jml's notebook

Review: Measure What Matters

Are you looking for a book to help you do OKRs properly at your organization? Skip this one and use Google's OKR guide instead.

John Doerr helped make Google. He was at one of the VCs that invested in Google, and he taught Larry and Sergey about OKRs. In Measure What Matters, he has packaged his hard-won expertise in popular business book format, replete with football metaphors, informal case studies, and inspiring quotes from titans of industry.

As it goes, it's not awful. The book aims to introduce the reader to the idea of OKRs, to convince them of their utility, and to inspire them to go forth and set OKRs themselves. None of these mattered to me.

I did not need to be introduced to OKRs, as I was already familiar with them from my time at Google. In any case, the idea is very simple: pick a small number of things that you want to do, decide how to measure those things, then do them.

I didn't need to be convinced or inspired, either. Memrise is already using OKRs, and although we're still figuring out how to actually do that, we're committed to the concept. Personally, I am one hundred percent into having a small number of measurable things to focus on. What I desperately need is help in doing so: how do you set good OKRs? how do you avoid them becoming a todo list? how should a team's OKRs relate to the rest of the organization? how do you come up with good metrics for things that are hard to measure?

Measure What Matters helps a little with these, but it's so slow. The book is four times longer than it needs to be. Every second chapter is a detailed, real world case study written by an implementer of OKRs. They are all very impressive, but largely pointless if you already want to do OKRs.

As I was reading it, I often thought that Doerr wrote the book merely to check a box: he is the OKR guy, there is much interest in OKRs, therefore he must write the OKR book. Reflecting now, I think he actually wrote it as an evangelistic tract to spread the good news of OKRs to American managers. If so, I'm not fit to judge it.

The book has two halves. The second half is not about OKRs at all, but rather about a performance management system that works very well with OKRs. I skipped this entirely, as I was already bored by the book and because that's a problem I don't have to worry about right now.

If you're like me, I suggest you use the OKR guide on re:Work instead.