There’s a common misconception that if you’re running a start-up, you have a singular objective or goal.
If only, right?!
In reality, start-ups and scale-ups are typically managing a range of ongoing projects and initiatives. That could be developing new products, securing early-stage investment, expanding geographies, expanding the team – it could even be agreeing sustainability goals, for any size of business.
That’s when you know it’s time to set some official business objectives, and outline the steps required to achieve them.
Start with the bigger picture
OK, we know this sounds a bit obvious, but bear with us. Of course, every business has high-level goals and objectives. But many define those goals, add them into a presentation deck and file it away under ‘Strategy’.
Making objectives visible is vital for keeping progress aligned – not just for stakeholders, but also for the people working on the projects to understand where their work fits into the overall picture.
Even in a small organisation it’s easy to get swamped in detail and lose sight of the end goal. And if your people aren’t focused on a defined objective, they are far less able to prioritise effectively.
From our experience of running projects – and supporting Sharktower’s clients to run theirs – there are 4 steps that will set you in good stead before you start actually delivering.
- Step 1: Focus on the objectives
- Step 2: Set your Key Result
- Step 3. List the initiatives
- Step 4: Track your OKRs regularly
Step 1. Focus on the objectives
In the early stages of any business, you have to respond quickly to change (we’ve definitely have done a lot of that with Sharktower, and still are!). But you still need a framework of sorts. An OKR (Objectives and Key Results) framework outlines the highest priorities your organisation needs to accomplish, and how you’ll deliver them.
John Doerr’s ‘What matters’ site is packed with tips for defining and creating your OKRs.
Start by identifying the objectives that you want to achieve for the next quarter. Ideally, limit yourself to three, they should be a stretch and they should be motivational.
Startups will most likely focus on goals around acquisition and activation, for instance:
- Objective 1: We have a product customers love
- Objective 2: Our users are happy with the onboarding process
We don’t mean to make this sound easy, because it isn’t. Defining OKRs takes time, and it can be daunting to lay those cards on the table. There are thousands of OKR experts and articles out there, but save yourself a heap of time and head straight to www.whatmatters.com
What Matters was founded by John Doerr, who introduced the philosophy to Google’s founders in 1999. They adopted the framework and, well, the rest is history.
We really love this ‘Typical OKR cycle’ article, which sets out a short, handy timeline to work towards.
Step 2. Set your Key Results
Key Results are tangible benchmarks you can use to measure your progress toward each objective.
Typically, there should be 3-5 Key Results per objective and they should be specific and quantitative in some way.
For example, for ‘Objective 1: We have a product that customers love’, your Key Results might be:
- Key Result 1: We have 50 weekly active users
- Key Result 2: Our NPS is above 65
Finally, agree an owner for each objective. Then you’re ready for Step 3!
Step 3. List the initiatives
Next you can start to map out the initiatives that will help you achieve the Key Results.
This is a crucial step in aligning what you and your teams are working on. It should be led by the Objective owners, and lists out all the individual projects and tasks, more of which you can find out about in Part 2 of this guide
After listing your initiatives, you’ll have something that looks a bit like this:
Step 4: Track your OKRs regularly
Using OKRs might feel like a big change to how you operate, and it’ll take a bit of trial and error to get them right (but if you’re running a start-up, you’ll be used to that by now!).
Teams should be tracking the progress of key results on a weekly basis and reviewing OKRs with the wider team at least once a month. Otherwise, at the end of the quarter, things are likely to be off track. It helps if you think of OKRs as part of an ongoing process of communication rather than something set in stone – draft, discuss with the team, review, adjust.
A handy checklist for weekly reviews, created by weekdone.com
Once you have your objectives in place, it’s time to start breaking them down into manageable tasks and get delivering!
Head to Part 2 of ‘Getting your ideas off the ground’: Preparing for take off