Signs of Triviality

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OKR Distractions

October 24th, 2019

German refugee
child being measured by his mother on the wall of
their furnished room I understand the desire and even need for them, but find that quarterly goals and OKRs tend to work against senior ICs, no matter how much upper management may like the orderly spreadsheets and implied synergy and alignment. At a certain level, you no longer "do" specific things; instead, you nudge, you push, you reward others to do the things you aim for. You influence, you stir culture. You become a catalyst.

That is not work that can easily be measured in neat, quarterly, well-defined milestones. Some of the successes only manifest after a year, two years, maybe more.

In theory, the whole goal of OKRs etc. is to break difficult tasks into smaller, digestible chunks and enable tracking long term progress. I get that. But in reality, this boils down to only taking on small projects you know you can complete in the short timeframe by which you're measured.

(I wrote about this before, in the context of promotions.)

So all too often you end up working against short-term goals, against teams prioritizing this quarter's OKRs, against managers measuring (and themselves being measured by) quick wins, against the sadly periodic reorg, against attrition.

Sometimes you can break down some of your work into tidy little milestones; sometimes your manager chain understands all the invisible work you do (be thankful and count yourself lucky!); by and large, though, you work in spite of your "official" goals.

I suppose the hidden measure of a senior IC is how they learn to play this game so that the wins on paper spreadsheet are enough to enable them to effect the real changes and pursue the long term projects that can't be driven and tracked this way.

October 24th, 2019

This post would look a lot more think-piecey on Medium.


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