What is the single biggest benefit of OKRs?

Reid Christian is a General Partner at CRV – one of the nation’s oldest and most successful early-stage venture capital firms, based in Palo Alto, California. In this Voices of OKR feature Reid reveals the true value of OKRs.

The textbook answer to “What is the single biggest benefit of OKRs?” would be something along the lines of “marrying strategy to execution,” but I believe the true business value is even more simplistic:

Course correction.

As a venture capitalist, I am a board member at several privately held companies and therefore attend close to 50 board meetings a year. Most of these companies (soon to be all!) use OKRs to align their teams and review with the board on how they are tracking towards their objectives.

But this isn’t about reporting for reporting sake, it’s about taking action. Or in other words course correcting while captaining the boat, working on the boat or simply enjoying the boat. And in order to course correct the vessel, the crew needs the superpowers of inspection and agility. And this holds true for any business or operation.

Inspection: knowing if you are veering off course and knowing it ASAP! Obviously charts and instruments help to know your position relative to the course you are plotting. For enterprises today, sales teams are one of the most well-armed groups when it comes to tracking their progress with data. But what about other groups? Product, Engineering, Customer Support, Marketing, Finance, etc… They don’t have weekly “pipeline” reviews to see if they will miss their goals or many times they don’t have quantifiable metrics or success criteria. This is where OKRs help not just for alignment, but inspection on the progress.

Agility: once you’ve identified you are off course, what’s required to change direction? One call up to the helm, or do you need to run up 6 flights of stairs? Amazon is famous for its “2 pizza” rule that enables product and engineering teams to maintain agility and keep their teams aligned. But this agility isn’t restricted to Amazon or engineering teams.

So, while I’m no nautical expert, I understand it’s quite difficult and slow to turn a container ship. But with the right information, small adjustment early on can drastically change the course of the vessel. No surprise this is the same for companies. These issues rise as companies grow and expand, the feedback loops of information get slower. That’s why the ability to “inspect” and the “agility” to make changes quickly allows you to take advantage of the single biggest benefit of OKRs: course correction.

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