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.

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