Last year Clearleft celebrated its 10th Anniversary, and with it came a period of introspection. We’d grown by 30% each year for the preceding couple of years and the team was now getting too big for our company goals to be tacit. Instead we needed to find smart, light-touch ways of keeping everybody aligned with our purpose.
During this time I started talking to Christina Wodtke about the workshop she was planning for UX London. It was on something called OKRs or Objectives and Key Results, which were apparently all the rage in Silicon Valley. I was prepared to write it off as another management fad, but the more I looked into OKRs, the more interested I became.
At first I saw them as a tool for consultants; a way to align client teams around the needs of their projects, and help galvanise action. However the more I thought about them, the more I could see their role at Clearleft.
If you've not come across OKRs before, the process is delightfully simple. You set 2-5 objectives for next quarter, along with a small description about why those objectives are important. Then, for each objective, you come up with 2-5 measurable outcomes.
The outcomes for a typical product company could be things like "increase retention by 40%" or "deliver 12 new product features. For a consultancy they could include "grow income to £1m" or "generate 30 new business leads this quarter", while for individuals it could be "speak at 6 events" or "write two blog posts per week".
These outcomes are essentially "stretch goals", so things that are possible, but difficult to achieve. Reaching 70% in each key objective is considered a successful outcome, while 100% indicates that the goal wasn’t aggressive enough. As such OKRs are more about ambition than achievability, and are there to help improve your aim rather than your accuracy.
This felt like a really nice way to keep everybody aligned and on target, so we've decided to undertake a 6-month trial. Over the Christmas break I crafted a draft set of OKRs for Clearleft, along with some for myself, and shared them with the company. I then tasked each discipline group (UX, Design, FED and Ops) to create a set of team OKRs at their next weekly meeting. Off the back of these, each team member is going to create their own personal set of OKRs for the quarter.
OKRs are meant to be shared around the organisation, so for the trial we’re doing this via a Google Doc embedded in the staff directory area of our wiki. I suspect we’ll find a more sophisticated way of doing this is we carry this trial forward.
It’s still early days yet, so I’m keeping an open mind. However I’m definitely keen to see how the experiment goes, and will report back in a few months time.