Book Notes: Measure What Matters

Table Of Contents

TL;DR: Read this Book, when…

  • you want to be structured in goal-making and tracking
  • you want to learn about what motivates people and what doesn’t
  • you are interested in hearing stories about the goals of big and successful companies

Book Facts

  • Title: Measure What Matters
  • Authors: John Doerr
  • Word Count: ~ 62,000 (ca. 4 hours at 250 words / minute)
  • Reading Ease: easy to medium
  • Writing Style: rather short chapters, much of the text contributed by company leaders telling their story about OKRs
  • Year Published: 2017


{% include book-link.html book=“measure-what-matters” %} tells success stories of companies that used OKRs to reach their objectives. These stories are about topics like crafting OKRs, aligning them with each other and between teams in the company, changing culture within a company.

The book is written in easy language and entertaining to read due to the fact that most chapters are written by industry leaders, telling the story of how OKRs helped them to reach their companies' objectives.

I’m sold to the value of OKRs, for companies as well as for personal growth. Well-crafted OKRs can make the difference. But so can badly-crafted OKRs… .


Here are my notes from the book, distilled into distinct ideas.


OKR stands for “objectives and key results”. An objective is the goal that you want to reach. Key results are the steps that get you there. A company key result can be an objective for a team in the company, which can be broken down in more key results, and so on. Ideally, all OKRs of the teams in a company are aligned to the company-wide objectives.

“An objective has a set of concrete steps that you’re intentionally engaged in and actually trying to go for” - Bill Gates

Measuring OKRs

Measuring OKR progress regularly is a source of motivation and purpose. OKRs can be measured in different ways, but scoring them on a scale between 0 and 1 is the most popular way. 0 means nothing of the objective or key result has been reached, while 1 means that the objective or key result has been reached 100%. Scoring is not always completely objective, but we can influence it a bit according to context.

“People need a benchmark to know how they’re performing against it.” - Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube

“Making measured headway can be more incentivizing than public recognition.” - John Doerr

“The simple act of writing down a goal increases your chance of reaching it.” - John Doerr

Too Many Goals Blur Focus

If you have too many goals, you cannot execute on them. Many different goals will blur the focus on any of them. Instead, focus on goals with the most potential. For each team / organization, there shouldn’t be more than a handful of OKRs each with no more than a handful of key results.

“Successful organizations focus on the handful of initiatives that can make a real difference.” - John Doerr

OKRs Are Not Set In Stone

Regularly checking in with OKRs gives us the opportunity to re-evaluate them. If the objective is not the best objective for the team / company any more, the objective should be changed. Otherwise, we will try to achieve goals that are vain and do not provide real value when reached.

“Our goals are servants to our purpose, not the other way around.” - John Doerr

Aligned Goals Increase Purpose

OKRs are powerful when aligned and can be harmful if not aligned. If product management has product KRs and development has infrastructure KRs, they will run in a conflict.

OKRs should be aligned by mixing top-down objectives (to give direction) with bottom-up KRs (to give the teams purpose and involvement).

Letting teams come up with OKRs bottom-up will allow them to build networks within the company that will make hairy goals attainable.

“People are more likely to feel fulfilled when they have clear and aligned targets.” - Doug Dennerline, CEO of LinkedIn

Goals Without Leadership Commitment Are Hollow

If a leader does not commit to OKRs, why should the rest of the company? On the other hand, if a leader has clear and transparent OKRs, and talks about them regularly in front of the company, people will support the leadership OKRs and ladder their own OKRs up against them.

Goals Without Monetary Incentives Increase Cooperation

OKRs should be kept separate from bonus incentives or performance reviews. As soon as OKRs are tied to a bonus, people start politics to achieve their goals over other teams' goals. If OKRs are transparent and not tied to monetary incentives, the probability of teams helping each other grows, because changing goals becomes possible and teams can align their goals with each other and with the company.

Transparent goals that are not incentivized with bonuses take politics out of play.

Clear Goals Reduce Stress

If a person’s goals are well-aligned with their team’s goals, which in turn are well-aligned with the company goals, it gives a person purpose and a clear picture of what is expected of them. It also makes decisions easy, as the goals give a framework in which to make decisions.

If different teams' goals are aligned well with the company goals, it also takes politics out of the picture. Teams won’t be trying to reach their own goals over other teams' goals, but instead help each other.

Clear goals also improve the onboarding experience of new hires. If they know their goals, their team’s goals, and their company’s goals from the start, they can start making decisions and challenging other’s decisions right away.

Thus, in general, clear goals reduce uncertainty and stress.

“When you know your company objectives like you know your last name, it’s very calming.” - Julia Collins, Co-CEO of Zume Pizza

Transparent Goals Increase Motivation

Sharing goals with others drastically increases the motivation to achieve those goals. It also opens up possibilities for other parts of the organization to help reach those goals. After all, if no one knows about your goals, no one will be able to help you.

Transparent goals are also a key factor for aligning teams across the organization to the goals of the company because teams are empowered to align their goals with transparent top-level goals.

“When people help choose a course of action, they are more likely to see it through.” - John Doerr

“People who choose their destination will own a deeper awareness of what it takes to get there.” - John Doerr

“Transparency seeds collaboration.” - John Doerr

Bottom-Up Goals Increase Engagement

People need to be able to set their own goals, or at least be involved in the process. This gives a team purpose and motivation to actually achieve those goals.

OKRs should not (only) be dictated top-down. Instead, pass down an objective and let the team decide on the key results.

You can tell people to clean up a mess, but should you be telling them which broom to use? - John Doerr

Ambitious Goals Increase Engagement

A BHAG (big hairy audacious goal) unifies teams to stretch themselves and be more engaged in reaching that goal. If you don’t quite reach a strech goal, you will still have done something great. To find a BHAG, ask the question “what would amazing look like?”.

Companies like Google and YouTube set hairy goals for themselves and fail reaching them more often than not.

“In pursuing high-effort, high-risk goals, employee commitment is essential” - John Doerr

“If you set a crazy, ambitious goal and miss it, you’ll still achieve something remarkable.” - Larry Page

“Stretch goals can sharpen an entrepreneurial culture.” - John Doerr

“The hairier the mission, the more important your OKRs” - Jini Kim

OKRs Scale Culture

A big fear in growing companies is that the culture will change when too many new people are hired into the company to scale up. If the company’s OKRs embody the values and principles of the company, and are transparent and accessible to every new hire, they can be the means the scale the culture while the company is growing.

“Without cultural alignment the world’s best operational strategy will fail.” - Andrew Cole, Chief HR Officer at Lumeris


People cannot be measured solely by numbers, so rating their performance by OKRs alone is not a healthy thing to do. CFRs (conversations, feedback, recognition) provide a framework to provide feedback to employees that is divorced from OKRs. OKRs should at most be a small part of a performance review, together with context-sensitive manager and peer feedback. Employee satisfaction, purpose, and thus retention is much higher when feedback is given continuously instead of just once a year.

" If we can rate our Uber drivers (and vice versa) … why can’t a workplace support two-way feedback between managers and employees?" - John Doerr

“Every cheer is a step towards operating excellence.” John Doerr

“Corrective feedback is naturally difficult for people. But when done well, it’s also the greates gift you can give to someone.” - Donna Morris, Adobe

IT Needs To Be Aligned With the Company Goals

IT is at the core of every modern company. When a company wants to innovate, their IT needs to perform. Well-crafted OKRs help align the IT with the rest of the company and reduce stress at the same time, because when teams are aligned, they will help each other instead of working against each other, trying to achieve their own goals.

“In the brunt of any disruption, IT will bear the brunt of all in-house frustrations.” - Atticus Tysen

“When you’re putting out fires every day, it’s hard to build a next-generation billing technology.” - Atticus Tysen

Execution > Knowledge

Ideas are cheap. Everybody can have ideas. But executing on an idea is what makes the difference and is what achieves goals. Execution is what matters.

“It almost doesn’t matter what you know. It’s what you can […] actually accomplish.” - John Doerr

“Ideas are easy, execution is everything.” - John Doerr

Written By:

Tom Hombergs

Written By:

Tom Hombergs

As a professional software engineer, consultant, architect, general problem solver, I've been practicing the software craft for more than fifteen years and I'm still learning something new every day. I love sharing the things I learned, so you (and future me) can get a head start. That's why I founded

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