Book Product Tour <https://discover.krezzo.com/product-tour>
Book Product Tour <https://discover.krezzo.com/product-tour>
                                      EPISODE 13

                                       

                                      Moving The Needle With Lean OKRs (with Bart den Haak)

                                       

                                       

                                      jay-heike-M6xNMyYi4H8-unsplash

                                      Podcast Transcript

                                      KJ

                                      Bart, it's great to have you part of the podcast here. As I said to you, before we hit record, absolutely thrilled to just get your ideas and thoughts and share and share them out with our listeners today. It's very exciting for us. And Bart is the author of moving the needle with Lean OKRs. And sort of the first question I wanted to put forward to you was, you know, tell us a bit about yourself why you wrote the book. And yeah, why don't we go from there?

                                      Bart

                                      Yeah, thanks for having me first place. And, yes, why I started for half the book, I think it goes back a long time, I was a developer and engineer and development manager. And I saw a tremendous amount of waste in organization, especially around the engineers that are highly educated people coming from top notch universities. And they were giving instructions basically, in forms of requirements, like, oh, you need to implement this and that, and they basically literally took orders and start implementing the requirements as a working in factory like a feature factory. And ten years back, or even more, I was introduced to the concept of OKRs objectives and key results in your organization. And I thought, like, Okay, this is changing everything, right. So instead of okay, thinking about all the requirements that we need to take, and that we need to implement, I could, together with a team, write an OKR, and a team had all the freedom to implement and get their own implementation and create your own designs to, to fulfill the business requirements. So I think yeah, since then, I fell in love with OKRs. And I tried to combine it, and give advice and training as much as I can in that. And so that was actually triggered, writing some articles, and then off some time and worked with a lot of clients. I noticed that a lot of people struggle with how to implement it. And I felt like, Okay, this tool should be easy. It's, that is easy. But still a lot of people struggling with that. So I thought like, you know, you know what, let's write a book about it to help people, you know, implement it in their organization.

                                      KJ

                                      Yeah, that's fantastic. And so what do you think the biggest struggle is then?

                                      Bart

                                      Well, I think the biggest struggle is first culture. And, yeah, because working working with OKRs is changing the way all your work, or you're currently working your organization. Even if you're, you know, not working in in product organization, like a software product development company, even then you can implement OKRs. But you still need to think differently. And I think that whole mindset, especially amongst managers need to change. They need to change the way of working and I think it's, that's the biggest change. I see that needs to be done. I see many organizations struggle to implement things like strong workstyle OKRs is even tougher than that. So yeah. And I think a lot of people don't realize that,

                                      KJ

                                      right? So they don't realize that OKR is, is really synonymous with changing your behavior as an individual and as a collective. Right. And so you help people with that, you know, you've wrote the book, and you consult people and change their behavior. I've done a lot of that as well, in my career, and I wanted to ask you more personal question, which is, do you ever get frustrated or demotivated by people not being able to change their behavior? Because you can only take your horse to water? You can't make them drink? Right?

                                      Bart

                                      Yeah, so there are different scenarios where it's very hard to adopt OKRs. It won't work in every scenario in every situation for every business. And, you know, that's why you see the big successes with OKRs. You see them in smaller startup community, but also at companies that that, you know, are we used to Agile way of working basically. So SaaS companies that we see out there, so, so typically, I tried to focus on these kinds of companies to limit my frustrations a little bit. Yeah. But yeah, if you have like an old brick and mortar company that wants to use OKRs, yeah, sure, it could work but they need to change a lot of things before they get there.

                                      KJ

                                      right right, and you put forward in the book like even in the title, it's lean OKR. So how could you tell us a little bit about how that's different from, let's say, regular OKRs?

                                      Bart

                                      Yeah, so I try to implement as much as the Lean thinking to OKR because I see one of the root causes, see why OKRs are failing is, one of them is, is that people are just having too many of them, they think they can translate every goal that exists in their organization, or they translate every KPI they have into OKRs. And I think this is this is, this is wrong, and it loses its transformative power, right OKRs are there to make significant changes in your organization to business outcomes. And if you just put the label on are your goals and just the OKR label and everything, you get this tremendous amount of OKR in your organization. And as we, you know, learned from lean, having inventory is a form of waste. And if you see this large amount and excess amount of, of our PRs in your organization, you can say, Okay, this is waste, right, you should try to limit your number of OKRs in your organization. If you think about, if you also think about flow, and how fast, challenging goals can flow to your organization, you really want to minimize that as much as you can.

                                      KJ

                                      Yes, absolutely. And you think like, the principles of Lean thinking are really about efficiency, you know, and minimalism, and I guess, is, then the, what, what you're saying is he the problem is people just struggle to prioritize, they struggled to say no to things, they struggled to say, Oh, now we're going to know, we should only have one objective around sales. But the sales manager is very loud. He's very, you know, maybe influential in the company. So to keep him happy, we'll, we'll do the two things he wants. And now instead of one objective, we have three. And so is that is that what you're kind of getting as the struggle to actually prioritize and say no, inside companies?

                                      Bart

                                      Yeah, I think I think a lot of people find it really hard to make tough choices. And I believe OKRs Are you know about taking risks? Yeah, if you can't, if you can't make those hard choices, as leaders, I think we have work to do. So OKRs is about making these hard choices and having these conversations about why why are we going for this? And not the other way? Why are we going for retention and not for customer satisfaction, right? So to give you an example, or we need to expand in this territory, or this in this in this in this area, and not in the other area, like you need to make choices? Because OKR, they need to make significant changes. If not, then why not just do whatever you've done before, right? Yeah,

                                      KJ

                                      and let's get the maybe even more tactical than with someone, let's say imagine we're in the phase where of planning and OKR for perhaps the year or the quarter, and the instruction from an OKR coach, like yourself is to say, let's select one OKR it's either retention or satisfaction, it can't be both, you know, give some and then there's, you know, 1215 executives in the room. All very, you know, different personalities, different levels of stubbornness. And agreeableness. You know, maybe give some insight of your experience there. I'm sure that's, that's something you've come across a lot, and what sort of tactically could be done to sort of, you know, prioritize?

                                      Bart

                                      Yeah, so if you think about, you know, we're looking at our departments, and all of them need to be you need to have OKRs. And we look at some of the KPIs, we translate them into OKRs. And now all of a sudden, we need to, you know, have this fight around for your needs, like my OKR is more important than your OKR. But that's not the point. Because OKR is all about strategy execution. So we need to go one step back and think, Okay, what is our strategy? What is our corporate strategy? Or what is our product strategy? I think about okay, what are all the things? What are the things that we're not going to do? What is the focus on what, on which of the areas do we need to and do we want to focus as a company that will help us, you know, get us to the next level of growth? And then based on that strategy, you can then define Okay, which OKR isn't that important for our organization? And I think it's also a myth that people think that every department and every team, every individual needs to have OKRs. OKRs are very strategic, and you can use them. But it's a myth that all your teams need to have OKRs, this to comply to, you know, are we doing OKRs, everybody needs to do OKRs. And they all of a sudden you get in a situation where you need to debate and fight about OKRs, but it's actually the other way around. So you need to start with the strategy first, and most companies, unfortunately, they don't have a real good strategy. You don't have any strategy defined at all. Yeah. And that's, that's Yeah, where are you getting in trouble.

                                      KJ

                                      But then we go back up a level. So you're saying, Okay, let's, instead of debating on what OKR is to focus on, we need to first formalize our strategy and be have a consensus around that. But then, equally isn't the debate of what strategies we should have just as similar as what Okay, or as we should set? You know, maybe the strategy is to focus on five different things. So isn't it just lifting the prioritization debate one level higher?

                                      Bart

                                      Yeah. So it will, of course, so you need to with a senior leadership team, you need to think about focus, need to think about all the things that you're not going to do. But if you look at all your strategic priorities, and that there are million things you need to do. If you can prioritize if you can catch up, right, those things into a couple of buckets. And that will really help you thinking about, okay, what is the most important thing we want to focus on? Because ideally OKR focus on, like you said, Before, you focus on the a few things. Yeah, and not all things need to have the anchor chains, right. So the anchor chains in a broad sense, either, you know, you want to change your customer behavior, or maybe you want to change your employee behavior. And both are good scenarios for OKRs, you need to treat them a little bit differently, but we can talk about that later. So think about a couple of buckets. So there's a bucket, which is basically signing go. If you have like the authority to sign a put your signature about it, you know, doing an acquisition, buying some software package, that could be strategic, that could be a priority for you, but you just sign it and it happens. Right? Yeah. The other thing will be operational, right? You want to continue focusing on operational excellence, you want to make sure that, that all your KPIs are healthy, right? This could also be your key. But that's all something that that you continue to do. But what is what is it one thing that will elevates your company to the next level? Can you maybe find some cause and effect relationship? They maybe find an hypothesis that you think will propel the company forward? Only one thing at a time? Can you focus on that for one quarter? And if you're wrong, then guess what, you have another shot at the in the next cycle. And I think chasing deference perspective, to focus on the behavior change and the significant change that we want in your organization that will help to set the PRPs for many leaders.

                                      KJ

                                      Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, the way you put that, in really sort of deciding what that one thing is, and having a singular focus, it can simplify a lot of the decision making in your organization, because you you have the singular focus, you know, what is in bands, and what's out of bounds. And it can really drive a level of focus level of motivation for people. So yeah, it's something you talk about a lot in the book, you know, you, you have these great chapters, actually, in the conclusion, where you kind of give very direct sort of coaching advice to someone, or a company who was, was looking to, you know, transform their company or trying to change behaviors with OKRs. And you talk a little bit about what they should expect in the first 90 days if they managed to get a singular focus. What's going to happen in the first 90 days, so maybe you could share a little bit about that.

                                      Bart

                                      Yeah, so the next next night, the first 90 days is is you know, discovering how PRs work. And it will be quite a chaotic journey. Probably you're going to do even with with Aspies and even with a coach, you will get things wrong. So you need to discover like oh gosh, we don't have the baseline data to measure the thing that that that we find interesting or you know, oh, facilitating all these sessions is harder than we thought already. We need more time to build a high quality OKR or how do we align everybody together? Oh, how do we find good time slots? How do we deal with time slots or with different parts of the world?

                                       

                                      Bart

                                      You know you need to find an answer to and there are some best practices but you need a the whole journey is all first 90 days. You journey is to basically tailor tailor the OPR process to your organization. Because we can give all the advice that you need to make OKRs fit into your organization. So you need to make sure that the people own it on that process. So you will find these things. And that's normal. And therefore, I always suggest to start with a pilot group. So not to do a big rollout. Start small. Start with a pilot group, maybe look at one of your high most high performing teams in the company, start there, see if they if they can adopt adopt OKRs. And then, and then maybe the next cycle, bring another team or maybe a couple of teams and then scale like that. Yeah, just quickly, how, what what works best? Yeah, and then go ahead, go ahead. Now, I think check ins is also really important. I think it's one of the driving powers of OKRs. So weekly check ins is one of the key practices that you need to implement. And teams will struggle with them, right? Oh, why do we need to implement weekly check ins? And how does that integrate with all the other events and ceremonies that we have? And why do we need to do it? And how can we measure progress on a weekly basis? All these things will come by? And you need to have answers for that

                                      KJ

                                      now. Yeah. And a very common question that that I get asked, and that I really want to know, your opinion on. It's very important. How long will it take before I see any value from my OKRs? And I mean, OKR is I mean, the, the initial program, if I launch it, you know, how long will it take for me to see any sort of return or benefit? Yeah,

                                      Bart

                                      yeah, great question. Yeah, I think it also depends on the company size, I would say like, if you are a startup, and you're, you know, a bunch of people in a garage, then things go really quick, right. But let's assume a little bit larger organization, like a scale up organization, Around 500 people or so, yeah, it will take about one and a half years. So to implement it, right? Because you need to make sure that you have all the things in place to make sure that OKRs can work. For for starters, you need to have baseline data. And if you're not, if you're a b2c company and you collect like hundreds of data points, that that won't be an issue for you. But if you're a b2c or a b2b company, you still need to put a lot of effort in, you know, collecting basic baseline data or instrument or systems to get some kind of data into your system, then you need to wait a couple of weeks to make sure that you have like a historical data to see. And to get are some proof or significance for statistical significance in order to see any of the effects. So definitely take you at least a couple of weeks, at least 10 weeks, for sure. And then you need to start off the pilot groups. So you need to start a pilot, maybe in your executive team, take these learnings, they may be doing a pilot with one of your product teams, if you're working in a product company, then you can scale it maybe for one area. I prefer to scale. It's what we call value streams. So you need to focus on a value stream, maybe let's let's put it there. And then you scale they need to decide, Okay, do we need to include other companies like sales, marketing, HR, or can we exclude them. And then interesting things will start because then you need to make sure that you need to align between leaders. And that's the hardest part. So you need to install a process where this is where this gets aligned. And this is basically the toughest point. So it will take you about one and a half years. Yeah. And then you will see, hopefully, you will see your business results change. Right. So or at least or even bottom line results will change. And then you know, okay, now we nailed it, OKRs are working.

                                      KJ

                                      Yeah, like one and a half years is a hell of a long time, on average out to wait. And do you think? Do you think that's commonly known before people start on their journey that it's going to be on average a year and a half before they see a return on their investment?

                                      Bart

                                      That's the first thing I'll say and when I went away when they would like to have coaching from me like it will take you at least one and a half years and not because I need to be there for one half years. But you know the the process of change in such a large organization, even if the organization is larger, it will take way longer of course. But yeah, the speed of change in these kind of organizations is just you know, not fast enough. So unless they have like Can excellent change process in there? You know, maybe it can go quicker. But on average, like there's some companies that, you know, implemented faster. But on average, it will take that long. Yeah, because it's a massive change in your organization. And not a lot of people will get it, or you can expect a lot of resistance from people. So it will take you Yeah, it will take you that long. If you if you look at a typical scrum implementation, many of my customers, they use Scrum or something like that framework like that. If you think about how long that will take, to implement, OKRs is tougher than then that's framework, so it will take you longer.

                                      KJ

                                      Yeah. I mean, that's, like, if anyone was to take anything away from this conversation, I think that's it, you know, because I also advocate for that timeframe, you know, perhaps haven't had as much experience doing the implementations as yourself. But certainly, I agree, changing behaviors is a long arduous process. And that doesn't happen overnight. And there is no silver bullet to it. And that's, it's a continuous learning, process, and it, but what I fear, and this is what you tell me, because this is why we've been working a lot on designing a process that could at least provide some sort of benefits, no matter how small they are, during that year and a half, that you can, the small quick wins that you can, you know, celebrate and motivate people with, I think those are really important. And I don't know if you had any examples of those or experience with those too.

                                      Bart

                                      Yeah, of course, there's there's always low hanging fruit that you can, you know, easily remove, or, you know, different way like, oh, no, it will speed up the process for sure. So, you know, having I think an OKR coach that have done it and seen it before, I think, you know, is, is great, of course, it's really tough to do OKRs on your own. Unless you've unless maybe in a previous company, you've implemented them before. So yeah, so But definitely, there's some low hanging fruit that can speed up the process, but still, you need to put up put in the effort. And also this one off years, it's, I really want to emphasize that is that it's not done, it's not the ones and you know, it's not a OKR is not a project, you know, it's something that will continuously will do and needs to be in your DNA of your company. Right. So it's yeah, it needs to anchor and it needs to, and you need to be fearful of the pace of regression, because that exceeds the pace of progression, you could make great progress over a year and a half, adopting OKRs getting them, you know, more prioritized. But, you know, that could take a year and a half people can go back to what they were always doing within a month or two, you know, so that regression is always there waiting for you if you're not urgent enough with your OKRs.

                                      Bart

                                      Yeah, yeah. And I think I think if you look at company as a system, I like, you know, the school of thought of, you know, systems thinking better deal as another's. Like, if you think of the organization as a system, there's one rule, it always wants to go back to status quo, it always wants to go back as how things were before. And you need to you need to go through certain stages of change before, you know, can go to the other side. And I think it's all starts with one really important thing, I think that many leaders miss when they start implementing OKRs with starting with urgency, but why is it so important for us as organization? So use OKRs? Right? What is it what is the problem we trying to fix with it? Because, you know, why not use SMART goals? I always young people, you know, we want to implement OKRs, great. Now, why not use SMART goals? Or Oh GSM or fi to mum or name any kind of goal setting methodology? Why? OKRs? Yeah. If you can't answer that question, then you should go back to the drawing board.

                                      KJ

                                      Absolutely. That's a great starting point. You're right, why OKRs? Why now? What's in it for you? You know, these are all questions your employees are going to ask when you get on a town hall and say we're going to use OKRs. Everyone's going to ask themselves whether it's out loud or just to themselves they're gonna say, Well, why the hell are we bloody doing this now? You know, not my place.

                                      Bart

                                      Another management gimmick tool that we need to implement. Now it's OKRs. Next week, we need to do scrum are, say for now, whatever.

                                      KJ

                                      And do you think there will be a new OKR gimmick? Do you see? Actually, there's two questions. Do you see it as a gimmick? And do you think there's going to be a new OKR? Sort of plus or some other framework? Yeah, I

                                      Bart

                                      think good question. I think OKR is if you don't have a thing like OKRs, or similar thing that, you know, is focusing on quantitative results. Now, I think, as I see some so many companies just, you know, excuse me, for my french, he's bullshitting around with, you know, fake objectives, fake goals that, you know, nobody's going to achieve, or you don't know how to measure progress against these things. So even on an on an strategic level, it's there's just too much, you know, weasel words or things like, you know, these things like being used, it's too fake, and people can't measure progress. And I think OKR is a great starting point for organizations to start with, Okay, think about, what is my objective? How can we quantitative measure it? Is he going to get any closer? How can we collect some evidence that we're getting any closer? How can we set up experiments that will drive these results? I think this is the foundation, but it is fair, it's a very limited few, even if you think about larger engineering projects, you need to have way more of these, you know, you need to think more quantitatively about all your decisions. So I think it's a great starting point enabler for organizations to think like that. I think an OKR plus will be even more metrics.

                                      KJ

                                      Yeah, even more outcomes, vote orientated?

                                      Bart

                                      Yeah, some of the things that, you know, if you if you ask me to improve maybe, is concepts such as constraints, right? We can we can negotiate OKRs Together with a team. Now, the manager can give him the problem to solve by the objective, and then the team can figure out the key results. But, you know, it's still giving maybe teams too much freedom. So maybe, you know, I think, very just a couple of limited constraints for the things, you know, these are the rules that you need to play with, right? Or play by. And I think, some some organizations that go really wild on autonomy, and then the team can do whatever they wants. And then you also get like, wrong outcomes. I think, I think, you know, having some limited constraining metrics would would maybe act like guardrails for some teams that will be maybe a great addition.

                                      KJ

                                      Yeah, that's very good. Yeah. People like those, like being empowered, but you know, they need predictability too. Yeah. All right. So maybe this is dovetailing nicely into part two, entitled OKR is a scam.

                                       

                                      Does your org need help with OKRs?

                                       

                                      Book Free Consultation <https://discover.krezzo.com/free-consultation>