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  • Writer's pictureLars Christensen

Measure What Matters by John Doerr

I finished this book in October 2023. I recommend this book 9/10.

👓 Why you should read this book:

You should read this book if you want to drive your team to success with OKRs like Google, MyFitnessPal, Adobe, and the Gates Foundation. OKRs are when you define your Objective and then list the Key Result for the objective. The book has very practical examples that I will test myself.

Get your copy here.

🚀 The book in three sentences

  1. A simple way to get a plan laid out with "What" + "How."

  2. Stories from Google, MyFitnessPal, Adobe, and the Gates Foundation.

  3. I will test this out both for work and my personal improvement.

🎨 Impressions

  • This is a book that is very practical in nature.

  • The book was a fan tribute to Andy Grove from Intel (I've read his own book)

✍️ My favorite quotes

  • W. Edwards Deming said, " In God we trust; all others must bring data."

  • Steve Jobs said, " We don't hire smart people to tell them what to do. We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do."

📝 My notes and thoughts

  • P7. OKRs: A management methodology that helps to ensure that the company focuses efforts on the same important issues throughout the organization. And OBJECTIVE, I explained, is simply WHAT is to be achieved, no more and no less. By definition, objectives are significant, concrete, action-oriented, and (ideally) inspirational. When properly designed and deployed, they're a vaccine against fuzzy thinking—and fuzzy execution. KEY RESULTS benchmark and monitor HOW we get to the objective. Effective KRs are specific and time-bound, aggressive yet realistic. Most of all, they are measurable and verifiable. (As prize pupil Marissa Mayer would say, "It's not a key result unless it has a number.") You either meet a key results's requirements or you don't; there is no gray area, no room for doubt. At the end of the designated period, typically a quarter, we declare the key results are fulfilled or not. Were an objective can be long-lived, rolled over for a year or longer, key results evolve as the work progresses. Once they are all completed, the objective is necessarily achieved. (And if it isn't, the OKR was poorly designed in the first place.

  • P23. Now, the two key phrases...are objectives and the key results. And they match the two purposes. The objective is the direction: "We want to dominate the mid-range microcomputer component business." That's an objective. That's where we're going to go. Key results for this quarter: "Win ten new designs for the 8085" is one key result. It's a milestone. The two are not the same...The key result has to be measurable. But in the end, you can look, and without any arguments: Did I do that or did I not do it? Yes? No? There is no judgment in it. Now, did we dominate the mid-range microcomputer business? That's for us to argue in the years to come, but over the next quarter, we'll know whether we've won ten new designs or not.

  • P26. Grove was a scientific manager. He read everything in the budding fields of behavioral science and cognitive psychology.

  • P37. As Jim Lally told me: "I was a skeptic on objectives and key results until Grove sat down with me and explained why they mattered. If you tell everybody to go to the center of Europe, and some start marching off to France, and some to Germany, and some to Italy, that's no good—not if you want them all going to Switzerland. If the vectors point in different directions, they add up to zero. But if you get everybody pointing in the same direction. You maximize the results. That was the pitch Grove gave me—and then he told me I had to teach it."

  • P40. Crush—the purpose: To establish a sense of urgency and set in motion critical, corporate-wide decisions and action plans to address a life-threatening competitive challenge.

  • P42. Examples of OKRs.

  • P43. Crush was a thoroughly cascaded set of OKRs, heavily driven from the top but with input from below. At Andy Grove's level, or even my level, you couldn't know all the mechanics of how the battle should be won. A lot of this stuff has to flow uphill. You can tell people to clean up a mess, but should you be telling them which broom to use?

  • P77. Steve Jobs said, " We don't hire smart people to tell them what to do. We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do."

  • P81. OKRs broken down as if a football team.

  • P96. I felt super-frustrated. We'd hired all these talented people and were spending tons of money, but weren't going any faster. Things came to a head over a top-priority marketing OKR for personalized emails with targeted content. The objective was well constructed: We wanted to drive a certain minimum number of monthly active users to our blog. One important key result was to increase our click-through rate from emails. The catch was that no one in marketing had thought to inform engineering, which had already set its own priorities that quarter. Without buy-in from the engineers, the OKR was doomed before it started. Even worse, Albert and I didn't find out it was doomed until our quarterly post-mortem. The following year, we tried to fix the problem with periodic integration meetings for the executive team. Each quarter, our department heads presented their goals and identified dependencies. No one left the room until we'd answered some basic questions: Are we meeting everyone's needs for buy-in? Is a team overstretched? If so, how can we make the objectives more realistic? Alignment doesn't mean redundancy. MyFitnessPal, every OKR has a single owner, with other teams linking up as needed. As I see it, co-ownership weakens accountability. If an OKR fails, I don't want two people blaming each other. Even when two or more teams have parallel objectives, their key results should be distinct.

  • P97. Where appropriate, we went for the incremental. But there were times when we told the team, "Don't worry about monthly active user impact on this one. Just build the best feature you can. We want you to swing for the fences."

  • P112. OKRs lets teams across time zones stay ahead. They also share well across silos.

  • P113. W. Edwards Deming said, " In God we trust; all others must bring data."

  • P120. Google uses a scale from 0 to 1.0:

    • 0.7 to 1.0 = green (We delivered.)

    • 0.4 to 0.6 = yellow (We made progress but fell short of completion.)

    • 0.0 to 0.3 = red (We failed to make real progress.)

  • P124. "We do not learn from experience...we learn from reflecting on experience." Here are some reflections for closing out an OKR cycle:

    • Did I accomplish all of my objectives? If so, what contributed to my success?

    • If not, what obstacles did I encounter?

    • If I were to rewrite a goal achieved in full, what would I change?

    • What have I learned that might alter my approach to the next cycle's OKRs?

  • P125. OKR wrap-ups are retrospective and forward-looking at the same time. An unfinished objective might be rolled over to the next quarter with a fresh set of key results—or perhaps its moment has passed, and it is appropriately dropped. Either way, sound management judgment comes first. And, one more thing. After thoroughly appraising your work and owning up to any shortfalls, take a breath to savor your progress. Throw a party with the team to celebrate your growing OKR superpowers. You've earned it.

  • P132. Make OKRs for Yearly and then Quarterly goals.

  • P139. At Google, in line with Andy Grove's old standard, aspirational OKRs are set at 60 to 70 percent attainment. In other words, performance is expected to fall short at least 30 percent of the time. And that's considered a success!

  • P149. Stretch OKRs are an intense exercise in problem-solving. Having gone through the Toolbar journey, I had a good sense of how to work my way through the inevitable troughs. I stayed cautiously optimistic with my team. If we were losing users, I would tell them, let's do an experiment to understand why and fix it. If compatibility were an issue, I'd assign a group to focus on that. I tried to be thoughtful and systematic and not too emotional, and I think that helped.

  • P176. That transformational system, the contemporary alternative to annual reviews, is continuous performance management. It is implemented with an instrument called CFRs for:

    • Conversations: an authentic, richly textured exchange between manager and contributor aimed at driving performance.

    • Feedback: bidirectional or networked communication among peers to evaluate progress and guide future improvement.

    • Recognition: Expressions of appreciation to deserving individuals for contributions of all sizes.

Like OKRs, CFR champions transparency, accountability, empowerment, and teamwork at all levels of the organization.

  • P206. But those OKR mediations helped me reset my compass: How do I contribute to the scheme of things? Then, it's not just another report, campaign, or field event. It connects to something bigger and more meaningful.

  • P215. In Project Aristotle, an internal Google study of 180 teams, standout performance correlated to affirmative responses to these five questions:

    • Structure and clarity: Are goals, roles, and execution plans on our team clear?

    • Psychological safety: Can we take risks on this team without feeling insecure or embarrassed?

    • Meaning of work: Are we working on something that is personally important for each of us?

    • Dependability: Can we count on each other to do high-quality work on time?

    • Impact of work: Do we fundamentally believe that the work we're doing matters?

  • P217. Feedback is a listening system. In the new world of work, leaders cannot wait for negative critiques on Glassdoor or for valued contributors to exit for another job. They need to listen and capture signals as they are emitted.

  • 225. But two quarters later, I still wasn't sure the OKR process could be saved. In a closed board session, I asked John Doerr, "If I don't think this tool is right for us, then we don't do it, right?" And he said, "Absolutely." By then, I'd diagnosed our root problem, a passive-aggressive approach. No one had addressed a basic question everyone at Lumeris was asking: "What's in this for me?" Though the OKR program was sincerely intended to improve goal-setting and collaborative communication, people didn't trust it. Unless we changed the environment, it couldn't possibly succeed (You need the culture and right organizational structure for OKRs).

  • P233. I need to commit and prove OKRs before pushing it on the team. And don't use Yellow—either things are Red or Green.

  • P239. John Doerr arrived at our very first ONE board meeting; he asked a simple and profound question: "Who are we working for? Who's the client here?" You can't think about what you really want to give the customer. You need to really understand the customer. A Senegalese proverb, 'If you want to cut a man's hair, it is better if he is in the room.' He said it in a loving way, but we didn't miss the message: Be careful if you think you know what the customer wants because the customer knows what they want. You're not the customer, and this messiah complex hasn't always turned out so well. Get the customer to the table.

  • P244. "If everything's at green, you failed." That was counterintuitive for a lot of people, especially now that we're financed up and have the best and the brightest working here. But John kept saying, "More Red!" He was right. We needed more big ambitions because that's what we're good at. We're less good at incremental stuff.

  • P256. Objectives are the "Whats." They:

    • Express goals and intents;

    • Are aggressive yet realistic;

    • Must be tangible, objective, and unambiguous; should be obvious to a rational observer whether an objective has been achieved.

    • The successful achievement of an objective must provide clear value for Google.

Key Results are the "Hows." They

  • Express measurable milestones which, if achieved, will advance objective(s) in a useful manner to their constituents;

  • Must describe outcomes, not activities. If your KRs include words like "consult," "help," "analyze," or "participate," they describe activities. Instead, describe the end-user impact of these activities: "publish average and tail latency measurements from six Colossus cells by March 7," rather than "assess Colossus latency";

  • Must include evidence of completion. This evidence must be available, credible, and easily discoverable. Examples of evidence include change lists, links to docs, notes, and published metrics reports.

  • P258. List of classic OKR-writing mistakes and traps.

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