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From Feature Factory to Visionary Leader: Why OKRs Matter in Product Roadmaps

There are a lot of different ways to run a respectable and profitable business, but there are limited ways to build a business that’s going to take off and really scale.

In her How to Web Conference 2023 talk, product management guru Jana Bastow painted a clear picture of the dangers of a feature-driven approach to product development and how these impact the trajectory of the company.

Companies stuck in this mode, she argued, resemble “feature factories” – churning out functionalities based on internal whims or client demands,  rather than a cohesive vision. But how do we move beyond this reactive cycle and establish a more strategic direction?

Well, enter OKRs.

Janna emphasizes the power of OKRs to transform product roadmaps from feature checklists into vehicles for achieving a clear, ambitious vision. OKRs provide a framework for setting high-level goals (objectives) that define what success looks like for the company. These objectives are then translated into measurable results (key results) that serve as guideposts along the journey.

Here’s how OKRs can empower product leaders to transition from feature factories to visionary leaders:

  • Alignment from the top down: By establishing company-wide OKRs, everyone in the organization understands the overarching goals and how their individual work contributes to the bigger picture. This fosters a sense of shared purpose and eliminates confusion about priorities.
  • Focus on outcomes, not outputs: OKRs shift the focus from simply building features to achieving measurable outcomes. This ensures that development efforts are not wasted on functionalities that don’t demonstrably move the needle towards the company’s objectives.
  • A framework for continuous improvement: The beauty of OKRs lies in their adaptability. As the market evolves and user needs change, OKRs can be revisited and refined to ensure the product stays on track for success. This iterative approach fosters a culture of continuous learning and improvement.

But Jana also acknowledged the potential pitfalls of OKRs, a phenomenon she terms “OKR drift.” This occurs when OKRs are set at the beginning of a cycle and then left to gather dust, becoming irrelevant as circumstances change. To combat OKR drift, she suggests the importance of initiatives.  Initiatives are specific projects or activities undertaken by the team to achieve the key results associated with an objective.  By clearly linking initiatives to OKRs, product leaders can ensure their teams are actively working towards the desired outcomes.

Overall, Jana Bastow’s talk provided a compelling case for OKRs as a powerful tool for product leaders seeking to escape the feature factory trap. By establishing clear objectives, measuring progress with key results, and breaking down goals into actionable initiatives, product leaders can guide their teams towards achieving a shared vision and building products that truly matter.

You can upgrade your roadmap and vision, by using Janna’s Now-Next-Later Roadmap: https://www.prodpad.com/blog/invented-now-next-later-roadmap/

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Janna founded ProdPad in 2012, a widely-used product software for roadmaps and product backlogs, and co-founded Mind the Product, a global series of events and a community of 300.000 product people.

As a seasoned product expert, Janna frequently talks about the limitations of timeline-based Gantt charts and her “Now/Next/Later” framework, product roadmaps, and insights on her vast experience in building and nurturing communities. Janna occasionally works as a trainer and mentor to help companies figure out how to build and learn, without breaking the bank.

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How to Web is the leading startup and technology conference in Eastern Europe, which gathers the most electric minds in the industry on stage, plus world-class networking opportunities. Join us at the next edition: https://www.howtoweb.co/

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