OKRs : Best Bets in Print

Courtesy of Stewart Butterfield

Trying to wrap your head around OKRs? Have to figure out how to write them and you have little to go on? Did your boss give you the Doerr book and expect a draft in a few days? Or maybe you see it as a saving grace for your company and you want to move fast (all too common).

(If you want a quick guide to knowing the basics of what OKR’s are, start here).

While the concept of OKR’s can seem fairly simple, there is a subtle art to getting through the process. Whether it’s getting them done for yourself, or your organization you need knowledge on what works, what doesn’t and how to get past obstacles. I’ve been buried in OKRs for quite some time, and while I’ll continue to write more about best practices, I’ve found a few very good papers and books that can clear up misconceptions and help illuminate some keys to success.

Note that this list has both books and articles.

Radical Focus (by Christina Wodtke). This is by far the best and easiest book to read on the subject of OKRs. While it may be a short book, this is by no means proportional to it’s impact. Christina spends a good chunk of the book working through a case study of a technology startup — which seems so realistic I wonder if it is based on real events. Overall, this presents a very clear picture of what using OKRs at a new company could look like, and has helped re-shape my thinking of early implementations.

OKR Fundamentals, (by niket). The first thing I consumed (outside the Google Ventures Video) was this great intro article. The author’s company was acquired by Google and he spent quite some time learning the ropes around OKRs, which he nicely distilled into a great overview. He also has a pretty neat Google Spreadsheet template for creating your own.

Measure What Matters, (by John Doerr). Many now consider this the new bible of OKRs, having been authored by one of the early adopters and promoters. This book is both a collection of very good case studies, as well as some of the basic operating principles around designing OKRs. John uses the football team as one of his examples on how to set and cascade good OKRs. The case studies are classic, and well covered, including YouTube, Bono, Bill and Melinda Gates, Intuit, and Google. This is a great way see different types of applications and styles of OKRs across industries. HOw does it fit into your organization? Here are a pile of examples!

High Output Management. (by Andy Grove). Since Andy Grove is responsible for creating OKRs at Intel, this book, his manifesto on management, is a great place to start. Andy uses the term MBO (Managing by Objectives) but his implementation is the same. The book is also great in every other aspect, and covers many pieces of management including measuring philosophies, team structures, bureaucracy etc. If you’ve been around a while, you might find some the book to be a bit common sense-y, but still well worth a refresher on how to think about things from a process and measurement view, allowing one to clearly identify why a business objective is occurring and what the expected outcome will be. The examples he uses of Columbus crossing the ocean and building a new factory both do a good job of quickly driving home points about goal setting and cascading OKRs. This book is a treasure trove of other good ideas.

You Suck at OKRs and Here’s Why. (by Jeff Gothelf). Really anything this guy writes is great and Jeff’s writing style is really digestible. Jeff very quickly nails down a big problem with how people write OKRs, and one that I was guilty of when writing my first ones: mistaking accomplishing a goal with delivering value — which many people tend to do with binary style OKRs. “Shipping” isn’t a good key result, and it’s not even a good objective. Even if you truly believe the value is there, you need to justify how shipping something is a key result. Shipping and getting 100 signups is getting closer, because now you are edging towards real value — a human interacting with what you shipped. If your Key Result is “deliver X” then you don’t know if you’ve wasted everyone’s time or not.

Re:Work with Google: Goal Setting : (by Google) This is the playbook for Google’s OKR implementation, and best practices overall. This is a really well organized, quick reference approach to providing value around how to best create and manage your OKRs. It’s broken down into sections and covers a lot of angles from conception to implementation, in a more bullet-style approach. So it’s easily digestible. In some ways, this is a summary of the Niven/Lamorte work, so for some of you it makes more sense.

Objectives and Key Results, (by Paul Niven and Ben Lamorte — OKRs.com). Can the term “overkill” be used in a positive way? That’s how I found this book, which is a fantastic and well researched go-to handbook on OKR implementation. The opposite of “Radical Focus” but equally valuable, this book starts out mapping the history from Drucker to Grove to Google. After that, it’s an implementation manual covering many aspects of real life OKR use from creating the structure to weaving them across your organization, dealing with the pitfalls, growing them over time, sharing them, cascading them, measuring them and keeping them top of mind over time. Also comes with bad puns!

Honorable mention

How to Measure Anything (by Douglass Hubbard). OKRs are all about measuring, and finding things you can measure to learn. This is a great book to help think about how you can measure things that might not be traditionally measurable. It’s a pretty hefty book for sure, but the first couple of chapters help one think about measurability and what it means to measure output. This is a bit of a heavy read but if you aren’t the measuring type, you might try the first couple of chapters which provide a lot of insight into why and how things are measured.

Got a good entry.to add to my list? Post a comment. I think of this as a living document.