Without strategic plans in place, organisations can waste time and money down the rabbit hole. While OfferZen still has a lot to learn, we’ve been able to finetune our approach and escalate our wins through careful annual and quarterly planning.
To set effective goals, you need to have the right information on hand. This starts with key metrics for business growth. As an international developer job marketplace, every aspect of our business needs to come together for a software developer to find a job through our platform.
That’s why our north star metric – our key measure of success – is the number of people we help find a job. Our annual plan helps us ensure that we’re always working toward our mission to connect every developer with opportunities to build an awesome future.
Every quarter, we then break up the next phase toward our annual goals into achievable milestones. On a macro level, we set quarterly OKRs to ensure:
- Our organisation-wide strategy is aligned, and we’re all working towards the same goals.
- We’re prioritising and carefully selecting what we’re focusing on to maximise our impact.
- We’re all on the same page and everyone is clear on how their work connects to the bigger picture. This gives us a shared sense of purpose.
On an individual and team level, each unit should also be clear on:
- The key initiatives OfferZen is working on during the next three months
- How their individual tasks will fit into that vision, and
- How they’ll know they’re on track.
Our quarterly planning process continues to evolve. We’ve been using objectives and key results (OKRs) for a while now. It’s a lightweight framework that focused on maximising output.
Here’s how we break it down.
Principles of quarterly planning
- Less but better - It’s better to make more progress on fewer things. Direct ambition towards top priorities, rather than at secondary priorities.
- Clarity over correctness - Good plans have a certain level of crudeness to them. Plans should resemble Duplo more than lego.
- Steer the course- We’ve already put a lot of thought into our annual plan and there’s no need to come up with an entirely new strategy each quarter.
Here’s how we go about creating our OKRs.
1. Kickstart the planning process
First, we run a Senior Leadership workshop. This workshop has four outcomes:
- Diagnosis: What is the state of the business as we head into the next quarter?
- Placement targets: The high-evel number of placements we want to get
- Critical number: The most important metric to watch this quarter
- Quarterly theme: The defining description of what the quarter is about
Then, we set draft quarterly targets for core lead metrics: As a marketplace, we have two key models that we use for planning: supply and demand. These models are the foundation for how we set the initial draft targets throughout the business.
These targets will be revised again based on what teams think they can actually deliver, but the initial draft helps us get a ballpark right from the start.
The context we’re creating at this stage serves as input for each area of the business to start their planning process.
2. Develop plans for each area
Each area of the business, in our case Growth, Operations, Product and People, creates plans within the framework. The planning processes for each area are different based on the nature of the work they do, but afterwards, each team writes up their plans in the same format:
|Initiative||Group Objective||Where will we be by the end of the Q?||Quarter Key Results
This really helps us link each mission back into our annual initatives and makes it easier to check whether we are making sufficient progress to our targets.
3. Finalize plans
Once teams have developed their plans we dive into the budget and hiring requirements. We do this because we need to make sure that the plans don’t end up bankrupting us 😄.
We set our budget and hiring plans during annual planning: making sure we strike the right balance between growth and spend. This depends on the maximum amount of funding we’re willing to burn, and how quickly we are able to grow our team while maintaining our culture.
Senior leaders provide their plans for team growth and other costs for the year. This is combined with our projected costs for the year. Once that’s done, we mould and cut the plan until we have an achievable budget. For more info on how this is done, read more about our annual planning process.
We tweak this budget during the quarterly planning process using updated business metrics. Since we have an in-depth model of our marketplace, we’re able to link up output and input metrics. This helps us to figure out how many leads we need to achieve the growth we’re aiming for, and the kinds of additional costs it’ll take to get us there, be it through additional hiring, marketing, etc.
4. Communicate the plan
The final step is communicating the plan to the team:
- Update one-page strategic plan (we are using the framework from Scaling Up)
- Add quarterly plans on Slab
- All hands: Quarter update
On maintaining OKRs
“OKRs are great for setting goals, but without a system to achieve them they are as likely to fail as any other process that is in fashion. Commit to your team, commit to each other, commit to your shared future. And renew those vows every week,” writes Christina Wodtke in Radical Focus.
Following Wodtke’s advice, we have numerous tools in place to ensure our OKRs remain our source of truth all year long and not just during quarterly strategic planning.
We use the following tools to centralise and operationalise our OKRs:
- Company wiki (Slab)
- OKR tracking documents mentioned above
- Monthly group OKR updates to the company
- Weekly team OKR check-ins
Here’s a little more on 1 and 2 because they might not be as self-explanatory:
Since the team all need to be on board, with clear links to how their work fits into the bigger picture, we make sure all OKRs are up to date and visible at all times.
In addition to communicating quarterly planning and OKRs to the team during All Hands, this information is shared on Slab, which we use to host our internal company wiki.
Weekly OKR check-ins sessions at a team level
At the end of the week, each team conducts a retro session. This is for reflecting on the week and celebrating any wins. Insights from this meeting are used to set plans for the coming week.
Wodtke writes: “When teams are aiming high, they fail a lot. While it’s good to aim high, missing your goals without also seeing how far you’ve come along the way is often depressing. That’s why committing to the Friday wins session is so critical.”
This session is also about evaluating the progress the team has made towards OKRs, reflecting on whether or not they achieved their plan for the week, and if that had the desired impact on OKRs.
Team members also note how confident they feel about achieving their OKRs (out of ten). They share if that confidence has increased or decreased, and why.
Finally, they reflect on the critical health metrics they selected in their quarterly plans. For us, key health metrics are two things that we can’t afford to mess up on as we journey and grow. Teams use all of these insights to land on priorities for the following week.