OKRs at Substrakt

Author: Andy Hartwell

Having run a digital agency for over 10 years, the one thing I do know about is the importance of a good team (especially when you can’t design or develop a website yourself!). It is essential that we all stay passionate, motivated and on top of our game at Substrakt, otherwise quality suffers, the enjoyment disappears and then, well, what would be the point!?

In addition to delivering great projects for great organisations, we felt we could use something more to help with morale and professional development. We’ve tried several things over the years, but have found OKRs to be the most effective to date. This post gives a brief run down of what OKRs are and how we are using them at Substrakt.

What are OKRs?

OKR stands for Objectives and Key Results. They are a way of setting ambitious objectives and working towards them by breaking them down into achievable and measurable elements (Key Results). When I was first learning about OKRs this video from Google Ventures helped outline the benefits of this approach.

How do we use OKRs at Substrakt?

We decided to use OKRs at two levels, individual and team. You can also include company ones, but we felt the team ones would cover any broader company ambitions. The whole team present and discuss potential OKRs at the start of every quarter (as part of our regular strategy days), together we refine and agree our goals for the forthcoming quarter. We’ve settled on roughly 2-3 Objectives for both individuals and teams, and each Objective tends to have about 2-4 Key Results. During the strategy day we also review the previous OKRs, scoring each other on the Key Results from 0-1, with 1 being a complete smash out of the park and 0 being a non starter. The idea is they are very ambitious, so if there are plenty of 1s knocking about then we’re not thinking big enough. If we’re averaging around 0.6-0.7s then we’re doing pretty well.

In an ideal world the individual OKRs tie in nicely / work towards the team ones, aligning with the company vision, which is why it’s essential to discuss and agree as a group with transparency over all OKRs.

An example of a Substrakt team OKR for this quarter is ‘More Open Source!’
That is a fairy broad Objective, so the key results are more specific and measurable:
– 5 new open source projects (we included our specific project names too)
– Maintaining existing (X number of forks/likes on Y projects)

One example of an individual Objective was ‘Learn Go’, this involved the following Key Results:
– Implement on a project
– Go or no (deciding if it was going to be useful for the wider team and our work at Substrakt)
– Giving a show-and-tell session to the team
– Write a journal post

For a few years we have reserved Tuesday afternoons for internally-focussed development. This is now mostly dominated by working towards our OKRs. We quickly meet (in a standup format) before starting so everyone can share where their focus will be for that afternoon.

To manage OKR progress, we use a simple Google spreadsheet that includes the team members, associated objectives and key results and a column for the score. We have new sheets to cover each quarter.

It feels great to have an effective framework that works well for our team. Tuesday afternoons are now much more focussed with everyone having a clear route to achieving ambitious goals. We have seen positive results across the board including the the introduction of new languages, improved processes, introduction of events and the development minimum viable products.