John Doerr’s OKR Superpowers and Agile Leadership

John Doerr, in his book Measure what Matters, identifies four “superpowers” that make OKRs effective:

Superpower #1: Focus and Commitment on Priorities

Effective organizations focus their work on the important things and they have a clear idea of what they do and what they don’t do. OKRs encourage making tough decisions early and allow for clear communication between departments, teams and individuals.

Superpower #2: Alignment and Connect for Teamwork

With transparency about goals provided by OKRs, everyone’s activities are linked to company goals. The trick comes from the combination of top-down and bottom-up communication about goals: top-down conveys the importance of each individual’s work, bottom-up generates motivation and enables a variety of innovations. Last but not least, comprehensive transparency brings new opportunities for alignment across team boundaries.

Superpower #3: Goal tracking and accountability

OKRs are data-driven at their core. In doing so, they encourage periodic check-ins, continuous adjustment of actions, and they allow for accountability that does not involve blame. In this way, they support a collegial culture with communication at eye level.

Superpower #4: Stretch for Amazing

OKRs motivate us to go above and beyond, to do amazing things. With the freedom to experience failure without sanction, they expand our ability to experience our most creative and ambitious sides.

The OKR Superpowers and Agile Leadership

For me, it was an interesting exercise to align the Superpowers with my principles of Agile Leadership“Focus – Enable – Align – Empower“.

  • Focus and Commitment on Priorities – this is the easiest, it almost equals focusing leadership, it goes further and makes it concrete
  • Alignment and Connect for teamwork – OKR thus focuses the teams. Agile Leadership has additional tools that set the stage for teamwork.
  • Goal tracking and accountability – Accountability and traceability is a prerequisite for empowerment to be lived sustainably and for mutual trust to be constantly validated and strengthened.
  • Stretch for Amazing – this has no equivalent in the leadership model

This leaves Enablement from Agile Leadership – again, there is no direct equivalent for this in the OKRs.

Develop strategy and implement strategy

What remains for me is the conviction that OKRs is a tool that, as an agilist, you won’t want to do without once you get to know it. And that you can leverage even more synergies once you start. Coming up, I’ll talk about the next treasure to have: expanding Big Room Planning in large teams.

OKRs are a strong link between a strategy, the leadership activities to communicate it, and the execution and implementation of the strategy: they allow the link to be tested empirically and make strategy implementation measurable.

On Key

The VSM Quick Guide: the model

The introduction to the series on Jon Walker’s VSM quick guide. It describes the simplified VSM vocabulary as used in the rest of the steps.