A book club for developers.
BookBytes is a fortnightly (or biweekly) book club for developers. Each episode the hosts discuss part of a book they've been reading. And they also chat with authors about their books. The books are about development, design, ethics, history, and soft skills. Sometimes there are tangents (also known as footnotes).
Characteristics of good objectives
Characteristics of good key results
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Hello and welcome to BookBytes, a book club podcast for developers. This episode is sponsored by Pluralsight, the technology skills platform.
And today we’re doing something different and some of us didn’t read the book. So actually, Jason, you had mentioned that you had finished a book called Measure What Matters by John Doerr.
And I thought it would be interesting to ask you about it and have a discussion about it.
Sure, yeah. I’ll talk about it.
So I was recommended by a few people at work to read the book Measure What Matters by John Doerr and John Doerr is a, I guess, now kind of an investor type of role and also a big pusher for setting goals at companies and measuring them to get great results out of those.
And he, I guess, would go to a lot of places and, kind of, do it as a consulting measure to say, “Hey, you need to go in and implement this.” And he was pretty pivotal in places such as, like, Google really early on where he sat down with Larry and Sergey and was like, “Hey, you need to go and establish yourselves and, like, figure out, really, what you’re doing and how you know, like, if you’re succeeding.” Because they had the tech but they didn’t necessarily have the plan.
And so after having done that numerous times, I mean, he lists off a ton of names of companies that he’s gone and put recommendations to, like, in the Silicon Valley area like Google, Apple, Amazon, and a number of them that are also specifically mentioned within the book, as well.
And, kind of, my synopsis or shorthand of the book is that it’s a management book about how setting goals and measuring them can create success in companies both large and small. And the way that John promotes the ability to do that is by setting up what’s known as Objectives and Key Results and he refers to them as OKRs throughout the book.
And so the O, being the Objective, is what you want to accomplish. So it’s something that is a clear description of what you want to do. So, I mean it’s the goal side of things. And then the flip of it is actually the Key Result which is the how that you plan on accomplishing that goal. And so it is something that is actually either time bound or very specific on what you want to do and it’s, you can also measure that and verify that.
And a really important part of that is that when you complete all of your key results then you can firmly say that you have accomplished your objective. Now, Adam, I think you had said that you had watched the TED talk that John gave?
Yeah, I did and really quickly I just wanted to let the listeners know who’s here today. It’s me, Adam, of course, Jason, and then we’re also joined by Safia.
Hi. And Jen couldn’t make it tonight. Yeah, so I watched the TED talk called… Actually, I guess it’s probably just called Measure What Matters, as well. So he’s got a website, whatmatters.com, I think?
I thought it was really interesting how John didn’t come up with this idea, he had a boss at IBM that came up with this idea but then he really just took it and ran with it and he’s really popularized the idea and brought it to a lot of big companies.
Yeah! Yeah, that was something that he was pretty adamant on mentioning in the book, is his boss’ name was Andy Grove and he, I think, became most familiar with him at Intel, I think that was where they met, there may have been something before, but Andy was a big pusher for having goals and measurable results underneath of them. John actually talks about Andy leading an initiative that they have there called, “Operation Crush” at Intel.
Oh yeah, and I actually think it was IBM.
Oh. Oh… No, I think it… was it-
I don’t know.
Maybe he picked it up from IBM?
Hmm, I’m not sure anymore.
Pretty sure it’s Intel because Crush was specifically related to moving from producing RAM chips into microprocessors for Intel.
And so it, like, asserting Intel’s dominance there. So there came, like, a point and time when Intel, that’s what they did is they made memory and RAM and they were starting to get displaced by Motorola and in order to deal with that they saw an opening in order to get into the microprocessor market because they were getting undersold by other companies or, like, they couldn’t match the price point and so rather than going and trying to get their costs down on that front, they moved towards getting companies to adopt their microprocessor.
And I want to say it was, like, the 8086 but I could be off on that. I don’t have that specifically in my notes. But some of the ways that they went through approaching that was having a few OKRs established within their company. One of them was to land a certain number of design commitments and so when they would go and come up with a design they would actually need a place to go and sign on to actually want that chip, or to buy it and so, like, it was, like, a huge order. And so, like, they had to get so many of those and they had an objective for those.
I can actually go and like, pull up that metric in the book. I think it helps go and clarify some things.
So give me just one second.
Safia did you get a chance to watch the TED talk?
I haven’t. Most of my interest in OKRs actually comes from my personal experience that I have with them. At one of the organizations that I worked at started to introduce OKRs into, like, our workflow. So kind of have some perspectives on it and questions based on those that I’d love to hear from you, Jason, if John managed to address in his book.
Okay, great. Yeah. I was hoping some people had some personal experience with it. I just recently started using them and had no idea this entire backstory about them.
Yeah. I really liked actually hearing that part of it. This is actually my first book that I’ve ever read or done dominantly through audiobook. I have always been more of just, read it through. Like, I like listening to podcasts but it’s a first audiobook for me.
And how was it?
The audiobook was excellent. It was actually read by John so it was read in the way that he planned on having it read to you, and then also, not only was it read by John but there are specific accounts from various companies whether it be specific people from Google to have, like, Bill Gates read it in a snippet of it. He actually even has Bono reading at the end. So, it’s really cool to actually have the real accounts read by the people who wrote those things, too. So it wasn’t even just John the whole time and so it made it a good listen because it was switching between people and you could hear the emotions that they had and felt about the stories that they were reading. So I really liked that.
Yeah, that sounds really cool.
I did go and actually pull those notes for the Intel operation, Crush.
And what do you mean by Crush?
So, Crush was, like, the code name of the operation, so…
It just, they wanted to go and, I guess, crush the microprocessor market, was the plan. So they had a corporate objective in their company and that was to “Establish the 8086 as the highest performance 16 bit microprocessor family as measured by…” And so their objective: getting the highest performance 16 bit microprocessor family. But they then set up a number of metrics to actually say that they did or did not accomplish that.
And so one of them was to develop and publish five benchmarks showing superior 8086 family performance. So actually, like, releasing benchmarks. So that’s something measurable that you can accomplish. Like, you’ve either, like, done those things or you haven’t or you’ve done three out of five, which I think that’s what they managed to hit. And one of them is repackaging the entire 8086 family of products, and so actually going and putting a different marketing spin on them which I think in turn from that, marketing was able to go and make their own objectives based on it.
And then, also, they had a date-based one as well that was, “Sample the arithmetic coprocessor no later than June 15th” which is more of an engineering related goal.
So from each of those metrics though, like, I mean, they have a date established or, like, even some of them are still higher level, like, key results that can go and pass down to specific departments or places within the company that they have a greater impact or that can do a little bit more towards them. But the key results are established at the higher level within the company so there is some crossover on that front. It’s never just dedicated to a single department and I think, probably one of the most important parts of it, is that it was something that was applied across the whole company, and visible across the whole company.
The really key thing about OKRs is making sure that those goals are transparent and very obvious things that are known across the entire company. I think John points out really early that it’s a very small set of people that actually know what their company’s current goals are and whether or not they’re truly working on those things.
So, even when a company’s using OKRs, you’re saying people within the company don’t really know?
So OKRs are a way of trying to combat that.
Where in a common company case, like, there can be some goals that are established but if they’re not really well defined or they have to pass through a lot of layers. Goals for a company may be designed by executives higher up.
But, like, if they’re not transparent or, like, actually delivered by the executives to the company as a whole?
Then it winds up passing from, you know, C-levels to VPs down to directors down to managers finally down to individual contributors and amongst that whole way the message of what’s really important could actually get lost.
Yeah! It’s like a game of telephone.
That’s funny ‘cause it’s, like, they’re probably really not trying to keep those things a secret because you want everybody in the company to help contribute towards the company’s goals.
One of the things that I thought you mentioned that was interesting was you, kind of, pointed out the fact that when they were in Intel, the goals they were setting were, kind of, cross-department and one of the experiences that I had with OKRs is they were just things that were used within the engineering team. So one of the things that I struggled with is, kind of, tracking those objectives over to, like, high level, like, company strategy and vision items. So it’s, kind of, like the reverse. It’s like, “How are these tiny objectives that I have, as an engineer, relating directly to the, like, top-level goal of the company?”
So I feel like there’s this place where, like, people have to meet in the middle where, like, individual contributors to, like, their managers and their managers and then, like, the CVPs and ABPs and all those funny letter combinations kind of have to meet in the middle to agree on things, or, kind of… shake hands on what the goals are?
But that was one of the things that I struggled with when I was working with OKRs is it felt like they were very isolated for me, personally, and they weren’t part of this, like, cohesive narrative around what the company was doing; and I think, you know, Intel seemed to combat that by making the OKRs not just something that one department was doing, but kind of, like, cross-department efforts which is kind of interesting ‘cause I usually heard about them in the context of, like, engineering teams. So that is interesting to know that the history was a little bit different.
That is something that John brings up in the book is that it really does have to apply across the whole company to be the most effective thing; Otherwise, you can wind up with a gap or just, kind of, a cultural mismatch between some places. I mean, he even talks about a few specific examples where some changes had to be made.
Like, closer to the end they talk about a company named Lumeris and they are kind of a healthcare transparency-type company. Like, they are trying to get,whether it be, like, costs, or what procedures are available for certain rates in certain areas available to kind of everyone, to open that up.
But they also had a second part of their company that ran under a different name and one of them was really conservative and the other one was very, like, technology oriented. And of the things that they actually had to do to, like, establish OKRs to work in their company, because they had them, actually, but they really weren’t working because not everybody was on board with them, but instead there were, like, a couple of managers that would try and gather them up last minute before board meetings and so there was really no buy in there.
They actually had to go and merge those two companies under one name and then they swapped out, like, a huge amount of their HR in their company. Like, over half of it had to get replaced in order for them to go and establish that and fit it into their culture because that’s what they wanted.
So, I mean that sounds kind of familiar to your situation where if it’s only implemented in part of it then you do have that missing link of, “Okay, we have these things established and how do they tie in to the greater plan and goals of the company?” And I could see that as a huge gap.
Yeah. That’s, okay, good to know that I wasn’t feeling alone in that. The other thing that I found was interesting, you kind of mentioned the fact that they had this one objective where they finished 3 / 5 of it? Or like, 60%?
So one of the interesting things that I had to adjust to when the organization I was in started introducing OKRs was there was, sort of, this notion that your OKR had to be something that, like, you could only achieve 80% of. So, like, the idea was that you were always supposed to be very ambitious in the objectives that you would set. Or maybe the key results? It was basically designed to where you were always, like, setting goals that were a little bit past where you thought you would land; whereas, in the traditional sense, you’re supposed to set goals you know you can meet.
So that was an interesting process for me for two things. One, I had to, kind of, let go of the psychology that, like, a goal was something that I had to achieve and check off. And two, it was difficult to figure out what my 80% was when I didn’t really have a baseline for what I could achieve, or a way to quantify how I had done in goals before because it was the first time we were kind of rolling out OKRs in this organization.
Yeah, I’m right there with you. So I’ve been in a company where we used OKRs and it was the same thing. Where they were supposed to be hard things to achieve and you weren’t supposed to achieve all of them, maybe, like 60%, and I don’t know how you measure that with engineering things, really. It’s like, if you… if you’re writing code you know when you’re 0%, you probably know when you’re at 100%, but how do you know when you’re 80% through?
Like, as far as I’m 80% done writing this code for this feature?
Yeah, I think that that’s definitely a difficult level to go and measure it at because, I mean, I guess you’re 80% of the way writing the feature but if you can’t ship the feature then, in one regard, like, you’re kind of 0%. I mean, you haven’t shipped.
So, like, if that itself is a metric then, like, I mean, it can be depressing in one side of it that you didn’t accomplish it but, I mean, looking at it from a business perspective, like, if you don’t ship that’s not a success but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s bad or that you are… that, like, you should penalized for it but rather, like, it’s, you collectively, as the company, did not estimate it well or measure it well and so it’s actually something worth reassessing for.
‘Cause that’s one of the things they talk on and specifically to the 80% thing, that’s one thing that a number of the companies varied on in their perspective of what they did with it. Like, the book itself is not prescriptive in a single way of saying what you should shoot for. It does talk about some of Google’s specific ways that they handle OKRs and they actually have two types of them within Google. At the end of the book they have a reference guide of what Google’s internal OKRs are established on. And they have the notion of committed OKRs and aspirational OKRs.
And so committed, you go in with the full intent of getting a 1.0 or, like, 100% completed and you, like, you should try everything you can to get there. And then aspirational is something where it’s definitely more vague to reach and so that is more of a, they shoot for an 0.7 on those.
And aspirational ones are ones that can actually bleed over over the course of multiple goal setting periods. A lot of the companies do it on a quarterly basis where they go and set a goal for it and measure it through the course of the quarter and then at the end see, like, where they landed and if they did achieve it then, you know, go and attempt to set something else. But if they didn’t, either to say, like, “Why did we not make it? Like, why did not not accomplish this? And what can we change? Do we still actually value accomplishing this or does it not really matter and we can throw it out?” Because sometimes that’s what needs to happen.
So yeah. Aspirational OKRs make a lot of sense to me, or aspirational key results, maybe?
Because I was looking at one of the examples in the TED talk, it was talking about the CEO or the head of Google Chrome, Sundar Pichai, and he’s the CEO of Google now, but in 2008 he had an objective to build the best browser. One of the key results was 20 million users.
And so I thought that’s a great goal but that’s completely out of your control. You know, hopefully if you do measurable things that make it good there will be more users, but really, ultimately, it’s out of your control.
Yeah. I was, I was just wondering how often… these things needs to be measurable, but how often is it in your control versus out of your control?
Yeah, there certainly are things that are outside of your control and that’s even something that you should be reflecting on, too. Like, if you are in a, say even, like, real estate type company and the housing market just flops and you aren’t hitting your goals, like, that’s something that doesn’t necessarily mean that you did it all wrong as a company but it is something where at the end of that quarter you should say, “Okay, well, we’re not hitting this goal. Or we didn’t come remotely close, like, what are we going to do about it now?”
Because that’s the other kind of major part of it is actually, like, the retrospective side of things. So it’s not just, like, did I achieve it or did I not? And John Doerr is very specific to call out that OKRs are not something that is supposed to be tied directly to compensation. And while it can, obviously, have an impact on it, by not tying them directly to compensation it’s supposed to reduce things like sandbagging where people will go and establish goals that are kind of, business as usual, like not very aspirational.
And, I mean, he brings up kind of the example of if somebody sets some huge goal and they only achieve 60% of it, but it’s an amazing goal. Like, say they set the goal of getting published in, like, five magazines or something like that, and they wind up only getting published in two, but one of them is, like, getting a cover spot on Time Magazine or something like that. Or, like the New York Times, like, getting huge coverage. And so they hit only two out of five, so that’s 40% of their goal; whereas, if somebody else made a really basic goal of, I don’t know, like, getting six, or five advertisers to close on them or something like that and they just get, like, local shops or something.
Like, even though somebody accomplished their whole, like a 100% of their goal, is that better than the person who shot big and only got part of it? And so to say that it needs to be tied directly to compensation is probably not the right choice.
And the other thing is it’s not tied directly to promotions.
But like you said, I think it could be a part of that if you look at it and say, “That’s actually a really awesome thing that you accomplished!”
Yeah. It definitely is designed for putting people on the track to get promoted or compensated based on success of it, but you shouldn’t solely rely on it as like a “Well you didn’t meet your goals, therefore you don’t get your bonus this year” because that, in turn, will make people be really conservative and I know talking about Google in here, they have the example of Gmail when it launched and I don’t remember if you had to deal with the battle of trying to get an invite to gmail early on.
I did not have that.
I had a couple of friends in my highschool class that had invites so I got one pretty easily.
I envy you.
Gmail was pretty aspirational in that they really pushed the limit with what their offering was. When Gmail launched they actually launched with 1 GB of storage which was insane at that amount of time where other places were offering more like 10 MB of free email storage you could get a gigabyte with Gmail.
Yeah. And then you could sit there on the login page and see it constantly go up everyday, like every second.
Yeah, yeah. Like, that was… that was so novel at the time just to see it grow bit by bit, literally, right? (laughs)
Yeah, when they did that, though,like, that was a gamechanger for email as a whole because all of a sudden you didn’t have to go and delete your emails but instead you archived the things which was effective within google on its own for however many other places they used it. I don’t know, they scrape it for all sorts of stuff like, natural language and whatnot.
But I think there was a quote in the book and I don’t have it attributed so I’ll have to go and dig that up, but it said that they shot for an order of magnitude larger because if you’re just shooting for a 10% improvement over everybody else, that means you’re doing the same thing. A 10% improvement means you’re doing the same thing as everybody else. You’re not really innovating at 10% more as you’re just, kind of, making what exists more efficient.
And when Google aimed for making Gmail they decided to go with something that was really big, that probably to some places to look at offering a GB of storage seemed like an impossible feat when, I mean, they instead said, “Okay, well, let’s offer this and let’s do it in a way that we can go and measure it and make progress on it.”
Because I mean, that’s probably one of the hardest parts of looking at the impossible stuff. And that is even one of the things that I think seems so impressive with a couple of the places brought up in there. Like, the Gates Foundation for example. They were established in I think it was 2000 or something like that when Bill and Melinda went and put $20 Billion into a foundation and told it to go, like, solve big problems.
And they had to go through spending, it was a billion dollars a year was what they had to do, that was the one thing that was required out of them, but they wanted to be sure they were spending the money in the best places and so they had to know, were they even being effective in what they were going after?
And so, like, one of the things that they wanted to do was increasing quality of life and they managed to find out that providing things like vaccinations was a huge thing for increasing the lifespan of people in areas. So I know that, like, Malaria is one of the things that they plan on targeting and so, like, the idea of, like, combatting mosquitoes and Malaria, like, just seems, I mean, I wouldn’t even know where to start on the thing and…
And yet, I mean, I imagine, like, when they necessarily set they goal they weren’t like, “Oh yeah, of course. This all the things we need to do!” But you do have things that you can go and measure. Like, they talked about getting to a certain vaccination rate of, like, in 80% of areas, 90% of the people are vaccinated within them or something was the type of metric that they had seen before and so they went and took, like, the regional based approach.
Kind of reflecting back on, I don’t know, Ara the Star Engineer where rather than solving, you know, counting all the stars in the sky instead working by galaxy or something like that where it’s like breaking the problem down and it’s very much in that same way where you do that then you still have, like, you build a metric based on that.
So, yeah. Both Bill Gates and then also Bono talking about the one, like, it’s the One Foundation where they worked through eliminating debt from poor countries within the world and they talked about the process of helping out a lot of countries within Africa and one of the things that was a real shortcoming for them that they realized, and in part by John Doerr was, like, they were in a board meeting and John Doerr actually pushed to answer the question of, like, you know, “Who are you serving? Like, who are you trying to help?”
And it was, you know, “People within Africa.”
And John was like, “Well, do they have a place at this table?”
And Bob was like, “Well, of course they do! We’re all here supporting them!”
And he was like, “Well, there’s none of them here, though.” And so like-
That was, like, one of those things that they worked through, actually established OKRs for it. It was like, within a certain period of time they wanted to go and get x number of representatives from the regions that they were actually trying to help so they could really be influential there and like, so, I don’t know if there are so many things in there that I liked.
That is amazing.
Even from, like, those big initiatives like that down to even a place that I really hope could come to Salt Lake City sometime, it’s a company called Zoom Pizza.
That sounds so intriguing.
Sounds delicious! I just had some pizza tonight and I could eat some more.
Yeah. Like, I mean, the idea of, like, using automation to go and have trucks with robots in them that are baking pizzas, like, I mean they have ovens on the trucks that are going and delivering to you-
I mean, that sounds so awesome to have delivery that is fresh out of the oven rather than, I mean-
30 minutes? Like, a pizza after 30 minutes is not the pizza that is mouthwatering. I don't care how good your bag is, like, fresh out of the oven is just…
Yeah. That’s why I like those place that’s a take and bake place so I can take it home and make it in my own oven then it’s fresh.
But if I didn’t even have to do the oven part…
Exactly! Like, if you are, like, in a studio apartment that’s 175 square feet and you don’t have a full kitchen in it.
Yeah. Or if it’s the middle of summer and you don’t want to use your oven.
Yeah, you could still have a hot pizza.
Safia, how big is the apartment you’re moving to?
Oh, well it’s not for sure that I’m moving into it. It was one of the ones that I was looking into. It was 175 square feet.
Okay, does it have an oven?
Luxurious! No, but it has a microwave. (laughs)
It’s a major bachelorette pad.
(laughs) Well maybe you can get robot-made pizza sent to you there.
Yeah! It’s the future. We’ll all live in really tiny houses and get food delivered to us that’s cooked on the go.
The future will be great.
Yep, all with OKRs!
All with OKRs, yeah.
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So one of my skepticisms with this is how is it different from just setting goals? Because everyone knows about setting goals and it kind of sounds like OKRs is just another word for that? So I wonder if we could kind of differentiate it; and we may have said some of them but if we can, like, specifically list them out?
A big one, I think, is setting ambitious goals so you’re intentionally not allowed to play it safe with your goals and not trying to set goals that you know you can reach.
Yeah, that aspirational side is definitely a, it’s an uncomfortable part, like, they, I mean, even that, it’s been something I’ve been trying to think for myself is finding things, like, it’s hard to say like, what can I not achieve? But more, like, if I was freed up to do whatever or if, I don’t know, like, if nothing was standing in my way, like, what is that I wish to achieve? That kind of thing. That’s, I don’t know, that’s a hard thing to go and reflect on. And maybe that’s the whole point of the exercise.
And then, I guess, another thing is that within a company it’s transparent.
And it’s for the entire company. And then I guess, also you have the OKRs at the company level and then you probably also have them at the department level? And then maybe even under that, like, have OKRs for a specific team?
Yeah, that’s one of the things that is also called out is that OKRs should be 50% top down and 50% bottom up. So there definitely needs to be direction from the leadership of the company so that way places are on the same page but there also should be some time for people who are on the front lines and actually doing the work to say, like, “These are actually the things that we can do and can measure.” And yeah, like you said as well, having the transparency level. Like it-
It doesn’t have to be going through a department. Like, a department can go and establish an OKR but also, like, I should be able to have visibility into what executives care about.
Yeah. Yeah, that’s definitely the experience I’ve had and the ones at the company level were a bit more vague and generic. They didn’t specifically mandate how to do it, what tools to use. Then more at the lower level you had more specific things that supported the OKRs above you.
Yeah. I guess that’s the nice thing in that you can make decisions about what you’re still working on so it’s not just like everything is handed down to you but it does give you some backing to say, “I am working towards this OKR and I’m going to move this measurement or work towards moving this measurement that the company, as a whole, is intent on.”
Yeah, I think it’s really motivating and it helps you know that you’re contributing to the right thing.
Yeah, definitely. And also, like, whether it’s at the top level or even being able to see peers, as well. So, if the two of you were also working either with me on the same team or with me within engineering, or even if we were in different departments that is also a place where there’s transparency to see if there’s overlap between us for any reason at all, it’s also something that-
That we can align on.
I think it really helps with cooperation between different departments and different teams. You know you’re all working towards the same overall goals.
I mean, yeah. You could see it because it’s out there and also there’s a level of accountability. Like, when it’s said that, like, if you write down a goal then you have, like, a, I don’t know, 40% greater chance of actually accomplishing the thing, just by writing the thing down.
And then by exposing that goal to other people you raise that percentage even more just by having other people aware of it. So if you’re going and listing objectives and knowing that everybody else can see it, like, that can be a driving thing, or hold yourself accountable.
Yeah. So, and then I think another thing that differentiates it from goals is the fact that there are objectives and then beneath each objective are key results. ‘Cause in the TED talk it was saying the objectives are kind of like the “what”, they answer the question “why?” and then the key results are the “how”.
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, that’s… That’s to define, like, separation but they, the key results also do state that like, if you complete all of these key results then you have completed the objective.
It’s so, at least in terms of your definition, like, if your set of key results under one objective don’t accomplish that then it means that you were kind of off in creating those, which isn’t necessarily bad. It just means that you need to go and reassess.
Maybe you were missing some key results?
Or you pick the wrong ones.
Yeah, that’s the retrospective side of things.
And then another thing in the TED talk that was really good, it said, it listed some characteristics of good objectives. They’re significant, concrete, action-oriented, and inspirational.
That’s a lot of marks to hit.
Yeah! And then it also said that they’re a vaccine against fuzzy thinking? And I have definitely fallen in this trap of fuzzy thinking where I think, “You know, I have aspirations. I haven’t defined what they are necessarily, but I have aspirations and I’ll probably hit them.”
So you could say you aspire to have aspirations?
Yeah. But objectives, when you’re specific and you make sure they are significant, concrete, action-oriented, and inspirational; you have key results beneath those that are exactly how you’re going to achieve that, that’s definitely a vaccine against fuzzy thinking.
They also work as a way of giving meaning to what you’re measuring, as well. John discusses the comparison between key result and a KPI, a key performance indicator. He refers to them as numbers without soul or context.
Yeah. He’s pretty rough on them and I think it does make sense though, because how many times have you been in a place where you’ve measured something that doesn’t really have a lot of impact. Like, they can be kind of cool but, like, what are you getting at? Like, sometimes things like GitHub’s commit rate where, you know, you fill the little green boxes? Where sometimes you can assign or attribute more meaning to those things than is necessary.
Yeah. Absolutely. It’s kind of like, “What’s an easy thing to measure? Oh! I know, this thing has a number already.” Number of followers or…
Or you have commits on certain days. Lines of code written.
Yeah. Yeah. On its own it’s not that valuable. I mean, if your objective though is, say, I think you interviewed him a while back, Jake Lingwall. He worked at Domo for a while and he is -
A published author that is kind of local to here and in November, I think it is, he gets into a self commitment to everyday in November to write, like, is it 2,000 words a day? Is it… I don’t know, It’s something like that.
Yeah, it’s called “NaNoWriMo”.
Do you do that, Safia?
Yeah. So you do it?
I attempt to. (laughs) It is quite difficult, it’s a lot of words. It’s about 50,000 words in a month is I think the rate you’re supposed to go for.
Yeah, and so with that, that is actually a case where measuring wordcount is, like, that is your key result because you intend on something. Like, becoming a better writer or instilling a habit.
Yeah, that’s valuable because you get an entire first draft of a book instead of rewriting the first chapter over and over.
Yeah. That is something, but you’re defining the what before you’re doing that. Like, you’re not just measuring your words then trying to go backwards and assign meaning to it, but in the flip of you’re saying, like, “This is what or why I want to do this thing.” And then you keep track of it in order to hold yourself accountable and to know, like, you did it or you didn’t.
Oh, and I just found for, in my notes, characteristics of good key results. They’re specific and time-bound; aggressive, yet realistic; and they’re measurable and verifiable.