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OKR Product Management: Aligning Product OKRs to Outcome-Focused Roadmaps

Product management goes beyond addressing customer needs. It is about balancing customer requests, product initiatives, and your company’s strategic vision. If your organization uses OKRs as a goal-setting framework, aligning product OKRs and initiatives is key to determining which features to prioritize. In this blog, we will show you how to use product OKRs to create outcome-focused roadmaps and build customer-loved products that drive business success.

What is an OKR?

OKR stands for “Objectives and Key Results” – a framework for companies to set and track measurable goals. Objectives outline what you want to achieve, while Key Results help you measure progress.

Here are some key terms in the OKR product management framework:

  • Goals: The high-level mission or vision of an organization.
    • Example: Become the top digital banking service in the country.
  • Objectives: Specific, measurable steps to achieve your goals.
    • Example: Increase the number of users on our mobile banking app by 15% within the next year by adding new features and expanding marketing efforts.
  • Initiatives: Specific projects that help you achieve your objectives.
    • Example: Create and launch an in-app international money transfer feature.
  • Key Results: Measurable outcomes showing progress towards objectives. These should be specific, quantifiable, and time-bound.
    • Example: Reach a 15% increase in monthly active users of the app within six months of launching the new international transfer feature.

Companies use OKRs at the organizational, team, and individual levels. So, product OKRs are simply your product team’s OKRs (objectives and key results). Setting OKRs for product managers helps to align efforts toward achieving product-related objectives, such as increasing product adoption, that support the company’s strategic goals. 

Product management OKRs are essential in driving product innovation and enabling data-driven prioritization decisions because they highlight the impact of each initiative on business outcomes. Then, once you establish product OKRs, you can maintain them throughout product roadmap planning, resource allocation, and progress tracking. 

How Do Companies Use OKRs?

Companies apply OKRs to establish clear goals with measurable results and align teams around shared objectives. OKRs are used throughout an organization to promote transparency, accountability, and a focus on achieving impactful outcomes.

An Example of Multi-Level OKRs

To illustrate, let’s look at an example of how companies can use the OKR process to translate high-level business goals into specific team OKRs.

  • Management Objective: Grow our business. Key Result: Increase annual revenue by 20%
  • Marketing Objective: Optimize customer acquisition. Key Result: Reduce Customer Acquisition Costs (CAC) by 20% in Q3

This marketing OKR aims to optimize customer acquisition by reducing Customer Acquisition Costs. By lowering CAC, the marketing team can effectively acquire more customers with the same budget, ultimately contributing to the management OKR of growing the business. As a result, the company can allocate saved resources to other growth opportunities, further supporting the overall business expansion.

  • Product Objective: Improve the quality of our products. Key Result: Resolve customer-reported bugs within two weeks

This product OKR example aims to increase product quality. By quickly addressing and fixing these issues, the company can enhance customer satisfaction and the user experience. As a result, this can lead to increased customer retention, positive word-of-mouth, and potential new customers, all of which contribute to the management OKR of growing the business.

  • Customer Success Objective: Enhance enterprise customer satisfaction. Key Result: Increase satisfaction rate from 4.2 to 4.8 

This customer success OKR aims to enhance enterprise customer satisfaction. By improving customer satisfaction, the company can foster stronger relationships with its enterprise clients, leading to increased loyalty, higher retention rates, and potential upselling opportunities. These factors directly contribute to the management OKR of growing the business. 

Each team OKR is specific, measurable, and aligned with the overall strategic objective to increase annual revenue. So, the beauty of the OKR approach is that it allows you to measure progress at every level to ensure results.

  1. Define your product OKRs
  2. Prioritize product initiatives within OKRs
  3. Estimate the investment, then allocate resources
  4. Track progress in a product OKR dashboard
  5. Report results to stakeholders

So, let’s bring it back to product. An OKR Product Management approach improves outcomes by reducing the number of irrelevant roadmap features, streamlining release processes, and enabling better product-market fit. 

Product teams use various tools for product management ranging from humble spreadsheets to complex software solutions. But when adopting an OKR product management approach, we recommend using a purpose-built tool like Dragonboat to connect product OKRs to outcome-focused product roadmaps seamlessly. Below we will show you how step-by-step:

1. Define Product OKRs

To create focus and alignment with your product OKRs, consider these three tips:

  1. Set quantifiable key results to measure progress while being mindful of prior OKRs for continuity.
  2. Confirm that your product OKRs align with strategic company goals
  3. Allocate appropriate resources to ensure achievable outcomes.

Using Dragonboat makes setting and managing objectives easy. You can add new OKRs, including product team OKRs, from any portfolio page and manage them from the goal-setting page or outcome module. The screenshot below shows you how this looks. 

When defining OKRs, you can also allocate resources by percentage or absolute number, enabling you to track and monitor progress to keep teams and product roadmaps aligned. Once you define your product OKRs, they become the baseline for your entire product strategy.

Shreenshot of setting product OKRs using Dragonboat.

When using a tool, you should be able to easily manage your objectives. In Dragonboat, you can Add, Edit, Merge, Archive, or Delete Objectives on the Feature Board page. From there, you can add subgoals to your OKRs to clearly map out your goal setting.

You can also add allocation, either by percentage or by an absolute number, for each OKR. So your target can later be matched with your plan to keep your teams and roadmap aligned. 

You now have your OKRs clearly defined in your tool. Take your time with this step, as it will serve as the baseline for the rest of your product strategy.


2. Prioritize Product Initiatives Within OKRs

An outcome-driven organization prioritizes initiatives for the relevant OKRs based on how much they contribute to each objective vs. the effort required to deliver the benefit. The metric to measure this is called MoAR, or Metric Over Available Resources.  

When using a product management tool such as Dragonboat, you can add features or initiatives and map them to OKRs, as shown below. 

Screenshot of mapping OKRs to initiatives in Dragonboat.

If you also use MoAR to evaluate and prioritize your features quantitatively, you can add your benefit score to the Feature List page, as illustrated.


3. Estimate the Investment, Then Allocate Resources

Although estimating the investment required to reach each objective and prioritizing initiatives is important, you must also allocate resources across all OKRs. So, Dragonboat provides a high-level view of resource needs and current allocations (shown below). Reviewing your allocations from this perspective allows you to re-balance to maximize the impact of your product efforts and achieve target outcomes. 

Screenshot of a report in Dragonboat showing resource allocations across objectives.


4. Track Progress in a Product OKR Dashboard

To stay on track, monitoring the progress of your OKRs (outcomes) and product roadmaps (initiatives) is crucial. Dragonboat simplifies progress tracking by allowing you to easily view and update the status and health of your objectives and initiatives without any additional configurations.

Screenshot of a product OKR dashboard in Dragonboat.

The snapshot page above provides a convenient way for product teams and executives to view outcome and roadmap progress side-by-side, with all metrics displayed in a single pane. 

For additional insight, integrations with tools like Jira, Github, or Asana provide real-time trend data, making progress tracking and roll-up reporting seamless.


5. Report Results to Stakeholders

You have spent a lot of time defining how your product OKRs can benefit your company, managing initiatives, and guiding your team’s work. Your progress is integral to your company’s success, important toward driving organizational alignment, and helps you focus on achieving outcomes rather than just delivering outputs. 

A good tool will make sharing results with key stakeholders, executives, and team members easy. Below is a simple example of a report using Dragonboat.

Screenshot of a stakeholder report in Dragonboat.

Key Takeaways

Outcome-focused organizations often use the OKR framework to guide decisions and expect their product teams to do the same. When this is the case, aligning product OKRS to your product roadmaps can help you prioritize initiatives that will most impact business outcomes. That will enable you to make data-driven decisions and create transparency and accountability at all levels.

A purpose-built tool like Dragonboat can help you do this by guiding you through defining OKRs, prioritizing initiatives, allocating resources, and tracking and reporting results. Schedule a demo today or sign up for a free trial to see it yourself.


5 Tips on Scaling a Product Organization for Growth

As a company grows, scaling a product organization becomes exponentially more complex. Should you double down on your existing product and market with richer offerings and more price tiers? Or should you expand to an adjacent market? Perhaps a new use case for a new market segment? Or create a new product? How should your team organize and plan? Could a product ops role help eliminate silos and improve team efficiency? When a company grows from under 100 employees to 300, 2,000, or 10,000+ employees, each stage faces unique challenges.

In this post, I’ll share learnings from scaling a product organization and building and rebuilding engineering teams at companies like PayPal, Shutterfly, Bigcommerce, and Feedzai during their various scaling phases.

Specifically, this post will cover five topics:

  1. When it’s time to review the “scaling problem”
  2. How to organize your product teams
  3. How to apply a portfolio approach to managing product
  4. When and how to adopt a multi-tiered planning process
  5. Why you need a source of truth for everyone, not only product teams

When Does the “Champagne Problem” Start?

“Looking back, we should have addressed scaling way earlier,” said Eddie Machaalani, co-founder of Bigcommerce,

When should you start thinking about scaling?

When your engineers can’t fit in the same room!

– Eddie Machaalani, Co-founder of Bigcommerce

That’s at about 20 engineers or 4 scrum teams. Sharing and collaborating between teams starts to require more deliberate effort to prevent silos and loss of context.

In addition to the size of the team, the scaling challenge becomes more prominent once a company reaches product-market fit. Customer growth creates use case expansion, making it much harder to prioritize. And it’s also when the tech platform needs to be revamped.

Some founders call it the “champagne problem.” Nevertheless, it’s still a very hard problem.

One of the first things to tackle is the structure. Not the HR-related structure, but the structure of collaboration nodes. Consider when it makes sense to introduce a product operations manager to “PM the PM experience.”

How to Organize Your Product Teams

There are a few ways to organize your product and engineering teams:

  1. System component/ product area, e.g. web, mobile, data platform. This matches well with engineering expertise.
  2. User journey – such as onboarding, using, and reporting.
  3. Persona (aka vertical) like merchant, consumer, operations.
  4. Goals/ outcomes e.g. growth, retention, scalability, innovation.

All of these structures have pros and cons, especially if you stick to one type for too long.

In an output-focused organization, the stable team is highly valued to reduce the learning curve and increase delivery velocity.

In an outcome-focused organization, the internal mobility and flexible team is more valuable in bringing new ideas and learnings from one part of the organization to another.

Sean Kane, VP of Engineering at Upwork

Additionally, initiatives are often carried out by multiple teams, regardless of how the teams are structured.

What I’ve seen work best is a hybrid structure with more periodic changes.

For example, organize by goal/ outcome with the semi-permanent structure of component/ system. This way, goals are aligned within the same “temporary” team while there is still some technical/ domain continuity for fast ramp-up.

At Bigcommerce, initiative teams were built with engineering pairs (semi-permanent structure by component/ system) and adjusted every 1-2 quarters depending on the needs of the business and product.

How do you decide on the formation and size of these initiative teams? This takes us to the product portfolio management approach that every scaling company needs to adopt.

How to Apply a Portfolio Approach to Managing Product

“Portfolio? We only have 1 product.”

– Anonymous Founder

If you still think a portfolio approach only applies to companies with “many products”, check out the responsive product portfolio management framework.

A digital product is often a “bundle of multiple products” for different personas, or to achieve multiple goals. For example, a marketplace has buyers, sellers, and other players.

The responsive product portfolio management (Responsive PPM) approach allows you to categorize all the things you want to do as a portfolio of investment categories. You’d allocate various amounts of resources to these buckets at different times to produce the best outcome for your company within that time frame.

To learn more, read about the rock, pebble, and sand portfolio management analogy.

In a responsive portfolio framework, you may also evaluate your product portfolio across multiple dimensions including goals, products and customers. For example, the goal dimension of the portfolio has buckets like growth, retention, cost; and the product dimension of the portfolio has buckets like core expansion, new use case/ solution, new market, etc.

The portfolio approach has an influence on how your teams are structured. At Feedzai, when there were about 20 product engineers, we broke the product team into a Platform team for the original core product and multiple solutions. This gave each of the product leaders a focus on their “permanent” structure. At the same time, goals were set and adjusted from time to time, due to the nature of the market, product, and business.

As soon as you hit product-market fit, the product team should start discovery on the next product or extension, as it takes time, trial, and error to find one that may work.

– Saurabh, Chief Product Officer (CPO) of Feedzai
responsively adjust allocation scaling product organization
Adjust team size based on product performance

An effective product organization assesses and adjusts the team structure periodically to balance the needs of the portfolio. This leads to the next topic – tiered planning.

When and How to Adopt Multi-Tiered Planning

Many people think problems such as chaos and misalignment are unavoidable growing pains. However, they are often addressable problems.

Eddie Machaalani, co-founder of Bigcommerce

First, leaders need to adjust their perspectives as the company grows. At a smaller company, leaders commonly keep tabs on the company through day-to-day scrums and one-on-one meetings. As the company grows, it’s necessary to have separated vantage points.

A scaling company has 3 levels of vantage points – the executives focus on the long-term vision, while the teams focus on bi-weekly sprints. The VPs and directors are the ones to align both executives and with each other on how to achieve the long-term vision before they can empower their teams to move towards the direction that the whole organization is moving towards.

3 Horizon strategy and execution in responsive PPM

These 3 levels of focus naturally lead to the 3 levels of planning cadence – annual, quarterly, and bi-weekly.

And they are not just once a year or once a quarter type of events. Just like scrums have daily stand-ups after sprint planning, quarterly planning is accompanied by weekly or bi-weekly check-ins.

Aligning on the strategic focus (also called “bets” or “big rocks”) in the annual cadence is critical to setting the direction of the company. It could be growth via acquisition strategy at Shutterfly, or growth via expansion in LATAM at PayPal. These strategic bets set the direction for quarterly initiatives.

The quarterly planning focuses on both the breakdown of bets and the adjustment of the focus for the next cycle based on outcomes from the previous quarter. Allocation to various portfolio buckets is evaluated as a guideline for prioritization within each bucket. High-level resource needs and dependencies are identified and addressed before they hit teams to prevent “agile madness”.

Why Do You Need a Source of Truth for All, Not Only Product Teams?

Product and engineering teams tend to be more self-reliant and don’t mind using spreadsheets and decks. But this approach is not only time-consuming, it delays the access and accuracy of information to the rest of the organization. Chaos and misalignment happen when product teams “hoard” information. Oftentimes, features were delayed or even canceled while marketing, sales, or support continued with their motion unaware of the change. Or the same feature may have different names in different decks, emails, or other channels causing major confusion across areas.

The first change all scaling companies should make, if not one already in place, is having product operations develop a source of truth on the product roadmap. What will be available, when, who can be reached for more information, and what’s planned but not committed yet are all important for the organization to know.

The speed of access to information directly correlates to the speed and quality of decision-making.

The Scaling Mindset

In personal growth, there are phases of the leadership pipeline: managing yourself (individual contributor), managing others (manager), managing managers (director), functional managers (VPs), business managers, etc.

As the company grows through its first 50 people, there are ICs and managers. When it hits 100+, the managers will need to grow into Director level roles, and some ICs would have to grow into manager-level roles. By the time the company hits 300 people, another round of collective growth is needed for directors to grow to VPs, and managers to directors, and so forth. Because each of these leadership level transitions requires significant adjustment on perspective and focus, scaling is difficult.

Process, organization, cadence, mindset, and tooling are all critical parts of scaling. At key stages of a company’s scaling, leadership must adjust all of these parts to work well in the new phase. While a tool does not solve all problems, a good tool enforces best practices. A good agile tool helps the engineering team to practice agile, whereas a good Responsive PPM tool helps the product organization to become an outcome-focused responsive organization.

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