June last year, we thought of shaking things up with the Curofy team, in their workflows, their approach. We started with the OKR system and it did wonders. Suddenly everybody knew the company goals. The thing with smart people is that they figure things out quickly. The team started defining goals and metrics for themselves aligned with the company goals. You give a team the purpose and underline the significance of their effort, you end up with a motivated lot. With the visibility of their work affecting the Company goals, people became clear about their own goals. In fact, some of the teams moved to an OKR only system rather than maintaining long lists of tasks to complete. But can a product team move to an OKR only System? Can OKRs replace the Product Roadmap?
Well, I have pondered over this question a million times last quarter till I actually tried the OKR only system without any product roadmap. I would like to share my learnings so that you folks need not take that drastic plunge. I have also created a framework for you guys at the end of the article to decide whether Product roadmap should accompany your OKRs. It is mostly product oriented, but I am sure the fundamentals are the same for every team.
What is OKR?
Let’s just start with the basics first. OKR is an abbreviation for Objective & Key Results. The concept originally invented by folks at Intel Corporation is widely used amongst the biggest technology companies in the world including Google and Zynga. Who wouldn’t want to emulate them (At least the success bit)? So an OKRs is composed of two parts, a goal (objective) and 2 to 5 key outcomes (key results) indicating that the goal was achieved. The non-nerd way saying this is “Motivation and output driven system”
Product Roadmap vs OKR
Let me give you a brief comparison of product roadmap vs OKR in terms of work product development:
- Products Roadmap items are the task which enables to achieve Goals of products
- OKR talks about Motivation & Expected Output but does not delve into features/tasks/requirements which are planned to achieve those. So in a way Product roadmap plays an important role in that
- Product Roadmap help for inter as well as intra team communication and give visibility that which/when is the feature is planned while OKR gives visibility on Goals
- OKRs are generally used for quarterly planning. However Product roadmaps are long-term plans(3 months, 6 months, 1 year, 3 years and more) chalked out in anticipation and based on assumptions
- Whenever there is a huge list of requirements or feature list, I believe product roadmap is required to manage that. OKR system can be used when there is no defined features or requirements but objective/goals are clear.
Let’s look at this comparison of another perspective based upon Product Lifecycle Stages and see on which stages which one is more suitable:
Introduction: In this phase, everyone is clear what they want to achieve but how will they achieve is not clear and most the startups achieve this through MVP Process. (Read very good article MVP is not Product, It’s a process by Yevgeniy (Jim) Brikman on this). The main objective is to create a product that addresses the problems and needs of a group of customers i.e. product-market fit. So clearly OKR system suits well here.
Growth: This is the phase when the product is developed and found product-market-fit but it can be incomplete or not as feature rich as competitions. In this phase focus should be on building features as per the user needs or based upon the competitive landscape. Here the product roadmap comes into the picture where every item is aligned with the objective. So in the Growth stage Roadmaps together with OKR make sense.
Maturity: In this phase, the product reached its potential market and has all required features built. In this phase focus is to optimize the product to fulfil its Objectives e.g. improve engagement/retention, revenue. This stage of the product can be managed by OKR system.
End of Life: In this phase, the product is maintenance mode or moving towards sunset. It does not make any sense to build a new feature at this stage. Any effort or task should be clearly justified by objective and OKR system make sense to use at this stage.
I have built a simple framework which will help to decide when Product Roadmap is required along with OKR.
According to me, OKRs are not a complete replacement of the product roadmap and one should decide which one fits well according to their requirement and stage. I believe above framework give enough help to decide when to use OKR only or OKR + Roadmap. It is the classic conundrum. Nobody is a clear winner. Maybe some kickass product manager or a CEO or an executive or an associate sitting somewhere in google, apple, facebook or even one of those white-collar consulting firms will come up with a framework that can solve this conundrum. Until then I hope this helps