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Founder’s story: Why did I create the OKR software?

Introduction

Anton Cherkasov

Anton Cherkasov

Anton is a founder of Focus, which is a team management platform. He is also a writer in HackerNoon, The Startup, Good Audience, and other media. Previously Anton has worked in Wildberries (#1 eCommerce store in Russia). He is falling in love with growth hacking, product management, and football.


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Startup Journey

Founder’s story: Why did I create the OKR software?

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Why did I create OKR Pulse software?

As an entrepreneur or a manager, do you want to build an amazing team that achieves new heights in the business? 

Well, of course, you do… And I wanted the same. The real question is – how to manage the team and increase productivity?

This is the story about problems I had managing my previous startup and why I created the OKR Pulse platform, which gives new tools to better manage the team.

Several words about me

And before starting, I’d like to say several words about my experience. My career started in the Wildberries, which is the largest eCommerce company in Eastern Europe. Then I worked in the oil industry, where I was raised to the Head of a department role. It was a great and very useful period of time when I began to manage the team. At that time, I quickly realized that there are a lot of issues and misunderstandings in team management.

One step further, I exited from the job and created my first business, which was a marketing agency. I had created an amazing team in agency business that converted in Kepler Leads, which is a conversion optimization software. 

I was a pretty experienced entrepreneur, who struggled with the common manager’s problems.

Problems I had as a manager (and I’m not alone in these struggles)

Can you guess what it is?

It was an employee burnout. The employees lost their motivation and the team had a pretty hard time and low level of energy. And it’s a really common problem for people. According to a Gallup survey, 44% of employees reported feeling burned out sometimes. 

There are several reasons why it happens. However, our main problems were the unmanageable workload and the lack of clarity. Especially, people didn’t have a clear vision of why we did what we did. We also had many third side projects because of the lack of focus. We had so many goals that people were overwhelmed. 

Ha, you needed project management software

And, you know, we used project management software to structure all processes. We ran Scrum sprints to iterate quickly and be more effective. I mean we were a really prepared team that used great software and team management framework. 

However, it didn’t help us as much as I wanted. People were losing motivation and it directly impacted the total outcomes.

Our Trello boards were full of tasks and columns. 

Trello board
It looked something like that (image)

See, when I was trying to improve performance, we documented everything to better deliver information about what people should do and all the company’s goals. It didn’t help. 

The real problem

The real problem was the lack of focus on the strategy. You know, sometimes we love to jump into tactics. What should we do today, how can we achieve this goal, and so on. And it was each day. 

I made separate columns on Trello for vision and strategic goals, but it didn’t work well. It was my fault as I should talk about strategy more. In reality, we had strategy goals on Trello, but people didn’t see the connection between those big strategic goals and their daily routines. In a few days after the strategy session, everything returned to the usual mode when we were thinking about new tasks, daily routines, and deadlines. Tactics, tactics, tactics.

It only increased employee burnout. 

How did we survive?

There was no magic button, but in one time we decided to use Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) after researching how this goal-setting system has helped tech companies from Intel to Google.

OKRs are a method of setting objectives and tracking key results. It allows you to synchronize the team and focus on the most important things. You literally become to feel like the one team because everyone understands how she or he impacts on team and company’s goals.

Objectives and Key Results (OKRs)

Objectives

“It’s like goals served in a fractal manner”

Eric, founder of Pebble

Objectives should be ambitious and inspire the team to achieve new heights. According to Google, objectives should not be achievable 100%. An OKR that was 70% accomplished is a great indicator of an objective. 

Tips for setting objectives:

  • Choose from three to five objectives
  • Lead to the new achievements
  • The team should understand if a result was achieved or not

Key Results

Key results make OKRs more specific. It is specific metrics, which are based on objectives.

Tips for setting key results:

  • Write three key results for each objective
  • Choose specific key results, which show you achieve the goal
  • It should be measurable 

One OKR example from Uber:

OKR example from Uber
OKR example from Uber

What about us?

We survived after OKRs setup. It helped us connect strategic goals (objectives) with tasks that everyone works daily (key results). Team members began to see the outcomes of their daily job. It also focused on the most important goals that we should achieve.

OKRs in Focus
OKRs in Focus

It was the breath of fresh air when the team understood the outcomes of the job. As I said before, OKR was not a magic button, because it took a decent time to implement them. Also, I started to run systematically 1-on-1 meetings with team members, which definitely gave another boost in team engagement. 

There was a mix of several things that helped us to survive and grow the business. However, OKRs played a significant role for us at that time. 

Why did I create OKR software?

We ran OKRs in Google Sheets and tried several OKR platforms, but nothing matched my expectations. Each of these options has pros and cons, but I didn’t find the solution I wanted. I had 2 main criteria for OKRs software:

  1. Strategy: it should be easy to set OKRs that everyone understands what’s going on in the company in several clicks (design, dashboards, etc).
  2. Tactics: it should push the team not only a strategic vision but also in weekly and daily execution.

OKRs in Google Sheets became too overwhelming because of the lack of opportunities in design. At one time, it stopped being comfortable looking for people’s OKRs in a spreadsheet with too much data.

Other OKRs platforms didn’t match my expectations because of tactics criteria. An OKR software usually has weekly cycles when the team updates their OKRs one time per week. It’s fine. However, I wanted to keep the team’s focus on OKRs not only each week but also each day. I wanted to achieve the best combination of strategy and tactics.

About Focus

That’s why we created Focus, which is the first OKR Pulse platform that gives all tools for managing the team on strategic and tactics layers. 

OKR Pulse = OKR (strategy) + Pulse (daily tactics)

The main concept is setting OKRs and keeping the focus on the main goals each day. Focus keeps teams on the most important outcomes instead of the heap of messages, emails, and endless meetings – focus on what matters the most. 

How does Focus work?

Step 1: Create OKRs

It’s pretty simple to do in Focus. Just identify your objective and key results for it. Everyone will see the company or team’s OKRs. 

OKR and dashboard in Focus
OKRs and North Start Metric in Focus

By the way, there is a dashboard where you can pin you North Star Metric. It makes magic real when everyone in the company sees the team or company’s main objective or key results.

Step 2: Run Weekly Updates

It’s the showtime now. Each week, your team will get a notification to complete weekly updates, which helps to focus on the most important goals. 

Weekly Update in Focus
Weekly Updates in Focus

Also, you should update the status of the OKRs you participate in. It allows everyone to see how their work impacts on company outcomes each week.

Step 3: Run Daily Standups

Here is the daily tactics activity, which is called daily standups. It’s short updates with 3 simple questions that align the team and show everyone what’s going on in the team. 

Questions for daily standup:

  • What did you do yesterday?
  • What are you going to do today?
  • Any blockers?

It takes only 5 minutes for team members to complete the standup. In contrast, long status report meetings that cost pretty much for the business if you calculate the time, which employees waste on it. 

Daily Standups in Focus
Daily Standups in Focus

Daily standups allow synchronizing the team with OKRs in daily operations. 

Conclusion

That’s it. I shared my story about why I created Focus and why I believe that it’s crucial for a company to build a healthy environment, which helps people to focus on what matters. 

OKRs system is really useful if you find out the right objectives for your organization. It aligns the team and brings team performance to the next level.

You can try Focus for using OKRs and running daily and weekly updates. This mix of strategy and tactics is a very powerful toolkit to not only set strategic objectives but also align the team each day and keeps focus on what really matters. 

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Anton Cherkasov

Anton Cherkasov

https://usefocus.co/

Anton is a founder of Focus, which is a team management platform. He is also a writer in HackerNoon, The Startup, Good Audience, and other media. Previously Anton has worked in Wildberries (#1 eCommerce store in Russia). He is falling in love with growth hacking, product management, and football.

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