Tag: SMART Goals

Objectives & Key Results: First Steps to OKRs

At a Glance – What are OKRs?

If you’ve arrived at this post, you’ve probably heard of OKRs but maybe you’re looking for a bit more of an introduction to them. Not to worry! We’ll keep this light and practical for getting started.

OKRs are a framework for helping define, communicate, and measure progress towards goals. Their intention is to not be specifically top-down, but instead there’s goal setting and transparency that works both ways. Objectives, the ‘O’ in OKRs, are essentially single sentence that communicates what you’re trying to achieve. These should drive the point home at a high level, and there’s nothing wrong with making them feel exciting. Key Results, the ‘KR’ part of OKRs, are the metrics that you will be using to gauge how successful you are to achieving your objective. Usually you group about 3-5 KR’s with an objective, but if you’re just getting started with this I don’t think there’s any issue with trying to just nail down ONE. It might be trickier than you think!

Here’s a little example to demonstrate:

Have a world class service that operates at the speed of light, as measured by:

  • Decreasing response latency on API A from 100ms to 60 ms
  • Increasing throughput on API B from 10 MB/sec to 20 MB/sec

In the example above, the first line is the objective. For this OKR, the objective indicates that we’re interested in having a FAST service. The two line items are the key result portion of this OKR and they both describe two different metrics that we’re looking to improve in very specific ways. It’s also important to mention that like with any good set of goal setting, OKRs are timeboxed. In your work environment, you might do these annually, semi annually, quarterly, or some other interval that allows your team to make progress.

A Closer Look at Key Results, the KRs of OKRs

One of the most important parts about setting your KRs is that these should be measurable and specific with a start and end measure. These are supposed to be used to gauge your success when reflecting back to see if you accomplished your objective, so it’s important that they represent something you can measure. And you’ve probably heard something like “You get what you measure” before and this is VERY true for OKRs. If you put a set of metrics in front of a team and tell them to optimize them, generally you’ll get results specific to those measures! If they don’t actually tie back to represent your objective well, you might get awesome progress but for the wrong reasons.

Another call out is that KRs should not be binary. For example, going from 0 to 1, on to off, or going from a feature not landed to feature landed don’t really make good KRs. These might be specific tasks you need to do to help influence the metrics, but they don’t lend themselves well for progression. Why? Consider an example where you might do 99% of the work in your time period and miss landing the feature that enables allllll the goodness for your change that gets you that huge performance boost. From the KR perspective, that’s still a 0% improvement until it’s landed. How were you tracking your progression to reaching your goal if the entire time you were pinned at 0% progress? How does your team feel to have 0% on target after all the hard work that went into something? How do your stakeholders feel when it’s the last week of your period and you’re still trending at 0%? Nobody is saying it’s easy to avoid, it’s just that it’s not very helpful to pick KRs like this. It’s also helpful to think through situations like this and maybe find ways where you can incrementally deliver functionality to avoid these all-or-nothing situations in general! So ideally, your measurements should be on a sliding scale that allow you to demonstrate progress towards a goal.

Finally, the KR’s you pick for your OKRs should be ambitious but achievable. One of the major purposes of using OKRs is getting alignment to drive change in an area, so the “spirit” of the KRs you’ve picked should be understood. If people find these KRs too easy, then you’re not necessarily getting the most effectiveness out of setting up OKRs to help rally progress in an area. However, if they’re too challenging this might be demotivating if people feel they can’t make any progress. I personally think that aggressive KRs can be great if your team can truly influence the KR metrics in meaningful ways.

… What If There Aren’t Metrics Yet?

Right, so if this is all making sense so far you might be thinking through some potential scenarios relative to your job/team/product/service and thinking “I’d love to improve X, but… we haven’t been measuring anything. How can we even have OKRs if we can’t measure? Isn’t that a requirement?”. Technically, you’re right. But not to worry! We all have to start somewhere.

Personally, I believe getting started with OKRs is the most important part. No metrics yet? Instead, spend time to figure out what you WOULD want. Then, start building the measurements out and try making your improvements as you’re figuring out how to measure things. Is that breaking the rules? Yup, you bet it is. Is it going to be a learning experience and something you can improve on next time? Absolutely. Remember, the “spirit” of the OKRs you’re using is to help drive change.

Going through the OKR process is still a useful exercise, helping you to envision what success criteria might look like. While you may not have rock-solid super granular metrics now, maybe there’s some other things you can infer in the short term to guide you! You don’t have performance telemetry being reported with awesome dashboards? No sweat. You’ve been hearing from customers about 10x per week now that performance isn’t up to par? Great! Start with that. Your goal is to try making improvements such that you hear on average 6x reports about performance per week, and in the meantime, you’re going to start building out that awesome performance telemetry and dashboard. A rough metric might be better than no metric, and maybe next time you want to focus on this, you’ll be in WAY better shape with your new telemetry.

As you’re building metrics out, consider if they something the stakeholders care about. OKRs ideally focus on some understandable business value. Another important aspect is if these metrics are something that change-drivers (i.e. maybe the engineers or other roles on your team) can influence. If people are investing all this time and effort to help influence metrics but the actual measure is something they don’t directly affect, it can be frustrating. Ideally, your metrics are something with clear business value AND something your team feels they can directly influence.

Another thing to consider is if something warrants a rolling-average or trend compared to a value at a single point in time for the metric to be measured. Often times with things like services you might be concerned with trends, and in order to avoid statistical blips or other factors causing noise in your measurements, it might make sense to average your measurements out to smooth the numbers! Continuing with our performance example, if you reached your target one week because you measured your service over a holiday when nobody was using it and the small amount of traffic therefore looked incredible, that might not be a great representation of your actual progress. Conversely, if there was some type of outage or incident that caused your measures to temporarily be outliers, you shouldn’t toss in the towel and give up! Rolling averages can be your friend here but ultimately this is something you’ll want to think through.

Finally… Just Get Started With OKRs!

We just talked about all these “rules” for good KR’s, but especially when you’re getting started, you won’t get it “right” the first time. That’s okay. It’s going to take time, practice, refinement, and building out new measurement methods you might not have yet! Until you’re in the groove of setting up good OKRs, think about what the “spirit” of the OKR is supposed to be. Focus on how your objectives and key results will motivate your team to drive change in the areas that matter.

When you’re creating your next set of KRs, reflect on the previous ones! Continuously improve! Were your goals too easy? Too hard? Were you “gaming” the metrics or did your metrics line up with the “spirit” of the KRs? Did the metrics truly tie back to the objective in the end? Were those responsible for delivering changes empowered by the KRs? There’s so many things to reflect on and try to make sure you’re doing better next time. It’s definitely a process.

At a minimum, OKRs should help focus the team’s attention… And that’s a win even if you don’t have the most perfect metrics and clear-cut objectives. Try some things out. Reflect on your success. Get better. Repeat. You got this!


How to Refocus: Getting Back in the Groove

How to Refocus: Getting Back in the Groove

Identifying when you need to refocus

It happens to everyone at some point to varying degrees, for various reasons, and at different times in our lives–but it’ll happen! You hit a period or a rut where you can’t keep your focus on continuing to be successful (and I’m over-generalizing that for a good reason).

Maybe this means you can’t focus at work to perform at an optimal level. Maybe you’re falling off the diet you’ve been working hard on. Maybe your training in the gym or for your sport is taking a hit because your head isn’t in the game. Maybe you find yourself unable to hit the books studying or completing your projects in school.

It can look different for everyone.

There are a bunch of different little warning signs that things aren’t quite on track and you need to refocus:

  • You’re losing interest in what you’re working on or have been working towards
  • You can’t seem to keep your mind on the goal(s) that you’ve set
  • You feel like you’re plateauing in your progress toward your goal(s)
  • You’re suddenly finding you’re not happy or not feeling fulfilled
  • You’re taking out stress on your co-workers, friends, or loved ones
  • You’re isolating yourself from friends and family
  • You find yourself overly concerned with things you can’t change (dwelling on the past or fearing a future event, like an exam)

But don’t freak out just yet… you need to see and acknowledge the signs before you can start to make any progress. Feeling pretty good about everything in your life? Then keep doin’ what you’re doin’! If any of those points seemed to resonate with you, then let’s continue on!

Don’t worry

If you’ve found that you’re in a bit of a rut, it’s important to not worry. You need to remind yourself that you were once on track and you’ll get back on track. You’ve already identified you need to refocus, so you have the power to get back on track.

Worrying about the fact you’ve identified you’re not in an ideal state of mind doesn’t help anything; in fact, it makes it worse.

“I can’t seem to find my focus at work… I’m going to be such a bad employee. I wonder if I can even get my work done now. My colleagues are going to notice… My manager will notice!”

“Training has really been kicking my butt… Why am I even doing this? I wonder if I should just give up. I haven’t seen any progress in my abilities in the past couple of weeks. I’m hopeless at this.”

“There’s a lot going on at school now and I can’t seem to keep up anymore. I’m going to fail this project that’s due next week because I can’t seem to get started on it. And my exams are coming up and I can’t seem to study. I’m going to fail this term.”

All of that kind of talk is negative and it’s not going to help you progress! So why are you continuing to focus on hampering your progress? Don’t do it. Instead, acknowledge you’re looking for a positive change, and then acknowledge that you’re in full control to start making that change.

And step one is to stop worrying and drop the negativity.

Analyze what’s getting you down

I get told that the engineer in me talks too much about analysis… but I think it’s a critical step! You need to understand the things that are getting you down. You’ve identified that you need to refocus because you’re not happy with your current behaviour or state of mind, but what are those things that are getting you down?

If you understand what’s getting you down you can start to take corrective actions. It’s got a (cue the fancy buzzword) synergistic effect with my previous point–Drop the negative thoughts and work on correcting them in parallel.

Let’s look at a couple of potential examples:

  • You’re unable to see any progress in your work, schooling, or training
    • How are you measuring progress right now?
      • Some things aren’t well suited for quantitative measurement
      • Try and identify a consistent mechanism for measuring progress
    • How often do you measure progress?
      • Some things don’t change very frequently so it’s hard to notice progress
      • Many things don’t progress in a totally linear fashion
    • Is it time to update your strategy for continuing success?
      • How long have you been doing the exact same thing expecting to get the same increase in results?
      • Have other environmental factors changed that suggest you should update what you’re doing?
    • Have you actually compared your current status to a previous point in time, or is it just how you feel?
      • Maybe it’s all in your head!
      • Try reflecting on where you were a month ago, 6 months ago, and a year ago.
  • You’re constantly comparing yourself to others
    • Do you actually know all the ins and outs of a person’s life?
      • Just because you observe certain things, it doesn’t mean they’re exactly as they seem
      • If you don’t have the full perspective and details on someone’s life, you’re guaranteed to be misunderstanding something
    • Can you change other people?
      • … Even if you could, you shouldn’t!
      • See the next major point 🙂
    • Are you comparing different subsets of your lives and expecting them to align a certain way?
      • Other people are not you and are living a different life
      • You can only truly compare yourself to your own self at various parts in your life
  • You’re dwelling on things you can’t change
    • Are you expecting to change something in the past that’s already happened?
      • Unless you have a time machine, you absolutely cannot change past events
      • Trying to understand past events can be helpful learning for the future
    • Are you dreading an event in the future that’s unavoidable?
      • If you can’t avoid it, then work at accepting it’s going to happen. (Things like exams or year-end reviews for work, for example)
      • Ask yourself why you’re dreading it. Try applying this example of analysis to THAT reason and dive deeper.
    • Are you focused on the thoughts and emotions of other people?
      • You can’t (and shouldn’t try to) control how other people think and feel
      • The best you can do is focus on yourself and live the values that you believe in
      • When it comes to thoughts and feelings, we all observe and interpret on our own
    • Have you considered whether this situation is temporary?
      • When you don’t know how long you’ll be out of control, it can make you feel helpless
      • Knowing there’s a point in time where there’s a change that can affect your situation can be a great help (i.e. money is tight for two weeks and you just need that next pay cheque to come through)

These are just a handful of examples, but hopefully you can see a pattern:

  1. Identify a particular thing that you know is getting you down.
  2. Ask yourself what effects it’s having and why you believe it’s having those effects on you.
  3. Dive deeper on each one of those by repeating these steps.

It’s nothing groundbreaking and I’m not claiming it will magically fix your problems… But analyzing things can lead to understanding, and understanding can lead to progress.

Remind yourself of your strengths

Everyone gets down on themselves at some point and this will cause you to lose focus on your goals. But I guarantee you if you stop and think about it, there’s a lot of great things that you got going on!

Don’t believe me? I challenge you to take a pen and something you can write on.

  • Write three things you’re proud of or that you’ve accomplished
  • Write three things about why your best friends like you
  • Write down the thing you love doing most or loved doing most before this point in time
  • Write down the thing you think you’re best at

Now step back for a second and think about the things you wrote.

  • It’s very likely the accomplishments you made or things you’re proud of required you to overcome something. Unless you got lucky or had some magic, odds are you used your strengths to achieve these things.
  • Your friends stay by your side because they admire you. They admire the qualities you have and see strength in you. You might not realize these strengths, but your friends perceive these about you.
  • If you love doing something, you’re probably pretty good at it, and if you’re not, odds are you’ll get good at it because you love to do it! Acknowledge and understand what you’re passionate about because it will tell you about your strengths.
  • Sometimes you’re good at things that you’re not totally passionate about. That’s cool too! What makes you good at this thing? Can you apply this to other areas in your life?

Set some goals

At this point you’ve:

  • Identified that you’re not content with your current state
  • Reminded yourself that you can make a change
  • Analyzed what’s getting you down so that you have a better understanding of some direction to take
  • Reflected on your own personal strengths

And now… It’s time to set some goals!

Goals you set should ideally align with SMART goals. Do yourself a favour and check that page out for a little bit more information so you can set yourself up for success. You want to make sure you’ve agreed your goal is achievable within a certain period of time and that you can measure progress in some way as you go. This is critical for a few reasons:

  • No time box? How will you know if you’re on track?
  • No way to measure? … Same problem!
  • Not realistic or achievable? You’re setting yourself up for failure.

It seems obvious when it’s laid out like that, but this will keep you from setting goals like “I’m going to do better at work”, “I’ll kick my training up a notch”, or “I’ll worry less about what’s going on in other peoples’ lives”. None of those goal statements indicate when you’ll be done by or how you’re going to measure progress.

Here’s a simple example:

In the next month, instead of missing on average three practices per week, I’ll reduce this to one. I’ll make sure that I have things put into my agenda ahead of time so I won’t schedule things over practice sessions, and if something critical comes up last minute, I can use the following week to compensate for it.

  • Specifically about not missing practices
  • Measured weekly by an average of missed practices
  • Achievable because it’s an improvement and not an expectation of perfection
  • Realistic and with the reward of getting to more practices
  • Time boxed to one month.

Start slow and set one or two SMART goals. As you build confidence that you’re progressing in your goals, try adding in another. You don’t want to overwhelm yourself!

Be brave enough to ask for help

If you’re reading this and you’re considering making changes then you’re already starting your path to progress. That’s AWESOME and you’re a strong person for being able to get started.

Sometimes things can get tough though. You might feel you’ve made progress over a few weeks or months and seemingly fall back to square one. You might feel like you’ve set SMART goals but you’re having trouble even getting started. Maybe you read this and still don’t even know how to get started.

There are a million reasons why getting started or continuing can be hard. Be brave though. Ask for help. I can guarantee you have some amazing friends and family that love you that want to see you be successful. There’s nothing to be ashamed of when asking for help! It’s a courageous thing to admit that you’d like assistance on your path for doing better, and people see that. You might feel embarrassed or ashamed, but other people see a brave person trying to move forward.

Summary

It’s a common thing for people to fall into a figurative rut in life. It happens to everyone at some point and it’s nothing to get down on yourself about. You’re not a bad human being if it happens to you, so don’t sweat it.

Analyzing your current situation and why you feel certain ways can help you gain an understanding of what’s going on. Focus on driving out the negativity and create actions to try making progress by leveraging your strengths.

In the end, remember that you control your life and you can make all the positive changes to it that you want to see. It takes time and hard work, but if you put in the effort, you’ll always get to where you want to be.

Now get out there and go kick some ass.


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