A conversation with Nick Faulkner, Influitive
The Objectives and Key Results (OKR) framework is generating a lot of buzz in the tech industry. For marketing software company Influitive, the process of implementing OKRs has been transformative across every team and department. Influitive’s Director of Software Engineering Nick Faulkner shared his perspective on why he was skeptical OKRs would work, why he’s now a believer, and how this framework has given the company’s engineering team a new sense of purpose when developing software.
Q: Why was the engineering team initially most skeptical about OKRs?
Faulkner: In my time at Influitive we have tried to implement OKRs three times, always with a different way to track them, and no one really seemed sold on how they could really work. There wasn't no real buy-in at the top level of engineering, which is super important for them to be successful. Because of this there wasn't a push to learn more about them. They were seen as a checkbox we checked because we were told to. I personally didn’t understand how you could make a single engineer responsible for such big goals. Even at the team level it seemed really hard to align them with company goals.
Q: What about the new system made you a believer?
Faulkner: It really came down to educating myself and taking the time to understand how they work and apply to product, design, and engineering. I always have been a big believer in agile and how big its impact is on how we deliver software. OKRs are its equivalent in what we build and why. When having a KR for not just if a feature is delivered, but having KRs for its impact on our product, UX, performance, technical debt, etc. is really empowering for a team.
Q: OKRs can help realigned teams in a way that makes life easier for all teams, especially the engineering team. What are some examples of this?
Faulkner: Often the different departments have conflicting objectives. The biggest concerns we have had on engineering for the last year are scaling and technical debt. Engineering has benefited greatly from working closer with product. Aligning out objectives to balance features versus technical debt so that we can repay some debt and increase our velocity has been beneficial.
Similar things happen with other departments. For example, sales where there might be a key result to bring in a new enterprise customer of X size this quarter. This aligns well with our objective about enterprise clients, but also causes concern for engineering because of the scale of X size. The engineering team has in turn added an OKR about our scalability and stability to match this goal. Response times can't be more than X milliseconds. This matching a qualitative KR (land a new enterprise customer of X size) with a qualitative KR (response times can't be more than X milliseconds) has allowed us to align between departments to accomplish the company goals.
Q: Can you give a few concrete examples of how things have changed on the engineering team since this process started?
Faulkner: We really made the big push this quarter (starting in November 2018) so we are pretty early into our OKR journey, but there have been some big changes even in that time:
Q: What other advice do you have for engineering leaders who want to implement OKRs?
OKRs are a way out of "feature factories" where teams just "deliver" software. They focus on the important part of our jobs: how the work we do makes a quantifiable impact on our customers. This is big for getting buy-in. It gives meaning to the work an engineer does, aligns them around goals that matter, and gives teams the autonomy to figure out how to achieve their goal.