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Jump into OKRs without jumping off-track

TL;DR If you’re starting your journey with OKRs and it’s scary, fear not! The mere fact you’ve started means you’re doing well. Stay enthusiastic!

At Zopa, we’re split into autonomous tribes, which is great for building things quickly and empowering individuals. But the transition to a tribal structure also highlighted some challenges with communication and alignment across the business. This prompted us to look for ways we could keep all our tribes pointing in the same direction.

Representatives from each tribe assessed a bunch of acronyms. SMART, BSQ, OKR, BHAG… the list goes on… We settled on OKRs – Objectives and Key Results.

The main goal of implementing OKRs is to “connect company, team and personal objectives to measurable results, making people move together in the right direction.”

Well that sounds great! And it is. Mostly.

We’ve encountered some challenges, and here we’ll share our biggest learnings so far to help you on your OKRs journey.

You don’t need the perfect OKRs tool, you just need enthusiasm

I’m a tools guy. If someone asks me “how can I do this?”, my response is usually “there’s an app for that”.

There are a wealth of great products out there to help you on your OKRs transformation, but remember that the main purpose of OKRs is to connect company, team, and personal objectives to measurable results. The key ingredients here are people and communication. Lots of companies start out with a few people encouraging others to create and share their goals, and a spreadsheet.

At Zopa, we show our OKRs on big TVs around the office, and we talk about them in company meetings. For our OKR tool, we simply extended our existing project management software Youtrack.

You don’t need perfect Objectives and Key Results, they just need to make sense and align with the company goals

When our crack team of OKR evangelists started with OKRs, we spent ages debating the type of objectives each squad should have (Super aspirational? A deliverable? Features vs learnings?) as if all goals had to be the same. You can read about how squads fit into our tribal structure here.

We’re now in our second OKR Period and we’ve realised that OKRs can come in a bunch of different flavours.

It’s great to discuss and really think about what your OKRs should be. OKRs are about forcing you to focus on the most critical things and that’s always hard.

But don’t worry about perfection. When we let go of perfection we were able to take action, and we know we’re going to keep improving our OKRs every period.

At Zopa, we encourage people to challenge any OKR that they don’t understand or agree with. This creates better communication and helps us improve faster.

You don’t need the perfect OKR period duration, you just need consistency

We spent a long time debating what duration we wanted our OKR cycle to be. We considered everywhere from 6 week to 6 month periods because of how different teams at Zopa work. Some work on super-small projects and pivot at short notice, and others undertake behemoth projects lasting months.

What we’ve learned is that the suitability of the duration to your work isn’t the most important thing – building a consistent rhythm across the company is.

At Zopa, we decided to set annual company goals, with squads running quarterly OKR periods.

Pro-tip – If you’re in a team working on a massive cross-quarter project, don’t worry. You can have an objective repeat across cycles and have different Key Results.

Conclusion

We’ve enjoyed our OKRs journey so far. We’ve learned a lot, but we’re not perfect. The most exciting unexpected side effect has been seeing lots of team members becoming more vocal and engaged with goal setting, prioritisation and assessment of how we’re doing.

If you’re interested in joining us or would just like to chat about the things we’re talking at, drop us a line on techtone@zopa.com.