OKR for Product Teams Case Study

Written by Published in Product, Product Management

The Ascent to the Peak of Product Team Performance

Written by Oana Calugar, Performance+

I’m a helper of team leaders at Performance+. I work mostly with millennial managers, and I help them develop high performing teams using the framework Objectives and Key Results (OKR). In the last years, I set OKRs as a Customer Support team leader, as a Data Analyst and as a Product Manager. In the last year I transitioned from an OKRs practitioner to a consultant, coach and trainer, but I still eat my dog food with OKRs for my consulting company and my personal life. After so many years with quarterly OKRs, the months January, April, July and October have special meanings for me, as they mark the start of new goal periods! I’ve begun to think in quarters.

The last step to the top of the mountain

In Grove’s famous management manual “High Output Management”, he introduces OKR by answering two simple questions:

  • Where do I want to go?
  • How will I know I’m getting there?

As I mountain climber myself, I draw a parallel between the sports life and the business world: for the next year, my objective is to climb the massive Monte Rosa and to reach its highest peak Dufourspitze at 4,634 meters. This answers the question above: “Where do I want to go?”

The south-east side of Monte Rosa from near Lake Maggiore, rising about 4,500 metres above the plains of Lombardy. Picture by Ingiro – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10484512

To reach my objective, I need to get through the several stages of the trek, which resemble Key Results: for example, I’ll first need to get to Rifugio Mantova at 3,440m, then to ascend the Punta Gnifetti up to Rifugio Margherita (4,554 m). Depending on the time, weather, conditions, and team fitness, we’ll attempt to climb the peak, Dufourspitze. This plan answers the question: “How will I know I’m getting there?”

Let’s visualise this adventure as a set of OKR:

Objective:      Reach the highest peak of the massive Monte Rosa

Key Result 1: Get to Rifugio Mantova at 3,440m

Key Result 2: Reach the Rifugio Margherita  at 4,554m

Key Result 3: Ascend to Dufourspitze peak at 4,634 meters

OKR are good for climbing mountains and for growing the performance of your team

When I am on the mountain, I’ll need to review if the weather conditions allow me to complete the ascent, if my fitness is good enough, and if all the team is in good shape. Just like in the workplace with my product team, things will change, and I’ll need to adapt.

I became a product manager in a rather unusual way. I was always interested in the intersection of how data analytics and how we humans work together. It’s all about how an apparently minor or routine activity can cause an unusually large and sudden response, because of the cumulative effect of small actions, or in other words, the steps that get me closer to the mountain top. How much can we push a system or a group of people to move the needle and make a difference?

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