Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) have taken the startup world by storm. While they played a key part in the golden era of companies like Intel and Google, they took over the startup world after OKR evangelist in chief John Doerr published ‘Measure What Matters’ in 2017. It seems to have supplanted ‘lean’ as the buzz word of choice.

OKRs are great. They push a company to achieve stretch goals, make accountability easy and help create directional euphony among employees of a company. If you haven’t dived into them, I’d recommend reviewing the slideshare.

The purpose of this blog post is not to discuss the pro / cons of OKRs themselves, but rather how we built them into the DNA of CanGo with the hope that some of our lessons learned might help out with others.

For CanGo the key breakthrough on OKRs has been to realize it’s all about direction setting. You want every element of the company to be oriented in the same direction, in sequence chasing big things. It reminds me of how as a child you can turn a piece of iron into a weak magnet by rubbing another piece of iron over it: the more the uncoordinated magnetic poles are oriented in the same direction the stronger the magnet is. What we did at CanGo was to take this concept of direction setting and actually incorporate into the company infrastructure that runs our day to day. Every process of the company should be pointing in the same direction.

How did we do that?

OKRs aren’t just something talked about or worked towards, they’re reported on as well. Every management member submits a weekly OKR report to our CEO and CTO following a set format (Objectives, Key Result, what’s going well, what isn’t going well, what do you need help with). A meeting is held once a week between each head of department and the cofounders to discuss individual OKRs, as well as a full management team to discuss all the OKRs together as a team. These reports are read together Amazon briefing style, with each meeting starting in silence as everyone reads the report.

The discussion at these meetings is not about going through the report, but rather a set of identified discussion points that anyone can add to while reading the report. The talking points are prioritized with the most important at the top, going down to the least important at the bottom, with the meeting focused on working through the discussion points. Following the pareto principle of 20% of effort having 80% of impact, instead of trying to go through all the discussion points the team seeks to make real progress with the top ones, at the expense of ignoring lower ones. 

In order to make sure that everyone is held to account by OKRs, CanGo’s cofounders submit their own OKRs to their board of directors for accountability and to be able to have proactive discussions on progress.

Another key thing we do to incorporate OKRs in the DNA of CanGo is setting internal processes to push towards OKRs. We have a Trello board for processes broken into daily / weekly / monthly categories, then assigned to different team members. Each card holds a process (from Process Street) that is to be completed by a set due date, aligned with if the task is daily / weekly / monthly. Every process is to be directly related to an OKR. This allows the company to develop muscle memory on working towards OKRs, means we do not reinvent the wheel every day with how we conduct our activities, and allows tasks as they become repetitive to be passed down the chain of command freeing senior staff for more strategic work.

For CanGo as a company OKRs have been an organizational breakthrough that we’re still in the early stages of optimizing, but already reaping the benefits from. 

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