At Hostinger our vision is to enable millions of people around the globe to unlock the power of Internet by giving them tools to learn, create and grow online. We provide a world class website hosting platform for over 29 million users in 178 countries, with 15k new sign-ups on average every day. With such growth comes complexity.
Our once simple business is now encompassing 40+ different websites, all run on different technologies, therefore our number one challenge is to align the team. Uniting a company under one goal in a shifting and competitive landscape has been no mean feat. Seeing the bigger picture has been absolutely crucial ever since our engineers had to divide their attention between several different projects running simultaneously. This has pushed us towards an exploration of new methods and tools, which would allow us to increase our productivity and lead us to a more united team.
One of the first tools applied was KPI (Key Performance Indicator), set for each team member. We structured departments based on their function (developers, system engineers, customer service, marketing) and fostered an open and transparent culture to ensure a clear vision of how daily line of work contributes to the overall company goals. Results were moderate, therefore we continued our search of game-changing strategies.
Last year, just as we were about to embark on yet another growth phase, an ex co-colleague introduced me to a second tool we applied – OKRs (Objectives and Key Results). I was instantly hooked and clearly saw that it is the way for us to go.
Now, as we have just finished our second set of quarterly OKRs and are over 8 months into the practice, we clearly see and can state the results and positive outcome it has brought to our company. Combined OKRs and two other hyper-efficient practices have sky-rocketed our productivity.
Together, these are the 3 processes that have changed the game:
- Cross-functional agile team structure based on product
- Biweekly sprints
The single most important tool in increasing productivity for us was OKRs – a very simple, but extremely powerful organizational goal setting tool.
OKRs have helped us to stay focused on our company goals and reflect on progress each quarter. Some of the biggest tech companies in the world use OKRs, such as Google, Linkedin, and Zynga together with many others. The important part here is that at least 70% of objectives and key results come from employees.
Breaking down OKRs
Objectives in OKRs are high importance, strategically measurable goals. When recognized and set apart, objectives become easily trackable units for which we are accountable.
Key Results – now that we have identified our goals, the progress is quantified by applying numerically-based measures of success towards the goal at regular and defined intervals.
Below you can see a snapshot from our Company’s OKRs during the 1st quarter of 2017. The objective is a satisfied customer. Key results are measured by tracking NPS (Net Promoter Score), tickets per client ratio and monthly recurring revenue. Choosing the right key result indicators requires a great deal of clear thinking and team cooperation.
Instead of involving management into such process, only team members working on the objective were responsible for the result.
As shown above, there are no tasks or to-do lists here, only objective record of what a positive result looks like. Use of such technique, allows us to experiment and assess all possible scenarios when in the process of achieving targeted results.
Not only did we focus on company’s OKRs, all the same, we set out personal ones. The tool brings transparency for the entire team, therefore everyone is aware of each other’s goals and expectations. Below you can take a look at my personal OKRs:
The use of personal OKRs travel beyond goal-setting and measuring. We’ve also discovered tool’s ability to provide clarity over the structure of the team and validation of company’s direction.
Reinforcing flat structure in our organization
OKRs solve any challenges created by the complexity of a large team in two ways:
1. It focuses on every team member in the organization individually, therefore one’s contribution to the team is clear and concise.
2. By taking responsibility to achieve personal and company’s goals, one can identify when and where he is needed the most and contribute accordingly.
Validating company’s direction
The more objective is understood, the easier it is to define measurable results. Simple, easy and clear process provides desired result.
We have discovered that hard to draft OKRs are a symptom of a bigger problem.
2. Cross-functional Agile team structure based on product
After implementing OKRs, we have noticed that it was almost impossible to craft functional OKRs for our developers and system engineers due to their daily tasks being diverse. That was a clear indication of dysfunctional team structure.
Our solution was to introduce an Agile team structure. An Agile team (with a capital ‘A’) is a cross-functional group of people that have everything, and everyone, necessary to produce a working, augmentative product. We borrowed ideas from the Agile methodology and created our own cross-functional teams based on the product, therefore, now we no longer have a team of developers or system engineers. Instead, we have teams with all the necessary people to complete the job internally. For instance, our marketing team has a team leader, designer, content writers, PPC specialist and a developer. Teams are totally independent and have their own OKRs. They are fast and efficient. In order to do their job, they do not need to ask for help from the “team of developers” anymore. No bureaucracy, unnecessary coordination or waiting on other departments to do their segment of the project, now they are fully empowered to get it done themselves.
3. Biweekly sprints
We’ve implemented OKRs. We’ve organized talented agile teams. Now we needed to increase our speed in delivering the change to our customers faster.
As Leonardo da Vinci once said: ‘I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough. We must apply. Being willing is not enough. We must do.’
To propel our OKRs, we needed to divide them into smaller chunks of time within set deadlines.
But how? Deadlines have never seemed to provide desired result.
Yes, they can be energising, can sharpen our focus, set priorities, and make collaboration between teams more effective, after all when there is no time pressure the mind wanders and the brain looks for external stimulation, however, we’ve noticed over and over how a sense of urgency created by a deadline can backfire. Creating a sense of urgency takes a lot of effort, yet provides with very little result. Deadlines tend to exhaust team leaders, waste their focus. Micromanagement also reduces trust between the leaders and the team. Deadlines start to overtake the communication stream. Instead of asking why we start to question the priority. With too many deadlines we stop thinking clearly and effectively and start to stress and overthink.
Fear of underachievement and failed results led us to the third process we adopted: self-implemented bi-weekly sprints. The principle here is that deadlines work far better when they are personally motivated. When we set our own goals the why becomes more powerful and the drive to achieve is stronger. As a result, our product teams set their deadlines in bi-weekly sprints. Every two weeks teams come together, examine their quarterly OKRs and plan their next sprint. Delivering results set by themselves drive teams to hold each other up, therefore they are happier and more engaged at work.
All it took to grow and improve our complex beast was a vision, OKRs, and talented agile team structure with work in bi-weekly sprints. The responsibility is now clear and shared and we have a sharp, motivated team who are nailing it every day. Simple, but very powerful.
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