This post mainly talks about OKRs, but it 100% applies to whichever goal-setting framework your team uses. It could be Scaling Up, it could be MBOs, it could be NCTs. The point will remain the same. Happy reading.
I've seen a few tweets and posts lately telling teams that they don't need a platform to track their goals/OKRs.
"You can just use a spreadsheet."
Well. Devs could code in a text editor. Teams could manage their tasks in a doc. Salespeople could track their pipeline in a spreadsheet. But today, we use tools like VS Code, Jira, ClickUp, Salesforce and Hubspot.
Why? Because the right kind of software will increase productivity AND happiness by multiple orders of magnitude.
So why does it feel like there's a movement against applying software to outcomes?
First, some background about me
I'm a co-founder of a goal-tracking platform, so it'd be fairly easy to dismiss this post as vendor bias and stop reading here. But that's not the correct label. I have experience bias.
I spent many years tracking OKRs in docs and spreadsheets. I've spoken with hundreds of teams doing the same. I've had to copy/paste stuff into keynotes, hunt down my OKRs, and double-check with teammates that I did not erase their updates by mistake.
We decided to build Tability because we were frustrated by the existing tooling.
But hold on. Spreadsheets aren't all bad.
Here's the thing. I fully agree that you shouldn't start with a software. Teams that are new to OKRs should use a familiar tool, like a spreadsheet, to facilitate adoption. It's already a big change for the team, and it's not the right time to introduce another platform into the mix.
This is quite similar to learning any new skill. You start in a simple and familiar environment and then get better tools once you get the hang of things. That applies to cooking, sports, music, art... and work.
But with OKRs, it's as if we're actively trying to prevent teams from getting more productive. Not all platforms are great, but there are better options than using a table to manage strategy. And I'll go even further: spreadsheets will end up getting in the way of having a successful OKRs implementation.
OKRs are about conversations, not reporting
– Hey, could you make sure your OKRs are up-to-date for the monthly review?
– Uh, ha ha, yeah... I mean, of course... The OKRs... I know them.
*Scrambles furiously to find the spreadsheet*
– Oh lord.
It's one thing to set goals, and it's another to remember them. Executing a strategy will generate a lot of noise. It's all the meetings, emails, chats, projects, etc, that need to happen to deliver the initiatives that will move the needle.
As a result, it's relatively easy (and normal) for people to lose sight of their North Star. A team doing monthly OKRs check-ins is likely to see their attention drift away from the expected outcomes. You get sucked into side projects, or expand the scope of your work beyond what's necessary. Worse, you might have started with the wrong set of goals, but it'll take another 30 days before you get to see that.
On the other hand, a team that can review progress every week will maintain great focus on their OKRs. They'll start the week by discussing outcomes, which will help them keep the right context in mind when working on the outputs. They'll also identify risks earlier and react to changes in the market faster.
To put it in numbers:
- Monthly OKRs check-ins = 2 opportunities to re-align teams.
- Weekly OKRs check-ins = 11 opportunities to re-align teams.
Without fast feedback loops, your goals will turn into a monthly reporting chore that yields little benefits.
Ok, but how does that relate to spreadsheets?
We took a bit of a detour here, but I needed to make a strong point about the importance of feedback and conversations. If OKRs were just about tracking metrics, then a spreadsheet would be the better-suited option. But your OKRs should be a living document that generates thoughts and debates. It should be something that you can explore and look at from different angles every week.
There are 7 things for your platform of choice:
- Ease of use: managing OKRs and doing check-ins should be quick and easy.
- Alignment / mapping: teams should be able to see how OKRs relate to each other.
- Finding OKRs: it shouldn't take much time for anyone to find the goals they own or care about.
- Trends: you should be able to see how scoring and confidence evolved over time.
- Conversations: people need a simple way to give feedback and discuss progress.
- Reporting/workflow: can you quickly generate dashboards that summarize the OKRs data? Can you automate notifications?
- Integrations: can your tool connect to existing systems (ex: send check-ins reminders via Slack, link OKRs to tasks).
These capabilities will help people have more engaged conversations around outcomes. It's what makes it easier for teams to share updates and provide feedback at scale, instead of treating OKRs as a document that only gets looked at when management sends an email about it.
Now here's how I'd score spreadsheets vs. our own platform (yes yes, sales-y, I know).
Spreadsheets win in terms of ease of use due to their familiarity, and they're obviously good at reporting. But that's it. The lack of trends, the difficulty of managing feedback, and the absence of workflows will make it hard for orgs to go further than OKRs-as-reporting mode.
But don't get me wrong. A tool will never be able to tell you what your strategy should be, and Tability won't magically fix your OKRs. But it will greatly improve transparency and give a much better understanding of execution.
And better-informed teams will make better decisions.
So this is my point. We're telling people that we're embracing the outcome-driven mindset. We're saying that we want empowered teams. And we want to do all that while being remote or hybrid.
Yet we recommend that people stick to sub-optimized tools that require a significant amount of work to be maintained, while offering little upside in terms of actionable insights and feedback.
When we built Tability, our objective wasn't to create an OKRs tool. It was to put outcomes at the centre of conversations, with rapid feedback loops and actionable insights. We're not perfect, and there's a lot that we want to improve. But we fully believe that outcome-driven teams will need outcome-centric tools.
So yes, you will need a dedicated platform for your OKRs.
(And it's likely to be Tability)