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Monday, October 25, 2021

Review: Measure What Matters

 Measure What Matters is John Doerr's slides about OKRs turned into a book. OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) are given credit in the book as a management tool for companies like Intel, Intuit, Google, and many others for organizing their workforce around a common set of objectives, and driving for continual improvements. They are getting credit for eliminating politics and getting cross functional teams to work together.

Perhaps if I'd been more indoctrinated in the OKR process I would have avoided many career mistakes at Google. For instance, hiring, mentoring, and other important activities were never part of the organization's OKRs, so in retrospect I should have spent zero time on it and focused on my OKRs. Similarly, if you help someone save their job (by moving them out of the PIP process through mentoring or intensive teaching), you were not working on anybody's OKRs. An organization as big as Google really doesn't care.

To me, this is the biggest indictment of OKRs: by the time morale and cohesion of employees has deteriorated to the point where it's important enough to become an OKR, you've already lost. It's too late to stop an exodus of talent. OKRs almost never deal with this until it's too late, which is why you get the Silicon Valley death spiral.

At the back of my mind also is that the book doesn't actually provide any counter-factuals. For instance, there could be companies that have succeeded without OKRs as well, and it could be that Google succeeded not because of OKRs, but because it was in such a great market and had such a great business model that it would have succeeded anyway. Notice, for instance, that OKRs didn't help Google Video win over YouTube. It was having $1.6B in the bank that allowed Google to buy YouTube and then leverage that property into success. But in a business book, you're not allowed to write about alternate hypothesis to the tool you're trying to push.

Furthermore the kind of stuff that's discussed as distractions and innovations (the book makes the point that most innovation happens bottom up, rather than top down, but doesn't discuss the possibility that a laser focus on OKRs would actually usually prevent such innovation) usually turn out to be valuable, but difficult to measure, and probably never on anybody's OKR radar. I once had a conversation with Bill Coughran about OKR myopia and his response was, "The founders worry about becoming quarterly and short term focused after an IPO. I fail to see how the company could become any more short-term focused."

If you work any any company that fully adopts OKRs are an operating principle, this book is essential for your personal and business success. But if you're in the position of thinking about adopting this, just remember that the plural of anecdote is not data.

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