Hustle Badger

Log in

Weekly newsletter

Templates and how-tos to help you fulfil your potential

Progress vs. pacing: setting great product OKRs

Lots of product teams use OKRs. Few enjoy the experience. One of the big traps that teams face is acknowledging that gains in product rarely happen in a linear manner, and there is often a significant lag between the two. The amount of work you have put into something (pacing) is not the same as how close you are to your goal (progress). 

Understanding the contrast between these two is the difference between highly productive, stimulating conversations between leadership and product teams on how to go faster, and a world of pain where no one understands why the other side is being so useless / unreasonable. 

This article makes clear what pacing and progress are, how they are related, and how to think about them when setting OKRs. 

The ideal state

First, a quick refresher on OKRs, which typically have three elements:

  1. Objective - an inspirational goal you’re trying to achieve
  2. Key results - a measure of progress towards your objective
  3. Initiatives - what you plan to ship; major items on your backlog

And there are four main benefits for having OKRs (or any process of planning and holding teams accountable):

  1. Focus – concentrate teams on high impact problems
  2. Visibility – objective measure of how close the team is to their goal
  3. Flexibility – autonomy for the team to reach their goal as they see fit
  4. Alignment – common framework so teams can mutually support each other

The power of OKRs is as much the conversations you can have throughout the quarter as it is in setting them to begin with. You want to facilitate productive and enjoyable conversations between product teams and leadership about how to reach the goal quicker. Ideally these conversations focus on how well you understand your users, what ideas you’ve got, and how you can shift resources to exploit opportunities you see. Good quality conversations like this accelerate teams, and increase the chances of them hitting their goals.

Without them, progress check ins are awful, because you’re always arguing about what you’re trying to achieve, how close you are to getting there, or mindlessly executing the ideas of the leadership, regardless of how good they are. Bad quality conversations like this waste time and energy. They slow teams down and decrease their chances of reaching their goals.

Getting focus(1.), flexibility (3.) and alignment (4.) right have their own challenges, but in principle it’s fairly simple: as a leadership group you brief teams on your expectations, let them define a plan, and then make this public so everyone can see it. However, it’s common to see disagreements about how to measure how well the team is doing, and give everyone visibility (2.).

Ideally your key results should tell you how close the team is to the goal, and if the team is on track this would increase steadily through the quarter to 100%. So 20% of the way through the quarter, a team on track would have moved its key results by 20% from the baseline towards the target.

Why pacing is important for product OKRs
Pacing allows you to see whether teams are on track to reach their objectives

Most importantly everyone has this knowledge with enough time to course correct before the quarter is out. Hitting your goal becomes a live game you play week-by-week; it’s not a leap of faith where you set your OKRs and hope for the best, only to see the results 3 months later. Teams and leadership have agency. If things aren’t going to plan then you can reallocate resources, change the initiatives you have planned, or hold a thorough retro to get back on track. Opening up these conversations with leadership gives them insight into the types of challenges you're facing daily, and a better chance of resolving fundamental issues.

This article is for paid subscribers

Get access to all our articles, templates and guides by upgrading to a paid subscription

Already a paid subscriber? Sign in

No nonsense advice

Proven guides, templates and case studies for product managers into your inbox each week