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OKRs Considered Harmful

I am a meta-programmer. I confess, the reason I don’t have posts on my website is that I waste all my time fiddling with static site generators. My side projects seldom get past a couple weeks’ longevity because I can’t resist the temptation to rewrite them in Haskell 1. It’s been a while since I picked up a new programming language, because it’ll inevitably involve tweaking Emacs for the perfect workflow.

But I’m also a professional. These silly tweaks (“let’s switch all my cloud VMs to OpenBSD!”) are things I do on my free time. In many ways, I do it because it’s not like my side projects are going anywhere, anyway. I am deeply impatient towards this pointless micro-optimisation on company time, when real things are supposed to be built.

Which brings me to my distaste of OKRs. In my experience, it has been a poison that turns otherwise well-aligned teams into nitpicking machines. While we are meant to examine our options against the prism of the OKRs, what has happened in my experience, without exception, is teams talking incessantly about how to properly do OKRs instead of making progress towards them.

I have seen experienced product teams with good ideas (but who were expected to use OKRs) simply shoehorn their pre-existing plans into the framework. This would be the best outcome — the cost being the time wasted in the shoe-horning exercise — were it not for the aforementioned meta discussions.

There is a worse outcome. Instead of is this a good idea?”, we are encouraged to assess the merits of a proposal against does this happen to align with what we committed to earlier, when we had less information than we do now?” In this case, the cost is composed of:

  1. The opportunity cost of not building the potentially better idea — the one compiled from more information
  2. The time spent inside the framework
  3. The time spent discussing the framework

Not to mention the evangelising. Because the transition from a non-OKR-practicing organisation to an OKR-practicing one is like witnessing someone join a cult. Lunch-and-learn about OKRs. AMA about OKRs. Here, I bought you this book about OKRs. Here’s some YouTube videos about OKRs.

As far as management fads go, I would rather my employer practiced the law of attraction, or avoided the number 13. OKRs have got to go.

  1. I don’t even know Haskell.↩︎

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