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People & Org Design

Bringing OKRs to Buildo: a Journey of Alignment and Autonomy

Our journey as a company discovering alignment and autonomy within the whole team by implementing OKRs and bridging top-down and bottom-up approaches. This is a testament to the power of teamwork and continuous improvement, which we firmly believe in.

Ivan Ocera
People & Culture
May 21, 2024
12
minutes read

The idea to implement OKRs at Buildo was conceived during one of our annual offsites in Algarve, Portugal. I had joined Buildo just six months prior, but the company culture, working environment, and the people I had met made me feel like a part of the team for years.

I was having a discussion with the founders to go over the high-level outcomes from the 2-to-1s. These are the meetings where each Buildo team member meets with a founder and myself to plan their career path within the company.

One of the points that emerged from people in Buildo on that occasion was the need to work more efficiently and to create more alignment about the company's strategy: essentially, knowing where we were heading and why.

Immersed in that meeting, I listened to the five founders discuss their strong desire to give people more autonomy.

Listening. I love to listen because when you listen, you feel the world alive, moving, evolving. If you don’t listen, you can’t perceive and be a part of it. If you don’t listen, you're not truly part of the systems you operate in. The system. I realized that Buildo was a system missing a gear, an ingredient. But what?

Listening and pondering. How could we enable the “Buildo system” to fully express its potential? What was the missing ingredient?

“Why OKRs?”

In the past, I worked at a company where we experimented with a methodology called Objectives and Key Results (OKRs). Although there were some positive aspects of the experience, it wasn't executed excellently, and perhaps it wasn't the right time to introduce it to the company. However, I found the methodology fascinating and have been wanting to try it again because I see its potential.

How can we make the way we work in Buildo more efficient and effective and give more autonomy to people? Luca, one of Buildo’s founders, summarized.

Let’s try with OKRs! I replied.

Why OKRs?

As usual, Luca asked his difficult question. Only later would I truly understand the deep reason behind OKRs.

It was an idea, but it seemed to me a suitable solution to formalize and align everyone with the company strategy and enable the establishment of an objectives-based system that would allow more autonomy in managing one's work and projects. I truly believed in it, and furthermore, I really wanted to give it another try and do it properly in a context I deemed right and suitable.

I believed Buildo was the right company to experiment with the methodology: OKRs reflect a company's operations, and Buildo wouldn’t be afraid to look at itself in the mirror.

I received the initial positive feedback from the founders I was hoping for, so at this point, I had to turn it into a real project.

Experiment OKRs for real

We were actually starting a change management project, which meant that we needed to approach it in the right way. There are several theories and approaches to follow when it comes to such projects in a company. However, in Buildo, one thing is certain: we always begin with the people.

We wanted to get some feedback on an idea before taking any action. To achieve this, we utilized the processes and methodologies that are deeply ingrained in our company's culture. We dedicated an entire session of our annual Open Space Technology to discuss the potential positive and negative impacts of the idea with all the Buildoers. The main objective was to gather any doubts and fears and understand their thoughts on the matter. After this initial stage, we structured a survey to collect more specific and personalized feedback to determine who was in favor and who wasn't, based on the happy and pain points that emerged.

The thermometer showed a good temperature, which meant that it was time to look for experts who could assist us in this journey. I did not want to take any risks by doing everything in-house, so I was looking for professionals who specialized in this method and had experience in change management in this field.

I decided to rely on two providers, Up2You and Redlab, who effectively supported us in customizing the methodology and engaging all Buildo people in the project to make them feel like protagonists.

The team at the end of the first workshop with Up2You and Redlab

In agreement with our partners, we began by training three internal "champions" thoroughly on the methodology and then all company members. In the beginning, Buildo did not find it an easy task. Their profession is change management, particularly in the technological field. One would think that this would make the transition to OKRs easier, and to some extent, it did. However, being knowledgeable about something can make you more demanding and raise expectations. Especially when you are dealing with crucial elements of the system, such as the company's objectives, departmental goals, and project results.

However, high expectations push you to maintain high quality in what you do, and this in Buildo is a true value, a real competitive advantage both in the market and in managing the company.

Together with our partners, we decided to start with an experiment and try OKRs for a quarter, then evaluate whether to continue. The experiment yielded positive results at the end of the quarter, and people found value in it. We collected feedback again to tailor it more to us and to fit the method even more closely, like true process tailors.

But what had really worked? What had brought value?

The real value of using OKRs in Buildo

Flexibility

Again, I was asking myself, “Why OKRs?”. At Buildo, we have found that OKRs are a great fit for our company culture and values of challenge, discussion, and continuous improvement. In our dynamic and ever-evolving environment, OKRs provide the flexibility we need for continuous revisions, updates, and alignment. They are well-suited to our way of working, which does not involve rigid structures but instead allows for evolution and change as long as it maximizes value, in this case, through OKRs.

Objectives are not imposed from above but agreed upon with the teams, allowing alignment in all vertical, horizontal, and cross-functional organizational directions.

Strategic OKR presentation to the team

Customization

A peculiarity of ours is that we created project OKRs, which is not very common. The method we implemented involves having company project directions, which are general and common to all projects, and specific project OKRs connected to them.

We chose this path because projects are the lifeblood of our business, and we did not want to miss the opportunity to set clear objectives and define what results would make that project a success.

Measurement of success

Measure, measure, measure. The importance of measuring progress has always been emphasized in Buildo, and the implementation of OKRs has only reinforced this mantra. Our people have reported several benefits they have perceived since the introduction of OKRs that increased focus on measuring success. Through various project success measurement moments, we have gathered feedback from our team members, who have highlighted the advantages of OKRs as follows:

  • Enable individuals to understand the reasons behind their actions and the purpose of their teams and establish clear objectives with defined levels of quality;
  • Offer ample support for personal autonomy and allow for measurable KPIs that can be used for decision-making;
  • Bring greater clarity and alignment to long-term goals and overall company direction;
  • Establish standards for tracking progress towards objectives and encourage a forward-thinking mindset.

Challenges and difficulties during the journey

Certainly, we encountered some challenges while implementing our OKRs method. At first, as the owner, I had to deal with people's reluctance to expose themselves to others. With OKRs, there is always a result that has been achieved or not achieved. Sharing the outcome of their efforts with everyone was not an easy task.

Also, in the beginning, OKRs were seen as an additional burden and detached from the rest of the company's rituals and processes. Eventually, we needed to integrate them well to make them a compass that directs the company's goals.

The implementation process was not a piece of cake, either. Creating OKRs, pursuing them, and monitoring them required a well-thought-out strategy. We also had to find the right number of metrics to track, which can be few. It was very important to be open to feedback and take corrective actions.

To make the process smoother, we removed strategic project OKRs and kept the tactical project OKRs, which remained and were included in the company's directions. We also adapted the tools we use internally to the OKR process and reduced the metrics to the most important ones, learning that we don't need to track everything!

The team challenges the first OKR proposal during the first workshop

So, why OKRs in the end?

Why OKRs?

As you probably understand, it's a recurring question that remained in my head with various levels of answers. Above, I mentioned the benefits they brought us, those actually perceived by people. If I were to answer today, what would I say?

I believe OKRs resolve the dichotomy between bottom-up and top-down. OKRs allow us to avoid categorizing initiatives, company direction, and objectives as something imposed from above or something that arises from below. OKRs erase that dividing line. Top-down vs bottom-up is a concept I think should be avoided in a company because it creates separation. The potential of people in an organization is expressed when all these individuals find harmony, collaborate, and are united by a purpose, a strategy, or a shared tactic at all levels. OKRs are a system that allows us to collaborate in a coordinated and continuous manner, like a complex organism. Leadership is shared and transparent, and every team has its role in making the system work without top-down and bottom-up. Wow. At least for me, it’s wow.

Attention: OKRs are just one ingredient, not the whole recipe; that’s clear. We still need to find the perfect recipe, but OKRs are certainly the oil and the salt. They blend the flavors and enhance the taste.

And now, what awaits us? We are learning to work with objectives because, in the future, we want to optimize the time spent working and make how we work more effective and efficient. We aspire to set an example of innovation in organizational design and to bring value to the upcoming generations of workers who look up to Buildo as a role model. We aim to enhance the alignment between our company's values and the values of our employees, which evolve with the changing generations. Our goal is to remain competitive in the market, especially in a world that is constantly evolving and differs from the world you were in when you started reading this blog post.

I’m sure that the oil and salt of OKRs will be fundamental in achieving these goals.

Ivan Ocera
People & Culture

Ivan graduated with a degree in economics and has three master's degrees, each with a different specialization in HR. He’s been working in the HR field for over 10 years in various sectors and contexts. He is a coach and a team coach, and he enjoys helping people achieve their potential.

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