OKRs vs. long adoption cycle - reality check

  • 1 March 2022
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Userlevel 2
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Hey guys, I am looking for OKRs masters who could share their knowledge. In our organization, we’re currently facing the limitations of the OKR framework v. our product-long adoption cycle.

What are our constraints

  • We’re operating in B2B space where majority of our product improvements need implementation (by the client dev team) on the customer side to work and generate value for the end user (non-technical roles)
  • As a result,  new functionality has a quite long adoption cycle (ranging from 3 to 6 months) among existing clients and is usually adopted much faster by new clients. The reason is that existing clients are usually occupied with other stuff in their already running projects and they need to plan their resources & budget for implementing the product improvements.
  • New customer project build time is roughly 3 months
  • Our development cycle length is roughly 2 months (this is now the sweet-spot for us that has the best ratio in overhead vs. value delivered)


What are our challenges?

  1. Decisions we make today in the product will be visible in the product itself next quarter, and in the product data the quarter after the release (the soonest)
  2. Evaluation of the objectives (did we solve the customer problem) therefore takes quite some time and makes evaluation of the OKR on bi-weekly basis quite challenging unless we deteriorate into tracking development progress
  3. We tried to go with some “validation oriented” OKRs, but that gives you only little insights into whether you reached the objective or not
  4. We don’t want to create non-sense OKRs just for the sake of having some
  5. This whole situation leads to distrust in the OKR framework as a whole and perception that it’s not suitable for our way of working

Anyone who tackled similar challenges during their career and have some advice how to deal with such situations?


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5 replies

Userlevel 7
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@martinmichalik

I’m not an expert on OKRs, but use them regularly in my work and in past product roles, so sharing a few thoughts on this.

I wonder if shifting in some way from lagging to leading indicators as your KRs could help here. These would better help your team both know that they are heading in the right direction as well as enabling you to see the actual progress. I know some teams that may use a leading in one quarter and a lagging in another -- just not sure how common that is. Jeff Gothelf wrote a post on this a couple years back https://jeffgothelf.com/blog/you-suck-at-okrs-heres-why/

Tim Herbig, who’s written on this topic previously, speaks about OKRs having two lenses potentially -- those that are focussed on outputs and those that encourage outcomes. He has some points as well about leading or lagging that may help: https://herbig.co/okrs-product-management/

 

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That’s a fair point @scott.baldwin, but do you know of some good leading metrics for product initiatives? Majority of resources I was able to find were either way to generic or completely inapplicable for product initiatives.

Userlevel 7
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@martinmichalik I don’t think those are ever one size fits all, but some you could think about:

  • metrics that would capture whether your customers are getting started (as you would track as growth indicators) such as registration/sign-up, activation, retention. For example, in the context of a CMS, that might be the % of users that activate a specific feature or set of capabilities. You may have something that you release over time, so those elements individually or collectively could act as indicators or you could roll it up into a something like % of users still active in 5 days
  • metrics that capture whether customers are adopting these capabilities and engaging as you’d expect. Here you can look at adoption, engagement, or churn. % of users engaging with X capability, % of users taking an action you want them to take, and even things like CSAT or NPS can be helpful in understanding if your product is meeting needs. Microsurveys can be super helpful here.
  • revenue can also act an indicator of acquisition and retention, while churn can indicate a loss of engagement or user engagement.

Let me know if that helps you get thinking on this.

Check out Filipe Castro’s eBook on OKRs -- it has some good examples of value-based KRs that may help: https://felipecastro.com/resource/The-Beginners-Guide-to-OKR.pdf

Userlevel 1
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Thank you for the additional material on OKRs. This is really helpful for me. At my company we really struggle with OKRs, at least from my point of view. We use it mainly as a to-do list, having concrete tasks as key result. Also, we use the software Ally. They use the duality principle stating that for alignment purposes a key result in company level is an objective on a department level, and so on. Any thoughts on this?

Userlevel 7
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@Alexander Böhm I’ll come back to two pros and what they’ve written on this:

You’ll see that both are ok with their use throughout an org, but cascading is the wrong approach.