orthogonally towards related areas that might have ambiguous OKRs and if there were any models that I could resource. This was a bit more successful and helped yield one of the three OKRs that I set. For my third attempt, I went on a three-month quest for the perfect metric. I wanted to find a perfectly balanced metric that had both risk and reward baked in. I conducted more than 10 problem-solving sessions with different people in different teams to try and come up with a clear set of OKRs. But after several abortive attempts I had not accomplished what was asked of me.

Finally, I realized that I was too focused on KRs themselves - the small set of metrics that rule them all. Particularly when you are working in an undefined problem space, OKRs are much more about getting people aligned on the objective than they are about measuring your success against these goals. Unless you know what you are aiming towards, it is difficult to figure out how to measure your progress. That insight led to my switched my effort from attempting to find the perfect metric to concentrating on how to get our operations, product, legal, and government relations teams all on board with a set of goals that the company wanted to hit. I developed a shared set of objectives that could be documented and that would align with our efforts against the goals. Essentially, I switched the emphasis from the KRs (key results) to the O (objective). Instead of using metrics strictly for evaluating our success as a team, I aligned the teams, who all had different metrics, around a similarly real objective.

Lessons learned

  • It is critical to get aligned on an objective and shared vision before you find ways to quantify or measure that vision.
  • Contemplate the purpose of OKRs and how they will serve in the context of a problem that you are taking on. Be sure to also factor in the stage at which the problem is at.
  • As your company grows, you will revise the quality, specificity, and precision of that OKR in order to start doing what you classically do as a product manager, which is move metrics. OKRs will also be revised to befit the stage of the business.

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