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Measure What Matters, and Iterate to Get It Done

If you’re thinking about implementing OKR’s, don’t forget to Iterate.

My book has a sibling!

I don’t know whether to call it brother or a sister, but in early 2018 investor and venture capitalist John Doerr published a book called Measure What Matters and it’s definitely one or the other. It’s the beginning of the research-based tale of how to run a truly high performing and scalable organization –and what Doerr begins in his book, I finish in mine, Iterate. Since it released just a few months later, I guess that makes my book the younger one.

I have to say, I love this older sibling. Measure What Matters is brilliant and focused, delivering a complete picture of the importance of clear outputs and measurable results, concepts sorely lacking from much of what passes for “goals” in business today. John Doerr does an outstanding job describing the utility of what he calls “Outputs and Key Results,” with ample illustrations of specific cases. Readers are left with a solid feel for his “OKR’s” concept and a variety of ways to implement it.

Like most siblings, these two share a heritage. As Doerr explains, his linked goals originated with the work done by management guru Peter Drucker on cascading goals in the 1970’s, in combination with the implementation of Drucker’s work by Andy Grove at Intel around the same time. Doerr first learned the concept as an employee of Grove, and he correctly notes that although Drucker ultimately criticized and moved away from the idea of cascading goals, Grove took a unique approach that made Intel’s version — and therefore Doerr’s version in Measure What Matters — more successful than Drucker’s.

What about Iterate? Well, around the time Doerr was working at Intel, my mentor William R. Daniels was retained repeatedly by Grove and his team to define, package and scale Grove’s approach to management — that is, all of what Grove was learning from his regular visits with Drucker. Intel was adding employees, sometimes by the thousands, and Grove, who had been teaching managers himself, needed a scalable alternative. Daniels had worked with Drucker’s contemporaries; he shared Grove’s understanding of high output management and understood what Grove was doing. So, Daniels consulted with Intel in designing and delivering training and coaching programs based on the sociology, psychology, and behavior of management teams. These interventions captured Grove’s unique approach, got presented to tens of thousands of employees over decades, and became fundamental to Intel’s management, culture, and spectacular growth. (Those of us on the inside were well-versed in this content, learning about “Effective Meetings,” “Change-ABLE,” “Breakthrough Systems,” “Organizational Speed and Flexibility,” “The Dress Rehearsal,” and/or “Matrix Management.”)

Before he retired, Daniels shared his knowledge, transferred his body of work, and sold his IP to me and my firm. That was the starting point for my methodology, described in Iterate. Like Doerr, I worked at Intel for a decade before moving into consulting, learned inside as well as out, and added my own discoveries from both arenas — things like tools to engineer behavior and culture change, models for accountability through forecasting, tricks for real-time management development, and processes enabling managers to interact as heads of coordinated teams instead of competing individuals.

The siblings agree: Clear, output-centric, measurable goals are as important in Iterate as they are in Measure What Matters. What Doerr calls OKR’s, I call “Output and Status Broadcasting,” and it’s one of my “Five Key Practices for Iterative Management.” Our books are so closely aligned, in fact, that both open a chapter with the same humorous quote from Yogi Berra about knowing where you’re going.

If you’re interested in running a high performing organization at any level, you should read Measure What Matters. You should also read Iterate. If Doerr’s advantage is completeness regarding goals, mine is completeness regarding management; I had the luxury of inheriting a more robust picture of how high performing organizations run. I spend only one chapter on “Output and Status Broadcasting” not because there’s nothing more to say, but because I needed my other 169 pages to get into practical detail regarding what leaders and managers do to accomplish, refine, and improve upon the goals they carry. Clear, linked, regularly announced outputs are just the beginning.

Doerr does mention some other elements. He talks about frequent status update meetings, which I call “Work PreView meetings.” He mentions connected, cross-functional groups, which I call “Linked Teams.” And, he refers to employees collaborating to make intelligent trade-offs, which I call “Group Decision-Making.” The thing is — and here’s why my younger sibling, Iterate, is so important — the appearance of those concepts in Doerr’s book implies that the very existence of clear goals makes the rest happen automatically. It doesn’t. Work PreView meetings require a specific structure, Linked Teams follow particular guidelines, and Group Decision-Making done badly will sideline even the clearest, most well-intentioned, most collaborative individuals. Goals are critical; they’re also not enough.

The siblings also agree on the importance of accountability — but Iterate goes further into its mechanics too. Not that I blame Doerr; this is a complex set of concepts that could distract from his focus on creating strong OKR’s. (I should know: graphical output display and forward-looking forecasting gobbled up a big chunk of my goals chapter and four of my five appendices.) However, real accountability doesn’t happen unless you represent those planned outputs using clear visuals which include both expectations and future commitments. Compelling goals alone won’t do the trick.

Both Iterate and Measure What Matters are practical books, based on solid research, to help make your team more nimble and productive. And while I’m pleased for my book’s sibling and proud of both of our successes, I’d urge you to keep the family together: if you’re thinking about implementing OKR’s, don’t forget to Iterate.

You can learn more about the Five Key Practices and see what it means to Iterate at www.IterateNow.com.

*Article originally appeared at Medium.com

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