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OKR through Hero Travel Metaphor

At the initial explanation of what OKR is, sometimes I hear bewilderment – what is the advantage of setting goals for short periods, is this not a sign of shortsightedness. And what is the value of team planning and retrospectives, after all, everything is clear. Here is a goal for the year, for example, on revenue. A clear, understandable figure that is directly related to business value. Well, if everyone around us says that in a modern, accelerating world, it is necessary to set goals for a quarter or even a month, we do that. The annual goal is proportionally divided into quarterly, at least daily. Go and do it. It is interesting that more often I hear such objections from decision-makers complaining about their employees that they cannot reach the set figures.

In an attempt to explain how OKR works, I spontaneously found a metaphor that turned out to be understandable. And I want to share it with you. I will be glad if the OKR community of practitioners joins and complements it with my own examples and vision.

Have you ever gone hiking or orienteering? If so, it will be absolutely clear to you how OKR works. If there wasn’t even such personal experience, then maybe you watched films about Heroes Travel, like the archetypal Lord of the Rings, or played quests on a computer.

Often the Heroes on such a journey have a clear destination, with tangible results – for example, to defeat evil by throwing a ring in Orodruin’s mouth, save the Princess and marry her, having received half the kingdom in addition, or just go to the top of the chosen mountain and take a selfie in the background flag of your company.

Following the logic proposed by the opponents, the plan for achieving the goal is very simple. We take a map, find a destination and draw a route.

Well, even if not so, in azimuth, but taking into account the terrain.

You can even identify intermediate points, calculate distance and time, and set measurable KPIs. But the Journey, and especially real life, turns out to be more complicated and unpredictable, it throws up tests for us (as it should be for the Hero, of course).

There is an ultimate goal of travel, but new critical goals arise beyond each turn, without which it is impossible or too difficult to achieve the final result. And these intermediate goals may or may not be directly related to the final goal.

For example, the route runs through the ford of a small mountain stream. But the week went downpours, and a powerful stream blocks the way. What is now becoming your critical goal? The efforts of the team focus on the construction of the crossing.

Further, it is necessary to concentrate all forces on confronting some orcs, zombies or forester, applying the skills of both fighting and, possibly, negotiations.

Well and so on, you can already continue further, attracting examples of your favorite works from the archetype of the hero’s travel, as it reflects to a large extent both our life itself and business development.

So, what do the heroes need for the successful implementation of their mission, and even the campaign and personal transformation? Maintaining a commitment to the ultimate goal for each short period of time (stage of a trip, quest, etc.), select a critical goal and focus your attention on it, continuing to do the routine necessary for survival, if possible (for example, feed yourself and horses, continue moving, and etc). Ideally, if this is not just a forced reaction (hit and get out), but the conscious decisions made by the team, and the correctness of these decisions is checked at the end of the stage – in retrospect, where team interaction is also debugged, inevitable conflicts between team members are revealed and resolved, agreements arise and role distribution.

Goals are described in volume terms – as a goal (“What do we want?”) And key results describing it (“How do we understand that we are approaching a goal?”). For example, if the goal is “To transfer the team to the other side of the river,” then the key results could be “Number of migrants = 100%”, “Loss of equipment = 0”, “Crossing speed <3 hours”. Please note that the key results do not reflect the effect of achieving the goal (for example, the result – “we all got over and move on”), but the leading results, the necessary and sufficient set of metrics describing the degree of approach to the goal. For example, KR1 – the number of migrants – may be first 0%, then 10%, 50%, and so on. This may be related to KR3 – speed. Some KR can be achieved better, some not achieved (for example, everyone managed to get over, but the equipment loss is 50%). If possible, it is necessary to choose only those key results that the team can directly influence.

For example, introducing KR4 “Water temperature at the crossing is not lower than 20 degrees” is meaningless. With such a simple example, this is obvious, but in business practice we regularly encounter this, and this is normal. Another advantage of short planning periods is that the team is constantly improving their goal-setting skills.

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