The OKR Podcast
The OKR Podcast

Episode · 1 year ago

The Interplay of Agile, OKRs and Design Thinking

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

I first met Rob when he was working with Cisco on their move to agile and I was working with them on the move to OKRs — peanut butter and chocolate! We discuss how strategy and execution improve and accelerate with these frameworks.

You're listening to the Okay our podcast, we talk about the power of lateral alignment and outcome mindset and empowering teams to do their best work from anywhere. We also talk about operating as a digital company, which is crucial. Now here journeys learnings and victories from our guest speakers and get expertise from our host to scale your leadership capacity and operate with high impact trust and efficiency. Here's your host Dadri pack nod. Mhm. Yeah. Today my guest on the podcast is robbed Frohman rob and I met almost three years ago when we were both working on efforts at Cisco rob, was working on part of their transformation to agile. I was working on helping them adopt okay ours and it was way back then that we figured out that peanut butter and chocolate go together really, really well and we've been partners rob and I and robs company and my company for really ever since. And so I'm very excited to have rob share his expertise on okay Rs and the intersection of Okay Rs with Agile and design thinking. It's a topic we're both super passionate about rob. Thanks for joining us, Happy to be here. Let's start with you. Tell us a little bit about the company you've since founded co 8 to focus on this area in this domain. Tell us a little bit about why you started it and what it does. You bet Melanie ST James, my co founder and I started the Cohen group in december 2018. Really in response to, we had a blend of ideas that we've been playing with for a while. She comes from the design thinking space and I come to the actual space. We both had interactions with the Okay ours and it just seemed like a great as you, as you said peanut butter and chocolate all the way through. So it seems like a good confluence of ideas. So we launched in 2018 really focused on Okay ours, agile and design thinking to see how these various solutions basically come to intersection. We do think there's a lot of overlap in the approaches that are taken in agile and design thinking of course, okay practice very familiar to us in the UK airspace is a culture of transparency. These are both, these are values in both design thinking and agile as well. So we wanted to explore that a little bit and we found that it was starting to resonate. People are asked questions today, maybe not so much, maybe 5 10 years ago, but now people are realizing that these solutions do come together and really, really interesting way to discuss the tree and let's get into that. In fact, they are all part of I think broader themes of raising enterprise agility, of moving closer to your customer, of driving more digital experiences that create not only better experience and more efficiency of your customer, but also significantly more efficiency and operational excellence internally. And as you and I both know right 2030 is really 2021 right? There's just this...

...massive acceleration of how we approach our businesses digital on business models, routes to market, engaging customers, an enormous shift really accelerated by Covid and you talk a little bit about kind of a new world order, a new bias towards operational excellence and resiliency. You stand on that a little bit for us. Just think Covid accelerated those business practices that we're going to be happening. They've accelerated them to today and I think it's very impressive to me to see business accelerate their own practices and they're going to be in need of new ways of thinking. There is this concept of the 4th Technology Revolution that we're entering, right? I think we entered it somewhere between maybe 2010 and 2015 and really what's happening is we have new technologies that are, that are really disrupting a lot of the way we do things today. We're dealing with not only teams but team of teams and in one of the things that I really appreciate about no care practices, this idea of really at agile as well, which is to really leverage that power of team and and help them with the True North to make the decisions that they need to make with the information that they need to drive those solutions forward. Many of us are waking up to the idea that we're not, we're not going back to slow management and q B R s and annual reportedly planning it really is. We need to have the attention to the results today. We need to be focused on operational efficiency, operational excellence and really gaining insights into those things that not just our customers want or we think they want, but really what is there need? Where is the pain? Let's start to understand what that's about as a way to better understand how to deliver the solutions that the market might be looking for. I think we've entered an era of super iterative businesses, super iterative learning cycles and those of course are just so closely connected to speed as perhaps a company's biggest market advantage of market opportunity. We know lots of people have questions and inquiry around the intersection. Perhaps the interplay between, okay, R. Is a result alignment or outcome alignment methodology, agile practice in a way of building and delivering products and products in the biggest definition and design thinking. A way of understanding our customers needs and solving or addressing those. Let's start with defining each of those things. And so let's start with defining the purpose and the if you will the impact of okay RS. And an organization that will do the same thing for agile and design thinking. So we lay the foundation for what they each are separately. To set the stage for a conversation about how they interplay and where they intersect and perhaps where they don't. So okay are is a methodology a syntax really of objectives and key results. So as syntax for describing the intention or the strategic priority you want to...

...achieve and defining the key results of the measures of success in a very fixed time period against those intentions. Or that objective organizations use okay ours and the okay our methodology to get aligned on outcomes through and across teams. To use a common language for describing their intentions and the outcomes and to create a more transparent and objective way of measuring success of actually, if you will bringing hypothesis and experimentation and measurement into the way they drive progress against their strategic priorities there a short stroke. So quarterly iterations and the iteration includes a learning phase. What changed outside the company? What changed inside the company? What did we learn about where value is created? What we learn about our capacity and then you iterate again into the next cycle. It's, in a sense, an operating rhythm for the organization around aligning on outcomes and driving accountability and transparency to those outcomes. Take us to agile with the purpose of it. What problems does it solve for organizations? It's really good to hear you talk about okay our practice in this way because the alignment between how okay ours address strategic initiatives, how agile approaches program, project management, portfolio management and really business agility and how design thinking addresses understanding the customer and getting those insights. It's very, very similar in that they both all three of them are there iterative and empirical in their approach. Right? So it's a lot of discovery as we move through the generations. The idea of I know what our annual goals are going to be. Let's execute the plan. You know, those days are largely behind us now, fortunately and I think the same is true for business agility. The idea that today I can know everything plan and how it's going to proceed is we're moving away from those problems. Again, we've solved a lot of the simple problems and the problems we're dealing with today are very complex. So we're not often aligned on the approach we're gonna take to solve these problems and we're also not aligned typically about the technology or the approach to the solution space. Either Agile will, will approach the problem of program delivery, program execution definition in that same iterative space. In many ways. What we're talking about is the application of empirical process control to strategy, to program and portfolio management and customer insights. It sounds like okay are is really help us define the increments and iterations on achieving our strategy and the strategic priorities. And Agile helps us in how we approach the execution and iteration against those strategic priorities. And that...

...that feels like a fairly natural thing for me. Is that a fair Comparison of the 2? It's 100 on they blend so well. Okay. Our practice, we have the wire, the what And very often as soon as we got an organization aligned, at least in our service is the first question they ask is now what Right, what are we going to go build with this superpower of alignment? And that's when we start talking about how we might cross over to a lien portfolio, applying business agility practices here around work decomposition. You know, there's, I think there's a myth in agile which is that agile systems allow an organization to go faster. I think being faster is a natural outcome because it's so focused on operational efficiency. It just, it just kind of happens. But the real purpose behind actual systems in my mind is really around the abilities, right? So we want to improve our quality, we want to improve our predictability. And so it's important that we're not building for buildings sake that we're building with purpose. Yeah, I sort of think of okay, ours as the where are we going and why and which stops along the way, our most important first And then I think of agile a bit on how will we get there right and that sort of where why and how we need all of them and where the regeneration on an okay are and the decision about what are the fewer key results that drive the most value in the next 90 days. It's a way of prioritizing our outcomes and there's hygiene around it. There's transparency around it. There's common vocabulary and process around it. All of those things make it more reliable As a mechanism to prioritize the outcomes we think are important. We have a million possible outcomes. Which one do we agree our most important outcomes. I mean we're trying to grow consumption by 10 on this particular feature set of the product because we have this hypothesis or we're trying to increase our click through rate on this part of the site because that has the most impact on our revenue or whatever those outcomes, the measurable quantified outcomes who prioritize which of those really matter if you don't say no, you don't have a strategy because, you know, for most of the most organizations or desire growth doesn't matter if you're in growth, tech or bio pharma or nonprofit space. Growth is important. And if you're growing, you probably have a capacity problem. You're not going to have the resources that you need. So you have to make tradeoffs and that's, you know, that's how we decide what to do. But it's so important that we decide what our strategy is, right? Why is it that we're doing these things and how will we do them? I want us to focus on the outcomes. I didn't realize I was doing at the O. K. R. Is the side. But the point is is that we want to...

...focus on that strategy. What is it what is with, you know, why are we trying to solve this problem and then bring the great skills and the skills again, not in individuals but in teams. And you know, scale happens in various ways. It's surprising how small scale happens. And we have to start to address the complexities in these organizations where agile systems can come into play and help address that complexity and work execution efficiency. If you have a lot of ambition, you don't have enough capacity, your vision, your ideas, the opportunities you see exceed your capacity. And if they if your vision and your ideas and your opportunities don't exceed your capacity, you either need a layoff or you need to get bolder, right? And you know, I've never been afraid of failure and success. That that scares me. The reason for that is that failure is super simple, you know, turn the lights out the you know, success is a challenge because now you're gonna have to try to figure out how are we going to do more with less than you know, more with less or how are we going to grow given the same resources? How do we find that operational efficiency or when we when we hit, you know, significant impediments like covid and now everybody has to work from home. How quickly can we adapt our organization to a new way of working and really understanding that, you know, all of those things that need to be addressed as we grow. And it's something that I think that both of these systems especially and when you talk about significant transition and change when you change the way people work, which is what Agile can sometimes do. It, it pushes on that a little bit. It really does push the way you work. It's very important that we have a true understanding of that true north and for organizations that are building their actual capabilities as they're building those, those capabilities within their own organizations you can use. Okay, there's actually to justify the question why why Agile and I would challenge any leader to ask that question. Being Agile is a mindset much like okay our practices a mindset exactly right outcome mindset that permeates them both a bit. But let's pick up the thread on which is I think assumed in both okay, ours and the natural world, which is time, is a constraint and capacity as a constraint. And let's use that to open the conversation around design thinking, which may be starts with the presumption of unconstrained thinking. Tell us a little bit about first design thinking itself and then what's the intersection of the interplay really between design thinking and Okay, ours and that flip that on its head. What's the intersection between design thinking and agile as well? So design thinking is that there's another iterative empirical practice if you will. And it's really helping us understand. Let's understand our customers and for those of us that may have some customer experience background or customer insights. Really getting empathetic with the challenges we like to say in a design thinking context, let's get into that problem...

...space and truly understand our customer mindset the challenges that they're facing from an empathetic way. Okay. And then allow ourselves to have effectively unconstrained thinking around how we might solve that problem. Very often we approach a problem we might hit it with what is the business need and what the technology needs, so what's feasible and you know what's viable. And very often that's kind of how we approach a problem, especially as technologists. What design thinking injects is is really, you know, what is human, what is desirable and and that brings another context, another set of feedback to the solution. The challenge that we face with this is that it can be very unconstrained and we can spend a lot of time spinning around solutions that really it's not best possible, it's impossible. And I think as we apply design thinking and okay are techniques together. What we find is that it does constrain the solution just enough that it allows us to innovate with confidence. Let's get into that problem space and really constrain ourselves solutions by this. These are customers okay. And how might we solve this problem given the outcomes that are okay as a driving. So it provides just enough of a guardrail if you will, that helps keep us focused. We can efficiently move through this this this innovation challenge. But with confidence we know where we know we're approaching the right outcomes. So it's an interesting intersection. What is super interesting is to me is of course the unfettered thinking about the customer right? Where we don't start with the bias of our challenges and our current friction and so on, right? Like we get out of our own way imagining what would be better for the humans that we that we serve or that we have the privilege to provide products for where I love this connection to. Okay. Rs asked the question of given the next 90 days, given this next quarter, what does awesome look like? Given our capacity, given the next 90 days or now, 84 days in Q2, what does awesome look like? And it's still unfettered right? When you think about what's best possible this quarter, you're still pushing yourself to identify what best is, You're still asking the question of what greatness looks like, but you're tempering it by end, that we have a chance in hell of achieving. And then in 90 days we're going to learn something that's going to help us understand what best looks like again and what our best possible looks like. Again, we're going to get smarter on the journey towards the ultimate sort of vision or picture of what is fabulous for our customers and I love the intersection of the two. I think they really play well together, in particular for key results that relate to new options and offers for a...

...customer, new options pathways, or journeys for employees, for internal stakeholders, where your where your groundbreaking with A K. R. I think that the, the use of the two together is quite powerful. I completely agree the, the idea that we, if we apply this to an innovative mindset, so how might we solve this problem? There is a point at which it's important to have an open mind but not so open that your brains fall out. We have to have, we have to have some constraint, but there's another place that we can apply effectively all three of these contexts together, which is a lot of fun and we've experimented with this little bit. So given a set of Okay ours and you know, you might be coming down from level one to maybe a level two, level three and doing this, this is my project plan. Does it align? I ask the question, doesn't lie to my okay ours. And then the challenge of course, is if it doesn't align, well then I've probably two choices when I should probably not do that work or we should adjust our okay ours, but if we can turn that around, bring some design thinking, going to play here, what we can look at is we'll have using actual principles to derive an effective lean portfolio. Instead of asking, does this work on line two rok ours? How do we start asking the question, given these goals, how might we achieve them? And that opens up a lot of solutions? Because now our backlog is being driven from our goals very, very directly with that constrained creative mindset. Yeah, no, I think we're I think the way we think about work is fundamentally changed by our experience over the last 12 months. And I think that experience will continue to unfold in slightly unpredictable ways this year. And we're moving from a world where more hours is no longer makes sense to us as individuals and it's no longer what leaders are entitled to ask for. It's not ours, it's outcomes. You figure out how to get to those outcomes. We just agree on what they are. And we'll do that in the context of constraint and capacity constraint. To know the value of my work, I need to be able to articulate that and to be valued for it. I need others to use the same language for articulating it that I do and to be seen from my house for that value. We need to use that language broadly and we need a different level of transparency than we currently enjoy. All of those forces are fantastic shifts forward for every individual because I think we all come to work to do something that really matters. That's really valuable. I think it's good for us as human beings and I know it's good for the teams we work on and the organizations that we work in and their customers. I think people today...

...need to be more connected to their work. The idea of a paycheck and a benefits package being sufficient. It's currently it's kind of 20th century. If you will, I think that people need to be more connected to to see that they do know the value of their time more today. And, you know, we might talk about work life balance and things like that, which are very important. But I think purpose is equally as important there. And when you can connect people to understanding the purpose and the intention behind what they're doing to see that they're connected and changing the lives, feeling the satisfaction of what you're doing in delivering those great solutions is something matters and that's where the talent acquisition is going to be going. Right. I mean a lot of having a challenge with acquiring talent today and and really I think those companies that get this will be far better suited to attract the talent that they're looking for. I think you're absolutely right. My prediction is in 2021 we will see a resurgence in so many industries that will make the talent problem 10 x harder than it is and because we can now work with really talented people all over the country and certainly all over the world more than we could in the past, I think it it opens up access to the best jobs from anywhere as opposed to the best jobs and a few zip codes and that too will compound the talented team problem for companies everywhere. And I think the conversation we had on how do we find frameworks and methodologies and practices that help people have clarity about the why of their work, the how of their work, the reliability and your word is fabulous. The confidence to execute well and execute with impact innovate with confidence. I think those are golden for companies in golden for the for the people in them rob. Let me thank you so much for joining the podcast, sharing your expertise with us and riffing with me on the interplay between these three methodologies or frameworks. I think they all have very complementary and play with each other for organizations. What we'll do is as we share the podcast. If you have an outreach or you want some more insight, some help from rob to explore how those three frameworks might help your organization before we'll make sure to share that with the podcast. So I know rob you are the pro and helping both large companies like Cisco Horizon and small startups and life sciences and nonprofits tackle these things and use them to drive and elevate their businesses. So we'll make sure that anybody wants to reach rob and tap his expertise can And with that rob. Thank you very much. Always a pleasure Dadri. Looking forward to talking again.

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