OKR’s — One Year On

It turns out OKR’s are like flexing a muscle. The more you work them the stronger you become, but like any workout, focus and isolation make the biggest gains.

The view from my desk

I’m Blake Seufert, Systems Manager of McKinnon Secondary College. McKinnon is an Australian state school and our IT team is using OKR’s in the midst of a traditional, successful and academic college. This article is about taking a look at the changes and what’s worked and what hasn’t. Read here my expose of how we set and use these goals.

So what’s changed in a year and a half?

OKR’s have been tremendous at extending the vision and values of our school into the everyday thinking of our ICT Team. Being set amongst a larger organisation that works in a traditional, governmental & hierarchical way is tricky.

I’m always looking to reward innovation and exploration to encourage people to try new projects and have the guts to fail. To do this we have had to “Silo” the management of the ICT Team to myself (the Systems Manager) and my team of 5. That means we operate as our own business unit and are free to experiment, trial and innovate without the constraints of a traditional change management structure. In effect, my role as the Systems Manager is to protect and balance the school needs with nurturing potential innovations. We are still vehemently aligned with the organization's goals, but our path to get there should be very different from that of a classroom teacher.

The Challenges

When we introduced OKR’s we tried to set 2–3 Objectives per quarter (or school term).

2 OKR’s per term is 1 too many.

It turns out that in order to get the best out of our OKR’s we needed to use them as way of focusing our efforts. The average IT person’s day is filled with interruptions, mixed priorities, emergencies and a suffocating amount of small tasks. In order to still keep our heads up, focused on stepping forward we need to be clear on what that next step is toward while serving the school's vision of excellence for every student.

Moving to a single OKR that can make us all ask the clarifying question of:

What 1 thing will make all the difference this quarter and how can i achieve it? (or measure it)

This question is the essence of good OKR’s. As it turns out, it’s not the presenting them to the team (although they are public) that made them more accountable and effective, in fact, often the OKR’s were totally irrelevant a term later as other fast moving projects eclipsed them. Some may think that this is a failing of the OKR system — a waste of time, but this lets us compare our current performance and match that against our last goals and help us make transparent, enthusiastic decisions about the future.

The biggest change that’s happened has been understanding and learning about ourselves. Our capabilities and our limits. When we set goals they always seem achievable, yet contrast that ambition against the realities of a busy school term and you’ll learn a lot about how you spend your time and how hard it is to get things done amongst the noise.

As John Doerr says: Idea’s are easy, execution is everything.

Follow me: twitter.com/blakeseufert