How to make performance a realistic objective with measurable results

Tech Culture
How to make performance a realistic objective with measurable results

Our Visibility team discovered how to merge quarterly OKRs with detailed research on improving teams’ agile posture. Brian Graham, engineering manager, and Dan Grindrod, senior agile coach & delivery lead, walk us through this how-to guide on coaching your team through personal growth while continuously shipping valuable products.

Teams often struggle to find new ways to reach the next level of performance. Big projects can help set north-stars for what the team’s future can look like. Unfortunately, they’re hard to get buy-in for, hard to move to “done”, and don’t always show how they relate to improving the business itself in a small measurable iteration. Finding a way to improve the team and continue shipping value is challenging and not always obvious.

Why are OKRs useful?

OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) continue to get a lot of buzz these days, and with good reason. When used correctly it is more than a fancy to-do list, it is a flexible set of initiatives that roll up into measurable results that drive a company forward. There are many reasons to start using OKRs if you do not already, but they help ensure your work is aligned with the overall company’s goals, as well as demonstrating how to measure the results of individual initiatives your team takes.

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Isn’t gut-feeling enough?

Why is organizational culture so important?

  • high levels of cooperation

  • trust

  • ownership

  • experimentation

  • honest and open communication

What are DORA metrics?

  • Deployment Frequency: How often an organization successfully releases to production

  • Lead Time for Changes: The amount of time it takes a commit to get into production

  • Change Failure Rate: The percentage of deployments causing a failure in production

  • Time to Restore Service: How long it takes an organization to recover from a failure in production

These four metrics were benchmarked against the industry for several years, and it was discovered that “elite teams are twice as likely to meet or exceed their organizational performance goals.” Elite teams, by DORA standards, deploy multiple times per day, average commits take less than 24 hours to end up in production, teams can restore a system outage in less than an hour, and less than 15% of all changes have serious issues. You might not like all those numbers, but it’s important to remember this benchmark is based on observed performance, not hypothetical reasoning.

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Identifying the relationships allows you to debug the issues holding your team back from reaching their best level. Is management not setting a clear and inspirational vision? Is work being done in large monolithic bites? Does your team lack any automated tests? Are you keeping work-in-progress limited, or is everything top priority at all times?

There are a few simple ways to find projects for the team to solve. First, evaluate which topics seem to be doing the worst on your team. We use a tool to regularly collect feedback with an employee engagement survey which gives us insights towards job satisfaction, culture, burnout, and identity. For software performance, we can look into metrics provided by our git host, ticket system, and/or third-party reporting tools. An informal discussion with your team, 1-on-1 or in a group, will also provide valuable feedback. We regularly talk about culture and improving job satisfaction in our team retrospectives for instance.

Our team’s objective for Q1 2021 was “to build an engaged and efficient team.” The measurable key result here was to become Elite under the DORA-4 definition. As a team, we looked at what we need to improve and found concrete projects that can help us do that. These became the initiatives for our work in Q1 2021. We, therefore, track the 4-Key-Metrics as well as our progress on these initiatives. There is some lag between the two, but as they say, “what gets measured gets done.”

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Key Takeaways

  • Team performance is not about writing lots of code, it is about how far the business moved forward.

  • Having an Agile Posture enables performance by letting your team quickly react to changes.

  • DORA can guide you towards building a more performant team.

  • Measuring DORA-4 can integrate easily with results into your OKRs in a measurable way, and generate concrete initiatives.

  • Adopting this kind of improvement roadmap will be challenging without the culture or leadership needed to support it.

About the authors


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