MOKRs weeknote – 7

The most important thing this week was a long conversation at DMT about our priorities for the next year. Our last conversation of the week was about how we would respond radically differently if we had to invoke business continuity for months in response to Coronavirus. The contrast was a useful reminder of the importance of having a clear plan and being able to respond to the priorities of our residents and service operations. 

At DMT we identified 25 objectives that were most important for the year. These are drawn from, and will be supported by, the objectives we’ve developed during the last couple of months and the way we articulate these to colleagues in services (who expect the same thing, but will often recognise it in other terms). We hope that this will give the team a really clear framework for prioritisation and work planning. 

Henry and I have got a little bit of tidying up to do before we can share these, which also gives us a chance to show the relationship between the work the team’s done so far and these service-wide objectives. Ideally we’ll be able to do that this week.

We also agreed a governance framework for how we will track, report and celebrate progress towards the objectives; and what we’ll do in the event of needing to add or change objectives

I think the focus for the remainder of the project is:

  • To show how this all fits together and create a way of that supporting decision making
  • To create something that’s easy to re-use so that reporting on progress is straightforward
  • Benchmarking staff views so that we can check whether we meet the project success criteria 

MOKRs weeknote – 6

I’ve struggled to move this project forward since I returned from half term break. Too many urgent things got in the way. And I knew I needed to, because this week as ICT DMT away day: when we could get enough time together to agree the priorities for next week, as we’d promised. So it was with some trepidation that I re-opened the spreadsheet to find out where we had got to and what needed to be done to establish the priorities.

The good news was that despite my inattentiveness (or even perhaps because of) the team had done a great job in articulating a much clearer set of objectives and even, on some projects, committing to key results over the next quarter. That made much easier the task of pulling together a summary for DMT and some recommendations for our priorities. 

There were three obvious insights that I had on reviewing our draft objectives:

  • There are too many for us to reasonably deliver all of them this year
  • There aren’t simple choices to be made around what to do and not do – because the objectives aren’t evenly distributed across the teams
  • Many of our objectives still encompass team-level activities rather than cross-service activities

So my hypotheses for DMT are:

  • We can make choices about the amount of effort we’re going to place on some things if we’re willing to step back from things that we’ve long wanted to do
  • We can commit to fewer objectives if we identify goals that we can work together to achieve. This won’t necessarily mean less work, but more cross team work may mean we can balance the workload better
  • We can form objectives at a service, team and personal level and this can help us put the outcome at the heart of what we’re doing – provided we’ve all got visibility of these so that we have an equal amount of information when we’re talking about priorities

If the project is successful, it will enable DMT to make clear commitments to some priorities, give a steer on some things that are less important. But it’s also triggered a set of reflections for what the exercise has taught us – not least, the wisdom of never doing an exercise quite like this again. But that’s for next week. 

MOKRs weeknote – 4

This week

The biggest thing I learnt this week was that the gap between our missions and objectives is too large. We’re asking people to be aspirational and specific with the objectives, sufficient that we’re able to make decisions about prioritisation. Yet they’re working to missions that are vague and not mutually exclusive, so they aren’t helping to guide our objectives. 

Ideally I’d have realised this, proposed changing the text that supports our headline missions and been able to agree these amongst DMT all in the same week. I wasn’t able to get that far, so the teams working on their objectives next week will need to continue to bear with us. 

It was also rewarding to find out that the ‘McLaurin Tests’  that I developed with Cate the previous Friday were really helpful for people to apply to our draft objectives. Rewarding mostly because they tripped off my tongue during a hangover-induced ramble. 

Rob tested the emerging objectives that relate to our neighbourhoods and housing division with its group director, Ajman. The most interesting feedback was also the least expected: that he was interested in the approach as a means of developing service plans. The most important outcome, though, was a shared understanding that these objectives were developed jointly rather than being independent IT priorities. 

Early in the week I met Stephen to discuss the work he’d done with the contracts and procurement team to develop their objectives. The MOKRs brief is particularly hard for our teams which are reliant on other teams to accomplish their goals. So I was impressed by the work that they’d done. 

Towards the end of the week, DMT met to discuss some objectives that relate to how we want to see the service developing. Some of these will be specific to us and our work, but we’re working on them in the open to avoid a disconnect between what’s important for us and what’s important for the team. As an approach it feels like it designs out the challenge I faced last year when I was agreeing a personal priority each month with Rob but it didn’t map directly onto the work that my team was doing at the same period. 

Next week

Marian is facilitating a session for colleagues from the infrastructure and apps management teams to refine their objectives. It’s an area where we’ve had some long standing commitments and those things are almost certainly the right thing to do, but we need to revisit why we’re doing it and understand the opportunity cost involved in exploring one route over another. Rich will then do something similar for teams from service support and contracts and procurement. 

At the end of that process, we should have a set of objectives that explain what we’re triyng to achieve sufficient that we can prioritise these as a leadership team; test the prioritisation with colleagues across the council and then write-up the learnings from the process so that we can repeat it more elegantly next time. 

MOKRs weeknote – 4

This week was surprisingly productive. We made progress, possibly despite my efforts. 

The plan had been to get different groups of people together, clustered around each mission, and invite them to start drafting the key results against each of the draft objectives. I spent a decent amount of time at the weekend drafting the workshop materials which was slightly too late to be useful for anyone. 

The first workshop wasn’t a failure, but it wasn’t able to fulfil the purpose of the session. I feel particularly embarrassed when I’ve taken groups of the team and not set them up to succeed. So I talked it through with a few of the participants and thought about what we could do differently.

The key challenge we’re confronting is what level of specificity we need from our objectives. Should it be obvious which project or work stream will achieve the goal, or should they draw together the purpose of multiple projects? In organisations that routinely use OKRs, they’re like a set of Russian dolls. For good reason, we’re attempting a single set of OKRS for our whole service.

To work out the right answer, I turned back to the missions. Would the objectives, if met, get us one year closer to accomplishing the missions? This question helped me understand how to frame the objectives. I then wrote a note recapping where we are, how we want to do the work and where we need to get to. 

The challenge is to write the objectives so that they remain specific. Working with Cate, I developed three tests:

  1. Are they words that might appear in a ministerial speech (ie non-specifically and too general)?
  2. Can you imagine a conversation with Rob about whether one of the objectives is more or less important?
  3. Will you know when it’s done?

Liz led a workshop to redraft objectives related to the mission ‘Services people prefer’ and that was more successful, so we’ll repeat this approach over the coming weeks. I suspect this bit will need to be a bit more top down than I’d anticipated. So to make sure that we’re tapping into the knowledge of the whole team, I’d like to try and visualise our draft objectives, and the pieces of work that relate to each of them. If we put these up in the office, we’ll have a chance to get wider input. 

I developed a view of the objectives for our group director of neighbourhoods and housing, with a view to it becoming a consistent way of describing our pipeline of work to senior leaders, so that we’ve a shared view of what’s important. I’d like to ensure that we’ve got a single way of describing our objectives, no matter who we’re taking to. But whether we can create an approach that’s simple and easy to understand for different audiences remains to be seen.

So, all things being equal, by the end of February we should have a clear set of objectives, shared with senior leaders. 

MOKRs weeknote – 3

This week

Well, this week was better than last. Most teams had drafted their objectives for the year, by the deadline we set before Christmas. No one had slavishly stuck to the format but most explained the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ very clearly, which was great!  

From time to time I make progress by using my diary to bully me into action. Four things came together to force me to move the project forward. 

Following the housing services away day, I wrote up their expectations of ICT as a set of objectives for the next year. We’re not yet ready to commit to key results, but I underpinned these with the key activities that would enable achievement of those objectives. That’s been helpful to ensure we understand the ‘why’ as well as the ‘what’. 

We looked at our emerging roadmap to understand what it means for the data we’ll need to expose via APIs. Having clarity over the objectives is starting to help us spot which user needs will be dependent on the same data. 

We have worked with the Hackney Works service to understand their objectives over the next year and what that means for how we’ll work together to develop the digital service.

The session that did most to move us forward was a team workshop to review the draft objectives, collaboratively. We broke into groups to look at the objectives connected with our five missions. Each group made sure that everyone could understand the objective, and that it was clear what it required us to do and why. This might have been the best bit of the week. People challenged each other, constructively, and got to grips with what was important to each team. 

I then mixed up the groups to make sure that we had different perspectives and different teams looking at the same objectives. And whilst a good idea in theory, I hadn’t spotted what would happen; that the objectives might be re-written to a point where they lost their intended meaning. But despite that, we ended up with a better understanding of what we were going to do together, and how we all needed to be involved. 

Next week

Next week, we start to develop the key results that sit behind the objectives – what we want to achieve each quarter. We’re working with different members of the team, so it will test how well we can understand the work of each team and how we can challenge each other constructively. 

I’m hoping the key outcome will be that we start identifying where we have too many things to achieve in each quarter, so that we can start prioritising objectives. 

I’m also developing a tool to capture the objectives for each council directorate and service. It needs to be simple and visual, so that it’s accessible – but has just enough detail so that people can spot particular initiatives that are important to them. The timing may not be perfect, but Rob has a regular catch up in the diary with a Group Director which is too good an opportunity to test our approach not to miss.

So by the end of next week, we should have a longlist of objectives, some emerging key results and tested a tool to communicate these across the organisation. A good place to be with 8 weeks to go before the end of this phase of the project.