Getting OKRs to Resonate with Engineering

Meetings
Sharing the vision
OKR
Internal Communication

29 March, 2020

Dave Marks

Dave Marks

Vice President, Engineering at Bleacher Report

Dave Marks, vice president of engineering at Bleacher Report, chimes in with some helpful advice to propel engineers to a complete apprehension of annually appointed OKR’s.

Problem

I do our OKR's here on an annual basis. What continues to be the biggest difficulty is getting these objectives to resonate with engineering. This can often be related to a lack of understanding, feeling intimidated to ask questions, and not enough push at varying levels within the engineering department.

Actions taken

  • One of the first things I do, once I know what the OKR's are, is to sit down with other engineering leaders and discuss these business goals.
  • I have to ask myself the following questions: 'What are the things I can do within the engineering department to support these OKR's?' 'How can engineering help expand sources of revenue?' What I do as a result of that, was to go through that exercise with other engineering leaders. This entails a long, meaningful conversation about how many things directly or indirectly contribute to supporting these OKR's.
  • As a group, I get the engineering team together to talk about these objectives, have them hear the business side, and hammer into them what they need at a business level. I make it clear that these are what we were being tasked with for the year.
  • To reinforce these company-wide ideals, I ask my managers, as part of their one on ones, to walk through the OKR's again with those individuals, reaffirm our commitment to them, identify that they are being understood, and present an opportunity for questions to be asked.

Lessons learned

  • Transparency is key. At the end of the day, OKR's need to be comprehensively understood from top-level business to the lowest level engineer.
  • If engineering leaders do not fully understand what the OKR's mean, you will start off on the wrong foot and everything else after that will be a total disaster.
  • Getting engineers to understand what they need at a business level can be challenging, but it is worth the investment, and I highly recommend you invest as much time to doing this as possible.
  • More often than not, there is a sense of vulnerability that comes with asking questions about OKR's in team meetings. It is important to allow an opportunity for questions during one on ones, where they will be more comfortable to ask for explanations on things they do not fully understand.
  • It is critical, that from the start, you articulate any foreseen inabilities in supporting certain OKR's. It can be a difficult conversation and sometimes your instinctive advice will not be accepted. However, it is advisable to have said your piece before beginning a near impossible task on a current platform.

Related stories

Process Improvement
12 March

Tim Barnes, Senior Engineering Manager at Instacart, describes how having flexibility and iteration when dealing with processes can lead to improvements across the board.

Dev Processes
Team processes
Meetings
Tim Barnes

Tim Barnes

Senior Engineering Manager at Instacart

Balancing A Reorganization Between Business Goals and Product Divisions
6 March

Nidhi Gupta, Co-Founder of divHERsity and former CPO of Hired, talks about restructuring teams to focus on core business goals. The reorganization allowed Nidhi to gain alignment of R&D organization with the rest of the business, allocate stakeholders, set clear KPI success metrics, and establish OKRs.

Cross-functional collaboration
Scaling Team
Internal Communication
Collaboration
Company Culture
Reorganization
Nidhi Gupta

Nidhi Gupta

Chief Product Officer at Hired, DiverHERsity

Impactful Mid-Level Thematic Objectives
2 March

Jon Fan, VP of Product of Box, describes why he created a mid-level tiered 12-month set of focused roadmap themes and how it connects the company’s strategy to the Sprint-level work done by individuals.

Sharing the vision
Prioritization
Jon Fan

Jon Fan

VP Product at Box

A New Perspective on Continuous Delivery
2 March

Jon Fan, VP of Product at Box, describes how he formed a virtual operating team that integrated leaders from the launch and release phase of a product into the product development process.

Collaboration
Product
Internal Communication
Building a Team
Jon Fan

Jon Fan

VP Product at Box

How to Communicate Poor Decisions Made by Management
29 February

Evan Carmi, Engineering Manager at Airbnb, discusses how to approach higher-level managers and express your dissatisfaction with the poorly made decisions.

Managing Up
Internal Communication
Evan Carmi

Evan Carmi

Engineering Manager at Airbnb