The best OKR reading list in the world?
This is a post to share material I’ve pulled together on OKRs.
And you could help make it the best OKR reading list in the world.
To make it easier to find the stuff that is useful in a particular situation, I’ve grouped the material into sections:
- Background: Why I’m doing this — my personal OKR
- Getting started: Introductions to OKRs
- Practical guides
- Case studies
- The OKR Bible: Measure What Matters
- Books I’ve not read but others have recommended
- A LinkedIn group
- Things for people who want to read more
Background: Why I’m doing this
Over the past few months, I’ve been learning about OKRs.
One way in which I learn is to gather a bunch of stuff together and read it — probably a hang over from my days long ago doing academic research.
There is a LOT of information out there on line for people who want to learn more about OKRs. But I found several problems when I was looking for what to read:
Often it’s hard to know where to start. And when I dug a bit deeper, I often found myself reading the same things being said again and again. Also, much of the information posted online comes from someone who is trying to sell something (eg a book, service, or software), and so of course they link to all of their own materials but less so to things others have produced. And the reading lists I found were very short and focused solely on books. So I thought I’d share the list of the books/articles/videos I’ve found most helpful.
I haven’t seen this done by someone else with no skin in the OKR game, and so I thought to myself:
And I wrote a personal OKR:
Objective: Create the best reading list out there on OKRs
- 3000 people view the reading list over the next 6 months
- I return to the reading list 12 times over the next 6 months and quickly find what I’m looking
- 5 people at work tell me that that they’ve found the reading list helpful
- 5 people I know outside work tell me that they’ve found the reading list helpful
- 10 people I don’t know tell me that they’ve found the reading list helpful
- Select the best articles only and avoid listing multiple articles saying essentially the same thing. [Hypothesis: people generally don’t want to read numerous articles making the same points, they want the one that makes the point best.]
- Include links to where people can find more. [Hypothesis: Some more specialist readers will want to dig deeper.]
- Organise by topic and include headers to help people navigate the reading list and find the material that is most useful for what they are trying to do/what aspect of OKRs they’re interested in [Hypothesis: more people will want to find content within the list by topic than by author.]
- Crowd source additional ideas/recommendations on Twitter
- Add a silly title
- Publish on Medium, share on Twitter, Slack and LinkedIn
- Respond to reader feedback and iterate
If you have got a suggestion for how I could improve this reading list, please let me know. For one thing, you’ll be helping increase my chances of hitting my OKR!
Getting started: Introductions to OKRs
Radical Focus: Achieving Your Most Important Goals with Objectives and Key Results, by Christina Wodtke, 2016. This book is a great place to start, because it’s told as a story, an easy-to-read “fable” that follows a struggling start-up that turns things around by embracing OKRs. Also, it’s short — the story is 100 pages, including pictures, and then there’s a further 50 pages of advice. (Here’s a review of the book by @jukesie.)
The Art of the OKR If starting out with a book is too much, I recommend this 2014 article by Christina Wodkte, which contains much of the guidance on executing OKRs that would later go into her book. You’ll miss out on the story though….
Felipe Castro’s Beginners guide to OKRs contains just about all that you need to understand OKRs and start putting them into practice. It’s like a practical ‘how to’ guide for OKRs, covering things from how to write them to how to track them — and it’s clear.
Some people prefer watching to reading.
- I would start here: Why the secret to success is setting the right goals, TED talk by John Doerr (12 minutes)
For the main course
- And then move on to here: Accomplish Big Goals With Objectives & Key Results: Christina Wodtke tells the story from her book (27 minutes)
For desert (with a pinch of salt!)
- How Google sets goals: OKRs, by Rick Klau in a Google Ventures Startup Lab video from 2012 (82 minutes) is often referred to as “pure gold” and cited as required viewing on OKRs. It’s had more than 650k viewers. However, 5 years later, Rick said that he would change a number of things in his video presentation (eg “avoid metrics that quantify progress; focus only on metrics that reflect actual impact that’s core to the business”). Nonetheless, I found his talk clear and interesting, even though I don’t agree with all of his advice (eg the approach he described includes cascading OKRs, and many of the examples of KRs are actually activities, rather than results).
My advice for people keen to understand some of the nuances of OKRs is: watch the video. And then balance it by reading this article by Felipe Castro.
There are many guides covering the practicalities of implementing OKRs. These are my two favourite overviews:
- Google’s OKR Playbook, Google’s OKR guidelines and templates
- Set goals with OKRs, a guide by Google’s re:Work team
And here are the best articles I’ve come across that provide advice on different individual aspects of OKRs:
A timeline for your OKR process:
- A typical OKR cycle, John Doerr
- On having a dual OKR cadence: annual for the company and quarterly for the teams, see Strategic vs. Tactical OKRs: Nested Cadences, by Felipe Castro
On the distinction between KRs and activities:
On the distinction between OKRs and KPIs:
On how to use lead and lag measures with your OKRs:
- OKR, Leading and Lagging Indicators, by Rob Davies at perdoo
Guidance for setting team-level OKRs:
- Team-level OKRs in 7 steps, by OKRs.com
- Marty Cagan, in a short article on ‘OKRs for Product Teams’ in Radical Focus, gives some great advice on OKRs for multi-functional product teams and how to avoid conflicting OKRs. The key, he says, is to “focus your OKRs at the product team level “— which brings me on to….
On whether to use individual OKRs, or only team-level OKRs:
- Should you use individual OKRs? by Felipe Castro
OKRs.com also lists reasons not to set individual OKRs. Perdoo also argues against OKRs for individuals, as do Spotify. Rick Klau’s succinct advice is to skip individual OKRs: “They’re redundant. Focus on company and team-level OKRs.”
How to improve weekly status emails with OKRs:
- The Dreaded Weekly Status Email, by Christina Wodtke (This short article is also available as a chapter of her 37-page booklet Introduction to OKRs, where it contains an example of a weekly status email that is beautiful in it’s simplicity.)
How not to do OKRs:
I often find it is effective to learn from anti-patterns and mistakes:
Real life case studies
One of my favourite ways to learn is to come out of the theory and to listen to people who have “been there, done that” talk about what it was like for them. Several people have told the story of their organisation implementing OKRs. These are the ones that I have found most valuable:
- Putting OKRs Into Practice: The true story of trying to put Google’s planning system into use, by Luke Kanies at Puppet.
- Implementing OKRs: A tale from the trenches, by Brett Crosby at PeerStreet.
- OKRs: Implementation and Challenges, by Dominic Hung and Max Williams. This is a 3-part blog about the experiences at Pusher. Part 2 is here, and part 3 here.
- How we use OKRs on GOV.UK, by Steve Messer
- How to get value from Key Results, by Gareth Bragg
The OKR Bible
A reading list on OKRs would not be credible without Measure What Matters: OKRs — The Simple Idea That Drives 10x Growth, by John Doerr — the man who introduced OKRs to Google. His book contains the history of OKRs, several case studies, and a nice combination of OKR theory and a focus on people. (Here’s a summary.)
As with Rick Klau’s video, I suggest you read the book. And then balance it by reading this excellent, nuanced review by Felipe Castro: Measure What Really Matters: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of John Doerr’s OKR Book.
As Felipe explains, the book “is a must-read for anyone who is serious about learning OKR” but could be improved in a number of ways. In particular, Doerr describes KRs as the “how”, which leads people to think about KRs as activities instead of measures of success (measures that will tell you if you’ve achieved the outcomes you want to achieve), and several of his examples of KRs do not focus on outcomes and instead list activities/deliverables. (Henrik-Jan van der Pol makes a similar point that many of the examples in the book confuse KRs with activities/initiatives.)
If you can combine all of that advice, then you’re at the OKR Jedi master level.
Books I’ve not read but others have recommended
The next book I’m going to read on this subject:
This book is sometimes referred to as the “first reference work on OKR”:
- Objectives and Key Results: Driving Focus, Alignment, and Engagement with OKRs, Paul Niven & Ben Lamorte (2016)
A LinkedIn group:
The group, owned by Ben Lamorte, is a forum for sharing “best practices for defining and rolling out OKRs and also serves as a forum for networking with software vendors and consultants who provide OKRs support”.
I still want more!
- You might be interested to read the 4 key things I’ve learned about OKRs.
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Publishing this reading list was not actually driven by the personal OKR above. That was an afterthought and just a bit of fun.
Although I balanced the main quantity KR with some quality KRs, I didn’t spend time thinking if these are the right KRs. And it didn’t actually drive my behaviour or change my activities, except make me think up a silly title for the post (although who knows if I might add additional activities if/when I review progress against my KRs…).
I believe in making things open. It makes things better. There’s no competitive advantage to this information — it’s all freely available on the internet. And, as said I’ve said elsewhere, it’s one thing to read about the theory of OKRs, the secret sauce is in your people and how you put the theory into practice.