Tuesday 18 July 2023

Data-Driven OKRs: Unlocking Google's Success Secrets with Microsoft Power BI

Despite the appeal of systems like Objectives and Key Results (OKRs), many companies struggle to implement the concept. Like many seemingly simple ideas, OKRs are not as obvious as they look. 

How hard can it be to set an objective, and then define some measurable key results? I mean, what could go wrong?

In his book, Measure What Matters, John Doerr describes the OKR system as he learnt it under Andy Grove at Intel. It’s a good read, and Doerr brings out an A-list of celebrity organizations to illustrate his point. Doerr describes how he introduced OKRs to Google, and how it was Google who greeted his OKR message with the most enthusiasm. In the Plex author, Steven Levy, says “Doerr had Google at metrics”. Not quite as romantic as Jerry Maguire, but we get the message. Levy goes on to say “OKRs were an elastic data driven apparatus for a free-wheeling data-worshipping enterprise”.

And there’s the kicker. Google was already a data driven company. OKRs didn’t change that, John Doerr just gave them a powerful management wrapper around their data driven culture. And they took the idea and knocked it out of the park.

But the very fact that Google were already a data driven company goes some way to explain why so many companies struggle with OKR’s or other objective and measurement systems such as the Balanced Scorecard. Data, analysis, and good communication lie at the heart of the concept. Which is exactly why you can’t “set and forget” an objective. 

It’s not that visionary leaders don’t believe in their objectives, or that their objectives are unimportant, more that they struggle to get good data, and to make the data work for them. And without good data and a solid way to communicate it, no one pays attention. 

To make things even harder, as soon as people are scattered in multiple locations, such as working from home, or on different continents, whiteboards and water cooler discussions break down. Remote Team meetings go some way to fill the gap, but the data and the communication must be rigorous and intentional, to quote Andy Grove. Without a good platform to help, it all becomes too difficult.

Fortunately, in the intervening years data technologies have become more powerful and easier to use. Microsoft Power BI can take data from a wide variety of sources to support all types of objectives. And powerful visuals can communicate progress in different ways, from summary scorecards to more graphical gauges and dials.  

Unlike specialist apps that support specific objectives, Power BI supports a wide range of data sources and data analysis. It’s this width and breadth of situations that make Power BI so impressive. Like Excel, it’s a tool that can tackle the simplest or the most complex of problems and do it very well.

The fact that Power BI Desktop can be downloaded for free, makes measuring and communicating key results more attainable for many more leaders. It may not be the end of their data journey, but it certainly could be the beginning.

Tuesday 11 July 2023

Microsoft Power BI and the whiteboard

The room is noisy with people on the phone, while others are shouting, unaware of the racket they are making. There’s laughter, banter, and plenty of energy. 

I notice the large whiteboard on the wall. The writing is messy, but at the top there's each team’s sales goals written large and in red. The smaller numbers beneath are difficult to read because they keep getting rubbed out, so the new numbers can be written in. These are their results. 

This is a focused, albeit noisy, bunch of people. And they all have their eyes on the prize.

While I wait for my meeting to start, I stare at the whiteboard. I know the company is growing fast, and while they won’t win an award for neatness, I wonder how much of their success is due to their ability to focus their team on their objectives. 

This is the world of telesales a decade or two ago, in one hugely successful company. Since then, the world has changed at lot, but the ability to keep people focused on an important objective is just as powerful. 

Arguably a manager’s work has become a lot more complicated, including new challenges such as:

Keeping everyone focused when people work from home and come into the office at different times.

Creating objectives for complex projects that cannot be reduced to one number.

Focusing people’s energy and ambition on work that contributes to objectives, even when everyone is working on different things.

Whilst some things have changed, other things remain the same. Effective managers still want to:

Unite their team behind a common objective – including complex objectives.

Keep people focused and engaged with the objective.

Update personal and team results, so everyone can see and analyse progress. And see where their contribution fits in. 

Encourage discussion about how to adjust when things are going well, or when you are falling behind.

What’s needed is an electronic whiteboard that is highly graphic, and that updates results without all that rubbing out. Oh, it lets managers to write as large as they want, in whatever colour they want. 

Power BI is a genuinely multi-purpose package that is indispensable once you get to know its capabilities. You could say it’s a bit like a whiteboard, only neater, and a lot more powerful. And easier to clean.

Microsoft Power BI is great at communicating objectives, the progress towards those objectives, and creating engagement. Why? Because it’s not really a whiteboard (you might have guessed that). It will connect to existing and new data sources. It will clean and transform data and join data together from different systems. You can create visuals that communicate what you are trying to achieve and show progress. Because just like that whiteboard on the wall, it needs to be at-a-glance easy to communicate what needs to be done. 

But here’s where the analogy breaks down. A whiteboard may be great at keeping a roomful of people focused, but Power BI can bring large disparate teams and departments together. Wherever in the world they are located. You can go from prototype to enterprise wide, and Power BI will grow with you. And you can use in-built AI capabilities to learn more about your successes and failures. Unlike a whiteboard where you start from scratch every day, Power BI allows you to generate and analyze data about what went well, and what didn’t go so well. This is powerful business intelligence, that is available to everyone.

If you’re trying to achieve something important with your team, Power BI could be just what you need to succeed. You can download it for free, and we provide in-depth data services to help you. Whether you want to clean your existing data, use several different data sources together, or model your data, we can help. We can also help you design dashboards. If you are curious, then get in touch for a no obligation chat. There’s nothing we like more than to help people succeed with what’s important to them.