Best Practice When Setting Product OKRs – The Product Manager Perspective, With Kent J. McDonald

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    Product management14 Jan 3 mins read Malte Scholz

    Setting Product OKRs is becoming increasingly common in business.

    What challenges do organizations face in doing this, and what’s the best way to go about it?

    Ahead of airfocus’ upcoming roundtable - Kick Off 2022 by Setting Your Product OKRs Right – we are running a series of interviews with the participants, beginning with Kent J. McDonald – Product Manager and Writer, KBP.Media.

    airfocus: Hi – can you please explain a little about who you are and the organization that you work for?

    Kent McDonald: I’ve got an eclectic background. After college, I started working in automotive engineering before moving into the IT sector, predominantly focusing on financial services . I’ve done a good deal of agile coaching, worked with both teams and product people, and worked within larger organizations working on PM and business analysis. 

    I’ve also done lots of writing. I've written several books that focus on being a better PM, particularly for people working on internal product management. 

    airfocus: There has been a growing trend for organizations to adopt product OKRs over the past 18 months. What's been behind that trend in your opinion?

    Kent: There are two main reasons. Some organizations are doing it because they think they should do it and know Google does it! That’s obviously not the best reason to get started with product OKRs. 

    But there is also a drive to be more product-based in many organizations. They need a way of measuring progress based on outcomes – what impact are they having on customers and the business? The OKR model is a highly effective way of knowing this.

    airfocus: How well are organizations doing generally with OKRs in product management?

    Kent: In all honesty, I've always been skeptical of best practices, particularly around product OKRs. Programs need to be tailored to an organization’s specific requirements, and a failure to do so will have an adverse impact on the results. 

    Because of that, I’d say that OKR implementation has been mixed. Many organizations try to apply OKRs based on only a brief understanding of what is required or do so in a way that they have seen others do. This rarely works. To succeed, you need the specifics of how practice works, why it worked in a particular organization, and understand the commonalities. 

    airfocus: What are some common reasons organizations do not succeed with product OKR?

    Kent: The most common reason is a lack of OKR understanding - misinterpreting how to use OKRs and misunderstanding the structure. Such organizations are going about it wrong and will always struggle to get value from OKRs.

    airfocus: What advice would you give to an organization embarking on product OKR? 

    Kent: The critical thing is focus. Organizations should limit their objectives to three at the most. OKRs can also be used to constrain solutions too. If an organization aims to increase something, it will often need a counterbalance not to impact something else.

    For example, a customer service function with lots of interactions might have an objective to increase the number of problems solved. A key result would be to reduce the average call time, but this might encourage people to think ‘get customers off the phone ASAP.’ So, the organization would also need to put something in place around NPS so the first result is not impacted. 

    airfocus: What’s in store for 2022 and product OKRs?

    Kent: This is purely aspirational, but I’d love to see OKRs become more prevalent inside organizations such as banking or insurance and for them to adopt OKRs more effectively moving forward. OKRs are not just the domain of highfliers and tech start-ups; they are just as suited to broader industries.

    Kent will be sharing further insight on product OKR during the upcoming airfocus roundtable on Thursday, January 27th, 2022, at 11:00 AM (EST).

    Click here to register.

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