It is easy to lose focus when working in a startup. New opportunities continually present themselves, and there is tons of opportunity in front of you.
However, each new opportunity you pursue comes with a cost. While you may be working hard, and even efficiently, you might also be straying from the strategy and long term goals without even realising it.
We’re lost, but we’re making good time.Yogi Berra
You will certainly not be alone. Going into the unknown is what makes working in startups both exciting and excruciating. However, much like an explorer, as you head into the unknown, you should start with the best map you have. There are still many unknowns left to be charted. You’ll need to do this along the way.
At the end of last year here at Capital Pilot we very much felt like explorers making good progress but knowing that at times we were drifting off course, trying to go in too many different directions. We knew we needed to do something about it, and then we ran across the objectives and key results (OKR) framework.
What are OKRs?
There are a ton of great resources out there to get you started (see below). As a quick overview, objectives are goals and things you want to accomplish in a given period. Generally, you’ll set a few annual objectives at the team level. Each team will then set its own quarterly objectives based on what they need to achieve to accomplish the team goals.
Below each objective are a few key results that tell you whether you’ve accomplished this goal. The key results are measurable and should leave no doubt at the end of the year or quarter, whether you achieved them.
Not everything needs an objective or key result. For instance, measure the day to day work of running the business with ongoing key performance indicators (KPIs). You do want to employ OKRs for achieving growth or improvement.
Some resources for understanding OKRs
- There Be Giants // Beginner’s Guide to OKRs
- Google Ventures Startup Lab workshop // How Google sets goals
- Google re:Work // Guide: Set goals with OKRs
Implementing OKRs at Capital Pilot
We are now in our second quarter of utilising OKRs. It has completely changed how we focus on our work. We now work in two-week sprint cycles. We have a fortnightly meeting where we review each of the key results for each team member, where we are in terms of hitting our targets, and what work we did over the past two weeks in the advancement of our key results. We identify three or four goals for each team member for the next sprint cycle to further our objectives and key results, as well as any other major initiatives we hope to achieve as a team.
The sprint goals don’t always have to be directly related to an OKR, but having those constant reminders of the overarching goals is incredibly helpful in focusing and prioritising.
We have quarterly meetings to discuss each team’s past quarter’s OKRs and set the next quarter’s. These are all framed by the annual OKRs we set for Capital Pilot. We also discuss the yearly OKRs to ensure these are still the goals we are aiming to achieve.
Flexibility is essential here – we don’t want to keep marching towards a goal that has become the wrong thing to do redundant? Undesirable?. However, the process we go through in changing those goals is now explicit and discussed by the team at these quarterly planning sessions, as well as in the fortnightly sprint reviews and planning meetings. That way we don’t keep accelerating into the abyss for too long.
Setting up your objectives and key results, especially at the beginning, is probably the hardest and but easily the most critical part. Writing a good objective, ensuring the key results are aligning you properly [well aligned/ properly aligned] to the real goal, making sure the targets are achievable but also motivating.
In addition to this, deciding on cadence, number of OKRs to set, how to arrange workflows around OKRs was difficult. We count ourselves incredibly lucky to know Lawrence and Viv (who is also one of our board members) from There Be Giants, an OKR consultancy. Lawrence joined us for our latest OKR setting session and took us from being overwhelmed and uncertain as to whether we were doing it properly, to everyone on the team being excited and motivated by the objectives we’d set. If you can, hire them or join one of their workshops. It is time and money well spent.
To cut down on costs and number of SaaS, we decided to use Airtable to set up our OKR tracking. We use Asana, our project management tool, to track goals and subtasks for our fortnightly sprints, as well as meeting agendas.
We’ve also made the metrics we are tracking easily available to each lead in DataStudio whenever possible. Initially, we’d automated the whole key result tracking dashboard in DataStudio so that metrics updated in real time and no one had to manually enter them anywhere. However, we find the process of each lead having to go and look at the metric, and then actually type it into the tracking board in Airtable is important as each team member is actively checking in on the numbers on a regular basis.
Get in touch if you’d like to copy our tools – we’re happy to share.
We can’t recommend the OKR framework highly enough and hope you’ll give it a try. We’d love to hear from you on how you’ve managed implementation, as well as any issues you’ve come across. Leave a comment or drop us a line! You can also reach Lawrence from There Be Giants at if you are interested in using their services.