OKRs Field Book Preview: Roles and Duration
This is the second installment of the long-overdue blog series based on The OKRs Field Book. While this book is written primarily for external OKRs coaches who help their clients succeed with OKRs, the book is also getting great feedback from internal OKRs coaches who support the OKRs program within their organization. At the time of this post, the field book is rated 4.8/5.0 on Amazon!
The first post in this series defined OKRs coaching and outlined why we expect the demand for OKRs coaching to continue to grow exponentially. In this post, we go back to 2013, the year I hung up my shingle and pursued a new career as an OKRs coach. The field of OKRs coaching was in its infancy. There was no book like The OKRs Field Book that could guide an OKRs coach. This was three years before Radical Focus and Objectives and Key Results, the first books written on the topic of OKRs, hit the market in 2016. In fact, I decided to pursue a career as an OKRs coach even before Rick Klau’s video announced that Google used OKRs.
Without a compass, I turned to my mentors and colleagues for guidance. However, as a first-year coach, I could not find answers to basic questions such as:
- How do I create a proposal with a detailed work plan for an OKRs coaching engagement?
- How long should the engagement run?
- Who needs to be involved to support the program?
I put in hundreds of hours developing proposals and detailed work plans. Midway through my second year, I created my first systematic approach for scoping out an OKRs coaching engagement.
I spent the next two years testing and validating this initial approach for creating proposals with detailed work plans. I made major changes based on client feedback. In fact, I overhauled the very foundation of a proposal, my pricing structure. I started by pricing services based on the number of teams requesting coaching. Pricing based on the number of teams works in some cases. However, I learned this approach is not reliable.
Defining teams prior to starting the engagement is like fortune telling. In one case, an enthusiastic CEO signed a pricey contract with me based on his request that twenty teams receive OKRs coaching. This all changed unexpectedly right after our first day of training when the CEO decided to set OKRs at the company level only. This left me wondering how to reduce my fee based on the reduction in scope. When I suggested that we modify the original contract in a debrief call, the CEO insisted that we stick to the original fee schedule. He felt like the OKRs project was a massive success, and this success had nothing to do with the number of teams setting up OKRs. Nonetheless, I felt like my fee was excessive. In other cases, my clients asked for coaching only at the company level, but they later requested my support with OKRs across multiple business units. This meant much more work than expected. While the occasional instance of scope creep is reasonable, it was happening all too often.
My clients were in a better position to allocate coaching sessions upon completion of their first training workshop. So, I experimented with basing my fee simply on the number of coaching sessions and training workshops rather than guessing upfront about the number of teams to include. It worked! We now advise all coaches to develop a standard coaching package as a starting point. Then, provide pricing for additional coaching and training beyond the initial project scope upon request. By my fifth year, the approach was ready to scale. I expanded my coaching team and created the OKRs Coach Network to review and refine this approach with OKRs coaches around the world.
While the last post introduced the three phases of an OKRs coaching engagement, this post explains the ideal duration for an OKRs coaching program and introduces the roles required to support and sustain an OKRs program. Structure OKRs coaching engagements for eight to twelve months. Build in time for two complete cycles as shown in the sample coaching engagement plan for a typical 8-month OKRs program based on two 3-month cycles.
Source: The OKRs Field Book
Agreeing on the roles required to support the OKRs program and who will fill each role is critical to success. One OKRs coach reviewing early drafts of this book, Omid Akhavan, suggested that we include definitions of these roles and responsibilities in one place. So, Omid and I developed the following table or roles with feedback along the way from other OKRs coaches including Gerri Vereen. In addition to clarifying your role as external OKRs coach, ensure that your client understands each of the roles in the diagram below.
Source: The OKRs Field Book
We recommend taking time to identify who will fill certain roles even before inking a coaching agreement. While you need not fill every role right away, all roles should be filled by the time you complete the first OKRs cycle.
1-External OKRs Coach
This is you. As an external OKRs coach, you help your client successfully deploy OKRs. Unlike a trainer who might lead a day or two of focused training and then head back home, external coaches plan on longer-term relationships. With cycle times typically set for three to four months, OKRs coaching engagements that include helping your client align on their deployment parameters, complete training workshops, and two OKRs cycles tend to run eight to twelve months.
Responsibilities of external OKRs coaches include:
- Deployment coaching: Facilitate definitions of deployment parameters and align on the roles and resources to support the OKRs program.
- Training: Lead training workshops to create a shared understanding of OKRs.
- Cycle coaching: Ensure completion of OKRs cycle and capture learnings to apply to the next cycle.
This is the most senior person in the organization that is supporting the OKRs program. In small companies, the executive sponsor is often the CEO. In larger companies, the sponsor is often the leader of a department, region, or business unit implementing OKRs.
Executive sponsors review and approve the deployment parameters that define their OKRs program. Once approved, the parameters can be used to inform the creation of OKRs FAQs and training materials. In addition to approving deployment parameters, the executive sponsor helps shape the development of top-level OKRs. As with any change management program, an OKRs program will have almost no chance of success without executive support. The executive sponsor must clearly state why the organization is adopting OKRs and incorporate OKRs into leadership presentations and management meetings.
Responsibilities of executive sponsors include:
- Communicate why the organization is adopting OKRs.
- Confirm deployment parameters as recommended by project leads.
- Help gather objectives for the top-level OKRs drafting workshop.
- Participate in top-level OKRs workshops.
- Meet with team leads to confirm team-level OKRs are aligned with the organization’s strategy.
- Bring energy and life to the OKRs program (e.g., secure resources, make opening remarks at OKRs workshops, present top-level OKRs at companywide meetings).
3-OKRs Project Lead
At organizations with fewer than one hundred employees, the CEO or COO often take on the OKRs project lead role when getting started. In larger companies, this role is well suited for mid-level managers. An OKRs project lead must be a great communicator and possess general knowledge of his or her organization’s structure and business model. This role can require a serious commitment for the first month or two when the focus is on deployment parameters and training workshops. However, the OKRs project lead role is generally not a full-time job. Rather, it is one of three to five key responsibilities. Once the OKRs program is up and running, an OKRs project lead should plan for four to eight hours a week near the beginning and end of each OKRs cycle but just an hour or two per week during the middle of the cycle. Executive assistants, chiefs of staff, and agile coaches often make excellent OKRs project leads.
We recommend two OKRs project leads. In cases where there is just one person in this role, that one person may become dependent on the external coach or grow frustrated that they do not have an in-house colleague to help optimize the program. While two project leads are better than one, the incremental value of adding a third may not justify the cost.v
When a prospective client approaches you to explore OKRs coaching support, expect the person (or people) reaching out to take on the OKRs project lead role. While the CEO may play this role to help get the OKRs program off the ground, be sure your client identifies a mid-level manager to become an OKRs project lead as well. A CEO is a great asset as an OKRs project lead, but it can be problematic if he or she is the only one. CEOs are often hard to track down and are notorious for canceling meetings at the last minute.
Responsibilities of OKRs project leads include:
- Attend all deployment coaching sessions.
- Present recommendations to leadership (e.g., how to score key results).
- Work with external OKRs coach to agree on an OKRs tracker tool.
- Attend some, but not all, OKRs cycle coaching sessions.
- Facilitate OKRs training workshops (e.g., send workshop invites and compile objectives to be used at training workshops).
For a description of all roles and how to design and implement an OKRs coaching program, check out The OKRs Field Book