Measure what matters

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Measure What Matters is a great business book by venture capitalist John Doerr. It is about how the disciplined use of objectives and key results (OKRs) has helped companies like Google and Intel excel. (Thank you, SF, for giving me the book!)

Doerr brought the OKR concept to Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin during the company’s early days, and they credit the practice to much of the company’s success. Doerr had learned the practice while working with Andy Grove—the Father of OKRs—at Intel years before.

In short, objectives are the big picture aspirations of a business, and key results are the measurable goals the business must accomplish in order to achieve the objective. Here’s an example from the book. It relates to Intel’s famous “Operation Crush” back in the 1980s as it set out to reclaim market dominance in the microprocessor industry:

Corporate Objective: 

Establish the 8086 as the highest-performance 16-bit microprocessor family, as measured by:

Key Results for Q2:

  1. Develop and publish five benchmarks showing superior 8086 family performance.
  2. Repackage the entire 8086 family of products.
  3. Get 8MHz part into production.
  4. Sample the arithmetic coprocessor no later than June 15.

Intel was wildly successful in this initiative, and they credited OKRs for this success. There are many, more recent examples of OKRs in action in the book.

Doerr writes in the book that OKRs have four superpowers:

  1. Focus and Commit to Priorities – so that attention and resources are allocated only to what matters most.
  2. Align and Connect for Teamwork – all team members know how they contribute to the objective and work together to get the job done.
  3. Track for Accountability – transparent, regular monitoring of results.
  4. Stretch for Amazing – the art of reaching for the stars and getting to the moon, while your competition merely reaches for the sky. 

Measure What Matters provides proof of the power of structured goal setting combined with data-driven accountability. Businesses need both elements to succeed. 

In my writing, and in the Strategy and Operations Alignment System™ I use to help businesses get results, I use different terminology than OKRs, but it amounts to the same thing. I call objectives “impact goals” and I call key results “building blocks”. Setting impact goals and building blocks are part of the 3-Year, 1-Year, and 90-Day plans that all businesses should have in place.  

The key is that the building blocks required to achieve the impact goal (or the key results required to achieve the objective) must be measurable. There is no gray area in them. The business either achieves them or they don’t. And the achievement of the building blocks by definition means that the impact goal will be reached. 

When you combine this process with a weekly review of the progress of the building blocks, and the key data related to them, you’ve got the rocket fuel to propel your business forward.