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A Feedback-Friendly OKR with Tability: Organising Goals in The Best Way Possible

February 26, 2024

Sten (Co-Founder and CEO of Tability) shares how he designed a simple goal-tracking platform that encourages agility, continuous feedback, and team alignment

Simplifying progress tracking and goal alignment within teams

Siska: Can you share what inspired the development of Tability?

Sten: The idea for Tability came from my previous job at Atlassian, where I worked as a product manager. As the company scaled, we faced the challenge of maintaining focus as our teams became more distributed. It wasn't enough to just discuss projects; we needed to set goals and find a way to align teams at scale.

Atlassian introduced OKRs, which brought about a significant shift in the company culture. It required some effort to implement, but it also highlighted a gap in our tooling. I realised that while we had effective ways to track projects, we lacked similar tools for our new goal-setting framework.

We used amazing tools to collaborate on design and other tasks. However, when it came to discussing updates, check-ins, and our progress on OKRs, we resorted to using documents and spreadsheets. This method lacked effective collaboration.

This is where I saw an opportunity to create a tool that could save teams a lot of time. My initial desire was to make my life easier because creating all these reports and turning them into presentations needed extra time. I realised that once you build a tool, you can leverage many workflows to increase productivity. This is how the idea of Tability was born.

The term "chaos" comes up frequently because it was the prevalent method at the time. However, our primary aim was to develop a system that places goals at its core.

While we often discuss OKRs as a goal-setting framework, our focus is more on accountability and facilitating team communication. The term "chaos" comes up frequently because it was the prevalent method at the time. However, our primary aim was to develop a system that places goals at its core.

In short, the idea was to create a platform for teams that prioritises goals over code, designs, and projects.

Focus on outcome-driven project management with accountability and visualisation

Siska: What does it actually look like, and how does it transform the often tedious task of updating the OKRs into a team ritual across the entire team?

Sten: There are two things that are really important to us. The first is understanding how to present knowledge. I can elevate that and say, we need to talk about outcomes.

Consider any project management platform. The way these tools work is that they present you with a task, and your goal as a user is to transition that task to a 'done' state as quickly as possible. If something stays open for weeks, it's not seen as a good thing.

The entire design of the tool encourages people to mark things as done or highlight tasks that have been open for a couple of weeks. It all comes down to what we're dealing with.

We often talk about quarterly goals. Three months is the time period that we like to work with. It's essential to monitor how a task is progressing and how your confidence in that task is changing over time.

It's essential to monitor how a task is progressing and how your confidence in that task is changing over time.

For example, let's say you want to increase the conversion rate on your website with a simple change. You might decide to alter the design of a page using a product management tool. This task should ideally be completed in two weeks. Once it's done, you move on to the next task. What matters to us is providing a visual representation of how your retention rate evolves over time with all the different strategies you're implementing.

Our primary goal is to present you with a graph that shows the impact of all your efforts. There aren't many tools designed for this specific purpose. Our first challenge was figuring out how to present outcomes in a way that meets people's needs. The presentation of outputs and outcomes differs, and understanding this difference is crucial.

The second important aspect was to incorporate accountability. Often, companies get excited at the beginning of the quarter. You conduct a large workshop, gather everyone in a room, and set goals on a virtual paper, like a spreadsheet or a doc. However, as soon as you start working, there are numerous meetings, discussions, and calls.

People can get distracted, and your attention can be diverted. Doing this work ensures that as soon as you return to the team and communicate the goals, it not only helps people understand but also establishes a system that ensures accountability.

Tracking OKRs: Separating between what’s important and what’s urgent through small increment

Siska: If we consider the example of startups, we can see how goals can change quickly. How would Tability handle use cases in such a scenario and their unique goals?

Sten: Essentially, we're goal-setting agnostic, so we don't really care what kind of goal-setting framework people are using. We have customers that use OKRs, we have customers that prefer discussing commitment and measures, or signals and measures.

The most important thing for us is to allow people to adapt the language of the app to how they prefer to track things. The second part for us was to build some of the tools on the market. They were built really as a command and control type of tool. What I mean by that is it's very top-down. There's a lot of rigidity in the way things are done. You have to strictly cascade.

We believe more in flexibility. The idea for us is to provide teams with the ability to create a plan and say, "This is what I'm working on this quarter," and then also have a really quick way for them to adjust that plan. The UI itself is really built so that you can keep track of how you're doing and then map your outcomes to your outputs, like your projects to your goals.

If the project is not delivering the desired impact, you should be able to adjust it and then move on to the next project. This is the philosophy we have for our product: it needs to be a team-first tool that helps people make better decisions.

It's not just a reporting tool to show management how we're tracking. It really must be a tool that people use to understand how they can make progress effectively. Do they feel far from achieving what they've set out to achieve? If so, what are the different strategies they can implement with their team to recover and rectify the situation?

I believe that teams are more productive in a familiar environment. Therefore, it's beneficial to allow them to customise the app for recognition and ease of use.

However, it's also crucial not to provide too much flexibility, as this can lead to the problem of spreadsheets where every team has their own version. This makes it difficult to understand what each team is doing as everyone is doing it differently.

With Tability, there is consistency in how information is presented. This makes it easier to review the work of different teams such as marketing, product, and sales, and compare their activities as the information is presented in the same way.

This is how we've made projects agile, by advocating for shipping every week in small increments rather than working for three months in isolation and then presenting the results.

I would say that the most important thing for us is to enable people to have really fast feedback loops. This is how we've made projects agile, by advocating for shipping every week in small increments rather than working for three months in isolation and then presenting the results.

We know that the latter approach doesn't work, but when it comes to strategy, this is often how we operate. We set goals at the beginning of the quarter and then we disappear. Then we reappear at the end of the quarter and ask, did we achieve those things?

What we advocate for is treating strategy the same way we treat projects and code. This means making a little bit of progress every week and then reviewing that progress. Based on where we are, we then adjust. Our entire platform is built to enable this approach.

This is very different from many tools that still operate under the assumption that you need to work in a straight line for three months. We believe that it's more about making incremental progress on strategy.

One thing that often happens is that teams do monthly check-ins, set some goals, and in the first month, it's often hard to determine if they're on track. It's only been four weeks, but by the second month, the second time you meet, if things are off track, then it's over because you only have four weeks left. What can you do? Is there time to set up a meeting to discuss what's wrong? It's already three weeks in. That’s why we believe in small increments.

Siska: What would the cross-functional teamwork look like?

Sten: We have some tools. When teams add the plan suitability, there's a section of the platform called the strategy map, but it's almost like a Miro board. It’s a dashboard that shows you all the plans of all the different teams. You can zoom out to see the company as a whole and then see in one place how the different things relate to each other. That's one way to do it.

The other way is to allow people to link what they're working on to what other teams are working on. For us, one thing that we care about is helping people indicate that my focus is linked to a team so that the platform knows how to communicate.

Prioritising work with the biggest business impact

Siska: A final question from me is, how has the journey been so far?

Sten: It's been amazing for us. Now, much larger teams are looking at us. It's becoming an interesting set of new problems to solve. Dealing with goals when you have a few hundred people is not the same as when you have 10,000 people in different divisions.

We are very happy with where we are. Another interesting aspect for us is the sort of pyramid where you have vision and KPIs at the top, OKRs goal setting in the middle, and then projects at the bottom. We're moving up one layer as well, which is going to be an exciting development for us next year.

Connect goals to the work that matters.

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