OKR Confessions: Peter from Froomle

Peter Leclercq is the Chief Operating Officer at Froomle – a leading provider of self-learning recommendation engines, creating personalized online experiences in real-time. In this Voices of OKR piece Peter shares his first-hand experience with OKRs and reveals how to unlock their vast potential.

Why OKRs

Even before entering my current role, I had read books about the OKR framework and had a pretty good idea of how it is used to properly communicate company objectives.

As Froomle was growing rapidly, we felt the need for a better goal structure that makes intentions and plans clear across different functions. For example, how does a top-level objective, most often revenue, translate to the engineering team?

Theory vs. experience

No matter how many books you read about OKRs or how straightforward you think their central idea is, the truth is that you could find implementing the framework quite challenging.

Speaking with fellow practitioners (at other startups and scale-ups) actually helped. My conclusions from these insightful talks were that you should interpret the OKR framework yourself and make it your own. It’s not like Scrum, for instance, where you have a set of rules, which you can just follow and get the hang of it. OKRs should be approached with flexibility – the more you can tailor them to your organization, the better they will work.  

That’s exactly what we discovered – applying it strictly by the book didn’t work so well for us. The more we maneuvered and made it our own, the better the framework started to work.

“There is no gain without struggle”

In the beginning, our OKR process was based on Google sheets – we had a shared document where everyone was making a list of their OKRs. Everything was done in full transparency. However, there was no visual representation and cascading of goals. That’s when we realized that we should use an OKR tool.

At first, the team was struggling with writing good objectives. They were either too detailed or too high level. The key results were a list of to-dos, that weren’t measurable.

Alignment was also a challenge – everyone was doing what they were doing before and trying to translate their work into objectives, with no contribution to the high-level goals.

Finally, getting the OKR timing right was difficult, as well. During the first two quarters, it took us a month to finalize the OKRs. Being already one third into the quarter before even nailing them down makes things quite complicated. You basically have no time to achieve what you’ve set out to do.  

It took us 3 quarters to get to where we wanted to.

The panacea

Discipline is key. It is more important than writing perfect OKRs.

For example, now I start planning our OKRs about five weeks before the start of a new quarter to determine all top level and team objectives, while the various iterations are strictly planned with due dates. That allows us to finalize our OKRs before the quarter starts.

We also update our OKRs very diligently – weekly or biweekly. We weren’t doing that before – it was all ad hoc. What’s more, OKRs are now embedded into our regular team meetings.

So that discipline is much more valuable than the precision. It’s all about doing it.

Impact of OKRs on our team and business

At the beginning most of the people were wondering whether this was just another management fad. But everyone was determined to try to make it work and find the best way forward. This endeavor made us even more united – we were in the same boat, struggling quarter after quarter.  And in the end, we pulled it off.

I also had to make sure that it was clear to everyone that OKRs were not tied to performance reviews. So, I really emphasized that OKRs are not about individual performance and negotiating a pay rise. If someone couldn’t complete their OKR on time, we just sat down and talked about what went wrong and how we could improve it. Consequently, this fostered clarity and improved our decision making .

OKRs also helped us prioritize and make choices. The biggest benefit we witnessed was that we were able to say: “I won’t have time to do that, it’s not in my OKRs for this quarter.” This of course is not a way to dodge extra work, but truly concentrate on what is important for the customers and the company .

OKRs have made a positive impact on our business overall. We’re wasting less time in discussions during the quarter about what to do. No more: “What’s the plan?” or “What’s your idea?” moments.  We can also quickly pivot if necessary – in cases of unforeseen circumstances and change of priorities.

OKR’s have also had a favorable effect on the relationship with our customers . There is now a clear connection between the client and our roadmap. The client voice is incorporated into our OKRs – our customers’ feedback is translated into objectives.

Tips for implementing OKRs

My main advice – just do it. Take it seriously, be disciplined. Following a rigorous process of preparation before the quarter starts really forces you to think about your strategy in advance.

And then do as the books say – limit yourself. We learnt this the hard way – at the beginning we had too many objectives and key results. So, start with the things that matters most, and then you can expand into aspirational goals and make it more personal.

Finally, make the review and update of OKRs part of your daily work, not an obligatory OKR meeting. Make it a habit – discuss your OKRs during your daily 15-minute standup. That’s what makes it work.

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