Measure What Matters (book review)

Measure what matters book review

There are two aspects – contents and context – to John Doerr’s 2018 book, Measure What Matters, a book about OKRs (Objectives and Key Results).

Content.

Objectives are “what is to be achieved, no more and no less.” Grow the blog, lose weight, or strengthen important relationships.

Key Results are ways to “benchmark and monitor how we get the objective.” List ways to grow the blog, lose weight or build relationships. “It’s not a key result,” Marissa Mayer would say, “unless it has a number.”

Straightforward enough. Is this a book that could have been a blog post?

Maybe, but Doerr offers a trio of cautions.

Warning 1: OKRs are not a way to show activity, they are to focus attention and weigh the opportunity cost. Organizational achievements, not ego appeasements.

Warning 2: Sometimes incentives hijack the Key Results (Goodhart’s Law). An antidote is paired counterparts. In the Wells Fargo cross-selling scandal the Key Result of open accounts could have been paired with monthly active accounts.

Warning 3: OKRs are a tool to use not a dogma to follow. If objectives change then OKRs change too.

Context.

Context is a Bob Moesta word encompassing who, what, when, where, why, and how? Steak and hot dogs are ‘good for dinner’ within the right context. The same goes for OKRs.

Doerr is a venture capitalist at Kleiner Perkins. OKR adopters include Intel – where Doerr learned from Andy Grove – and Google among other technology firms.

The OKR system, Doerr wrote, “was a great impedance match, a seamless gene transcription into Google’s messenger RNA. OKRs were an elastic, data-driven apparatus for a freewheeling, data-worshipping enterprise.”

Google was a perfect match. But your business may not be.

OKRs, as Doerr presents them, requires a certain culture. Part of their effect is to argue well. Andy Grove set the Intel culture for OKRs because Andy Grove was at Intel. Once he left the culture changed from bettering to bullying.

Doerr has many examples, one of which is Zume Pizza, but they’ve gone out of business. What’s the right lesson in that? What’s the context?

OKRs are lightweight, malleable tools. But their usefulness varies. Will OKRs be OK for you?

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