OKRs, data sharing are key to building successful product teams

By Chandler Wieberg

INMA

Austin, Texas, United States

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By Michelle Palmer Jones

INMA

Nashville, Tennessee, United States

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TV’s favourite animated family, The Simpsons, took center screen as part of a presentation Tuesday morning on OKRs in the media.

Head of Product for Yahoo News Lippe Oosterhof used The Simpson family to explain how to get your work family moving towards the same goals in his presentation for the first day of the INMA Product and Data Media Summit.

In Oosterhof’s example, The Simpsons were using OKRs to save money.

Lippe Oosterhof, head of product at Yahoo News, described the journey of the OKR culture.
Lippe Oosterhof, head of product at Yahoo News, described the journey of the OKR culture.

Product members each bring something the company goals

Each member of the Simpson family had different ways they were going to contribute to their ultimate goal of saving money. Homer Simpson was going to drink less beer and Lisa Simpson was going to save electricity at home. Oosterhof’s point being that OKRs are bi-directional, working from top down and bottom up. 

“The individual members can set their own goals,” Ooserhof said. “They have the freedom to choose how they contribute to the family goals. Once they do that, they will talk to each other to see if the family goals are actually achievable.”

Oosterhof wanted attendees to think about how this type of thinking can translate to their business.

“Our product managers can look at our corporate key results and they can choose what key results they contribute to, which is great because it empowers them and also ensures everybody focuses on something they know they can contribute to,” Oosterhof said. “That introduces flexibility and creativity. And it’s a very powerful way to ensure the entire organisation moves towards the same goals without exactly telling them what to do.”

OKRs will not work if created in silos, he said, because there can be no alignment that way. One cant OKRs and forget them. They must be part of your everyday culture and tracked regularly. And OKRs are a management tool — they should not be used as part of your employee compensation package.

“OKRs is really a cultural thing,” Oosterhof said. “You can’t just decide, OK, today we are going to start using OKRs. This is a journey.” 

Tools for pulling team members together

Louise Story, author and former editor of newsroom strategy and chief technology and product officer at The Wall Street Journal, explained some of the biggest flaws within media companies are teams viewing the product as being separate from the content.

Louise Story, author and former editor of newsroom strategy at The Wall Street Journal, stressed the importance of keeping content and product connected.
Louise Story, author and former editor of newsroom strategy at The Wall Street Journal, stressed the importance of keeping content and product connected.

“When people view the content as separate from the products, it leads to bad experiences for the audience and causes difficult decision making within the teams,” she said. “It’s very important for media companies to understand the connectedness between the product is the content and the news experience.”

Data helps teams remain clear and can keep disagreements from becoming larger. But simply giving data to the team is not enough. One must ensure data is transparent and the same is shown across the board to the entire team, Story said.

Marcel Semmler, global head of tech at Bauer Media in Germany, broke down the bottom line if a team member disagrees with the data: “If people dont agree when they’re seeing data, my experience is this is based from fear — fear from losing their job, fear of making the wrong decision, even losing power in an organisation, or they could not understand it. You can only resolve that issue with seeing that work from their eyes and talk about those fears.”

Marcel Semmler, global head of tech at Bauer Media, said some team members disagree with data because they are afraid.
Marcel Semmler, global head of tech at Bauer Media, said some team members disagree with data because they are afraid.

The biggest barrier to change is agreeing on how you make decisions, Story explained: “Most of the time your team members dont have disagreements, they just dont have clarity and it needs to be clear how decisions are made within the team.”

INMA’s Product and Data Summit continues on Tuesdays and Thursdays through October 19.

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