March 16, 2023

The ultimate guide to OKRs | Christina Wodtke (Stanford)

Brought to you by Miro—A collaborative visual platform where your best work comes to life | Dovetail—Bring your customer into every decision | Writer—Generative AI for the enterprise

Christina Wodtke is an author, Stanford University professor, and speaker who teaches strategies for building high-performing teams. She’s also the author of Radical Focus, which some consider the de facto guide to OKRs. In today’s episode, we dive into OKRs and how they can be used to help your team achieve better results. Christina shares her expertise on crafting OKRs, how she uses them in her personal life, and common mistakes you should avoid when you sit down to write your own. She discusses effective goal setting and outlines a systematic approach to achieving key results. Finally, Christina gives some specific tips on how to improve your storytelling and drawing skills and explains why it’s smart to set ambitious goals.


Where to find Christina Wodtke:

• Twitter:

• LinkedIn:

• Website:


Where to find Lenny:

• Newsletter:

• Twitter:

• LinkedIn:



• Yahoo’s peanut butter memo:

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable:

Radical Focus: Achieving Your Most Important Goals with Objectives and Key Results:

Pencil Me In:

The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures:

• The Minto Pyramid Principle:

• Lane Shackleton’s guest post on Lenny’s Newsletter:

• The Product Trio by Teresa Torres:

• Ken Norton’s website:

• The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth:

The Overstory:

Cloud Atlas:

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever:

The Team That Managed Itself: A Story of Leadership:


In this episode, we cover:

(00:00) Christina’s background

(04:54) How Christina uses OKRs to manage her personal life

(07:42) The purpose of OKRs

(16:15) Mission, vision, roadmaps, and OKRs

(20:57) How strategy ties in

(22:39) Why OKRs should be kept simple, and the ideal way to express key results

(23:45) The importance of customer satisfaction and why you need a qualitative researcher

(24:58) Common mistakes people make when writing OKRs

(26:14) An example of writing OKRs for an online magazine about interior design

(29:28) The importance of repetition

(33:17) The 5 whys

(36:40) Why you should start OKRs with your best multi-disciplinary team

(38:44) Christina’s book, Radical Focus

(40:26) The importance of storytelling and drawing (even badly!)

(43:21) Tips to become a better storyteller

(44:29) Using the Minto method for storytelling

(46:02) The cadence of OKRs and the importance of celebrations

(51:09) A different kind of approval process to get OKRs done more efficiently

(53:01) Why the focus on learning is more important than grading

(54:29) Why you should set ambitious goals

(57:47) Where to start

(1:00:48) The overemphasis of UX in product management education and the importance of business sense

(1:03:01) Advice for people seeking a career in product management

(1:05:44) Lightning round


Production and marketing by For inquiries about sponsoring the podcast, email

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Christina Wodtke (00:00:00):

... people do not value celebrations enough. I've had CEOs who said, "Well, it was the middle of the quarter, so we didn't start OKRs, but we did start Friday celebrations and oh my God, things are already changing. Things are already getting better." The simple act of getting together and saying, "What was the most awesome thing that happened to you this week? What's the most awesome thing that happened in marketing? What's the most awesome thing that design did this week?" It makes people feel like they're part of something really special, and it's super exciting.

Lenny (00:00:30):

Welcome to Lenny's Podcast, where I interview world class product leaders and growth experts to learn from their hard-won experiences building and growing today's most successful products. Today my guest is Christina Wodtke. Christina is a multi-time author, speaker, and lecturer at Stanford where she teaches product management, game design, and a few other topics. She also consults with companies on their product development processes, and in particular, their OKR process. Before getting into teaching and consulting, she was a product leader at LinkedIn, MySpace, Zynga, and Yahoo, as well as a founder of three different companies, plus an online magazine called Boxes and Arrows. In our conversation, we go deep into OKRs. What is the atomic unit of an OKR? What might be broken about your OKR process? Why you may want to roll out OKRs or change how you approach them.


Also, how the best companies leverage OKRs, the most common root causes of OKRs going wrong, the elements of a healthy OKR cadence, how OKRs fit with mission, vision, strategy, and roadmaps. We also touch on the skill of storytelling. And she also shares her most contrarian perspective on what new product managers should be focusing on. Christina is a wealth of knowledge and super interesting and fun, and I know you'll learn a lot from her.


With that, I bring you Christina Wodtke, after a short word from our select sponsors. Today's episode is brought to you by Miro, an online collaborative whiteboard that's designed specifically for teams like yours. I have a quick request, head on over to my Miro board at and let me know which guests you'd want me to have on this year. I've already gotten a bunch of great suggestions, which you'll see when you go there, so just keep it coming. And while you're on the Miro board, I encourage you to play around with the tool. It's a great shared space to capture ideas, get feedback, and collaborate with your colleagues on anything that you're working on.


For example, with Miro, you can plan out next quarter's entire product strategy. You can start by brainstorming, using sticky notes, library actions, a voting tool, even an estimation app to scope out your team's prints. Then your whole distributed team can come together around wireframes, draw ideas with a pen tool, and then put full mocks right into the Miro board, and with one of Miro's ready-made templates, you can go from discovery and research to product roadmaps to customer journey flows to final mocks, all in Miro. Head on over to to leave your suggestions. That's M-I-R-O .com/lenny.


This episode is brought to you by Dovetail, the customer insights platform for teams that gets you from data to insights fast, no matter the method. There's so much customer data to get through, from user interviews to NPS, sales calls, usability tests, support tickets, app reviews. It's a lot, and you know that if you're building something, hidden in that data are the insights that will lead you to building better products, and that's where Dovetail can help. Dovetail allows you to quickly analyze customer data from any source and transform it into evidence-based insights that your whole team can access. If you're a product manager who needs insights to motivate your team, a designer validating your next pick feature or a researcher who needs to analyze fast, Dovetail is the collaborative insight platform your whole team can use. Go to to get started today for free. That's Christina, welcome to the podcast.

Christina Wodtke (00:03:55):

Thanks, Lenny. I'm really excited to be here. I've been hearing about you forever. It's so cool to be here in person.

Lenny (00:04:00):

I'm more excited for you to be on the podcast. I kind of see you as the queen of OKRs. I don't know if you like that title or not, but in my mind that's where you sit currently, and partly because from what I can tell, you've done more to help people with OKRs and understand OKRs and fix their OKR process than most anyone else I know. As I'm sure you know, a lot of people just don't like OKRs, are kind of anti-OKR and have had bad experiences with OKRs. And what I want to try to do with our chat today is to try to change people's mind, who are maybe anti-OKR and to help people optimize their OKR process if they're having an okay time with OKRs. How does that sound?

Christina Wodtke (00:04:39):

That sounds just fine, although I have to say in the tech industry, it's a little too easy to be clean. Maybe when I'm a emperor for life, that might be my title.

Lenny (00:04:48):

That might be by the end of this podcast, we will crown you emperor for life.

Christina Wodtke (00:04:52):


Lenny (00:04:54):

Okay. That'll be our goal. So, as maybe a first question, I want to give people kind of this confidence that OKRs can lead to great product, great success. What can you share, just to give people a sense of, "Here's how many companies who are having a great time with OKRs, here's the impact OKRs can have on your company if you roll it out or make it more optimal."

Christina Wodtke (00:05:15):

I've seen so many companies do extremely well with it, and I would say that not all companies will be successful, period. Companies are really successful with it are companies that... I think I can swear a little, they have their shit together.

Lenny (00:05:27):

Absolutely. 100%.

Christina Wodtke (00:05:29):

And the first step is, get your shit together. They have strategy, they have empowered teams, they have psychological safety, and then the OKRs are that extra layer that supercharges them. So, I say OKRs are more of a vitamin, they're not a medicine. So, if you take OKRs and you're like, "Oh, this will fix everything that's wrong with you." No, that's not going to happen. It's just going to reveal everything that's wrong with your company. But if you've done the hard work of getting your company to be strong, it's amazing how well it works. It works really well with startups. It works really well with multidisciplinary product teams. I've seen it over and over. I don't really have permission to talk about all my clients, but I have one client that I'm just working with right now, and it's a purpose built company. So, in other words, they exist in order to make the lives of their customers better, healthier, wellness.


And so, they used OKRs to really create this amazing focus on, what does it mean to make everybody's life healthier? And one thing that came out of applying OKRs was this wonderful idea, they're bringing robots into their warehouses, not to replace their humans, they're keeping all the humans, but to reduce the amount of back problems their humans have. So, the humans are doing much more complex tasks, thinking about inventory and how to be more efficient. And the robots are doing the heavy lifting.


They've been growing and growing like crazy. And the OKRs are this very simple way of allowing you to focus on what actually matters and making sure you don't forget in the chaos of everyday life. So, if you know what you're trying to do, then the OKRs just help that happen. It aligns the company. And I think they're a lot like dieting advice, in that they say, "Eat less and exercise more." Well, that's really simple. It's worked for me. I've lost 25 pounds doing eat less and exercise more. But wow, it's hard. It's really hard to do. And I think about OKRs that way. You have to just stay with it and be strong and committed, and that will help.

Lenny (00:07:36):

There's a number of things I want to follow up on in what you said.

Christina Wodtke (00:07:39):


Lenny (00:07:39):

So, I'll start with, you talked about the benefits of OKR. If you had to just boil down, here's what OKRs can do for you as a company, as an organization, what would that be? What's just the main benefit of OKRs at your company?

Christina Wodtke (00:07:51):

The main benefit is that there's a lot of concrete action through a OKR that you don't always get from strategy. Strategy tends to be a little longer, a little more Muji Muji. And then when you get the OKR, you say, "This quarter is what we're actually going to be doing, and these are the numbers we're actually going to be pushing further." So, that's really good. It creates a cadence of progress, which is incredibly valuable. It creates alignment. There's no question what the single most important thing to do in the company is, assuming you're doing radical focus and you don't have 20 OKRs every quarter. Ugh, don't like to think about that. And last of all, the thing that I don't see a lot of people talking about that I think is really amazing, is because an OKR focuses you for one quarter and at the end of the quarter you grade your OKRs.


How well did we do? What got in our way? It creates this learning cycle. So, then you can take that information and say, "Next quarter, what should we try next?" And I think the time is the thing that a lot of leaders really struggle to think about. But if you've been really focusing on say, retention for one quarter, two quarters, and then you go over and say, "Okay, let's work on acquisition." You don't forget all the things you learned about retention. No, you're just building knowledge and building knowledge and building knowledge, which means your company will constantly get smarter and more effective.

Lenny (00:09:13):

I love this. So, just to summarize, the main benefits are focuses you, lines, creates a cadence and creates a learning cycle. And maybe a simple way to think about it is, it's like a plug-and-play product development process. You don't have to invent everything from scratch. There's this thing that exists. I know it's not the whole piece of it, but yeah, maybe... You're nodding and I'm curious, when I say that, what comes to mind?

Christina Wodtke (00:09:36):

Yeah, I guess you have to have a product development process, because obviously otherwise you're just running around chickens with your heads cut off, but it keeps you from making the same stupid mistake over and over and over again, which has been a goal in my life. My motto is, "Make new mistakes." So, by having this focus on really important things, not to spread yourself too thin, like the famous peanut butter memo from Yahoo, which I guess was long ago enough, not everybody remembers it. But companies have a tendency to try to do everything all at this exact moment. And so, everybody's working with 1% on this, 1% on that and 1% on the other. And instead you use the OKRs and say, "Okay, this is the big rock we're going to move. This is the big thing that's going to happen this quarter, and you can fiddle around with all the other stuff if you want, but this one has to move."


And then the next quarter, the next thing gets moved and so on. And it just accelerates the speed of your accomplishments so much. It's kind of mind-blowing. I've actually been running my life for the last eight, 10 years on OKRs as well because I'm ADHD and I'm all over the place. And so, looking at my OKRs every single Monday and saying, "Well, am I going to work on a book? Am I going to work on my teaching? Am I going to work... Where do I want to put that attention?" It changes me personally, just like it changes my clients.

Lenny (00:11:00):

What's an example of your personal care? You said writing a book maybe could be one?

Christina Wodtke (00:11:03):

Well, I wish, but no, it's actually been health. One of the great things about managing my OKRs for so long is I discovered this pattern, which is that anytime things get busy, I just stop taking care of myself completely. And that's really bad because if I'm healthy, I can be there for my kid, I can be there for my students, I can be there for my colleagues. So, this quarter's been about setting up habits of well-being and like I said, I've been really pleased at how it's been going.

Lenny (00:11:30):

Amazing. I haven't heard that before. What would you say is kind of the atomic unit of an OKR? So, people talk about, "We're doing OKRs, we're not doing OKRs". What's the line between we have goals and a plan, and we're actually doing OKRs as a concept?

Christina Wodtke (00:11:44):

Gosh, what is the atomic unit? That's a really lovely question. I would say, "What am I doing this week to get closer to our goals?" If you could answer that question, you could give up all the OKR stuff, but if you just asked the question, "What are we doing this week to get closer to our strategic goals, our longer term goals?" That is the very heart of it, because there's the tomorrow problem, like my kid will do his homework tomorrow, and tomorrow never comes. It's always tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow. So, what are we doing right now? And I find that it's really useful to tie it into temporal landmarks.


By that I mean that there are things like birthdays or New Year's or Mondays or quarters that are already built into the world. And so, we piggyback onto them and we say, "Okay, it's Q1, boom, we're going to stop. We're going to take a breath, we're going to look at everything and we're going to say, 'What do we actually have to do?'" Raising your head above the noise is really vital. "And then this quarter, remember we have a mission over here and we have a vision and we have a strategy. Okay, this quarter's all about, what?" And you move towards that.


I know there's a lot of talk about outcomes and I think that's absolutely right. It's really critical to think about outcomes because that gives you flexibility on how to attack the problem. But the biggest question is, why? Why do we get up in the morning? What are we trying to actually do? Are we making a difference at all? And if you can say, "This week I'm going to do this," and then at the end of the week you say, "Oh, that worked or that didn't work," and you can try something new or keep going. That's just invaluable.

Lenny (00:13:18):

That is really interesting that your answer wasn't like its outcome or some key results and 70% of success is goal, that there's something more fundamental, which is just being very clear on what you should be doing next week and we should be focusing on now. And that translates into what kind of the OKR process ends up being.

Christina Wodtke (00:13:34):

Oh, yeah. Can I tell you a little story?

Lenny (00:13:37):


Christina Wodtke (00:13:37):

So, this is personal OKRs, but it works for everything else. It's always easier to talk about personal OKRs because I don't have to do an NDA with myself, so I apologize. But I've had this accountability group with these three women for at least five years, and every Monday we send our OKRs to each other, and I do it the way I do it in the book. Another woman, she had the getting things done approach where it was like, "How percentage did I make and what am I trying to do?" And exactly, super detailed.


And then another woman was like, "Ah, I don't know. I guess I'm trying to think about... What am I trying to think about? Oh, maybe I should think about if I have to get out of product management or not." Well, now the woman who was very precise has kind of disappeared. I think it was just something that she couldn't keep up that level of diligence. While the woman who was hand-waving, she actually has gone from a product manager to a consultant to a life coach, and she's making so much money, and she is so damn happy, and she has a new house. And so, I really do think that the heart of everything is answering that question.

Lenny (00:14:44):

And what is that question?

Christina Wodtke (00:14:46):

What am I doing this week to get to the outcome I really want? Her outcome was to not worry about money and be joyful with what she was doing. And she got that just by every Monday saying, "What the fuck am I doing here? What am I trying to do again?" And it worked.

Lenny (00:15:03):

That is a really cool framework. So, the question you ask yourself every week is, "What am I doing today that's helping me get closer to my outcomes?" Is that the word to use outcome?

Christina Wodtke (00:15:12):

Yeah, yeah, exactly. And it is an outcome. In her case, it was not worrying about money, having a house, having joy in her work. I think a lot of us get caught up in, do I want to be a writer? Do I want to be this thing? When the reality is, we just want to be satisfied and happy. And with a business, it's the same thing. We get caught up in this or that little details, but you need to go back and say, "What was our mission?" I mean, think about it. How often do companies ever talk about their mission? It's like they set it, they forget it, it's super vague, it's useless.


Instead, it's good to think, "Okay, when we started this company or when we changed this company or grew this company," or whatever you want to go to, there's always these various points in time. "Why? What did we think would work? And let's go back to that moment of meaning and reconnect with it and then make it real in the activities we take every week." And I like every week rather than every day. Because the reality is we still have to do progress reviews and we still have to do accounting and whatnot, but if we just push a little bit each week, over time amazing things happen.

Lenny (00:16:15):

So, I want to drill into some of these things, of just how mission, vision, roadmap and OKRs kind of fit together, just to be pretty tactical. So, as a PM say, or founder, what is the process you recommend for working through mission, vision, and then OKRs, and then roadmap?

Christina Wodtke (00:16:33):

I think it's really important to have a mission, and people get freaked out because they think the mission's forever. And so, they make them super vague so they can do anything. But instead, if you think about it, if the mission lasts for five years, what would you like to see happen in five years? And it might be, "We're going to bring amazing games that delight our users and we're proud to ship into the world." That could be a mission. And it's like, "Okay, I could do that over the next five years." And then, there'll be a point where you probably want to change again. So, you're bringing, what does it mean? What does it mean to be proud? What does it mean to delight people? Really talk about that and get into the nitty-gritty. And then out of that would come your strategy, which is this is going to be our year of exploration, if you have enough money for such a thing.


Or this is going to be our year of making our current games a little bit better. I'm in a very game mindset today because I was talking to a client. So, you get into that. Okay, now we have this sort of idea of what we're doing with our year. Now, let's talk about the quarter. And you can use OKRs for the year, but the quarter is where they have the most impact, I believe. Spotify talked about doing quarterly performance reviews because it's long enough to get something done and short enough to not forget what you did. And I think that sums it up perfectly for OKRs as well. So, once you know where you're trying to be, and once you know what you want to do with your year, you can say, "What are the things we want to see happen across these four quarters?"


I call it sort of a half-built strategy because too much strategy ties you down and too little strategy, you're too responsive to everything. So, you say, "Okay." Let's say you're building a new game. So, Q1 is about figuring out what it is and what's going to be interesting to users. And then Q2 is going to be about getting some early prototypes out and validating those concepts. And Q3 is about building extensive, and Q4 is about marketing and throwing it out, something like that. And you could venture them into your outcomes. A lot of people who are very venture driven don't understand outcomes, objectives, excuse me, objectives, outcomes, potato, potato.

Lenny (00:18:39):

And they sound horrid.

Christina Wodtke (00:18:39):

It's really something inspiring. Q1, we have a vision for this game that will drive us forward. I don't know, I'm making stuff up, which just means it's going to be imperfect. Although I do warn people not to get too caught up in wordsmithing. We can spend hours doing that. And then, you get to ask my favorite question, how do we know? I love, how do we know? That's how you get to outcomes. So, what does it mean to have a vision for a product we believe will be successful and meet our mission, whatnot? Well, what would it be? How are we going to figure this out? So, something about user testing, probably. Maybe we do a landing page, see how many people are excited by the concept. Maybe we do some technical builds to see if it's actually buildable. What are the sort of things that would tell us, yes, please go forward? We might be excited about VR. Well, how do we know that VR would be profitable for us?


So, once we answer those three, how would we know, then we can know that by March we have the results we need. And we're always going to try to think about the best possible future, the whole moonshot thing, which I'm a fan of, but the reality is, the reason we do that estimating is so we get good at estimating. Everybody sucks at estimating when you first start, and a lot of people think it's like black magic or something you're born with. But no, it's a learned skill. You practice estimating, you get good at estimating, you get better and better and better. And being good at estimating is incredibly valuable as a business skill. So, there's your OKRs, right? And then for Q2, we don't know how Q1 is going to go, so we're just going to leave the objective there, but we're not going to get into the nitty-gritty OKRs. Key results cause a lot of arguing among the team, takes forever to track them down, just wait and see how Q1 goes. And that way you have enough play within your strategy to react to new information.

Lenny (00:20:32):

The question you talked about of, how do we know? That's to decide the objective or the key results?

Christina Wodtke (00:20:39):

Key results, yeah.

Lenny (00:20:40):

Okay, got it. You're saying objective. Okay, cool.

Christina Wodtke (00:20:42):

Objective. My bad. I didn't signal when I turned. No.

Lenny (00:20:49):

Oh, okay, cool. That makes sense.

Christina Wodtke (00:20:49):

Objective is that vision for the quarter. This is what we're we're driving towards in this quarter. And then the key results, you answered the question, how do we know we succeeded?

Lenny (00:20:58):

And so, what was the tip you gave of turning strategy into the objective? How do you translate from strategy to deciding your objective for the core?

Christina Wodtke (00:21:06):

Oh, that sits between mission and OKRs. So, strategy, I've been really shocked lately. I've discovered that lots of companies don't seem to have any strategy whatsoever, which just blows my mind. So, if you think about strategy as a strongly held hypothesis about a way to win in the market and fulfill our vision, then you can say, "Well, our mission is this, or vision..." I kind of use them interchangeably because I think they are kind of interchangeable, and I'm not going to get in semantics in the bitty bits, but the strategy is really important because it says, "We think we're fulfilling our mission of connecting people, by what?"


I think that there are a lot of good product strategy pieces out there, but businesses have a lot of questions to answer. Are we going to ship physical products? Are we going to ship digital products? Are we going to be a service? Are we going to do a subscription? Strategy answers those questions. They say, "We're going to have a game. It's going to be an Apple Arcade. We have a hypothesis that's actually going to help us. We're going to build in there and build our customer base there in order to get name recognition, which we can then use on other platforms." That's the sort of strategic stuff. And then we're like, "Oh great, you have a vision. What are we doing? What does that actually mean for us this year, this quarter, and then eventually this week?"

Lenny (00:22:39):

For the actual OKRs you end up with, is it as simple as just with the template of an OKR, is it just objective three-ish key results? Is there anything more to it that you recommend folks use?

Christina Wodtke (00:22:51):

No. Simple things give you a lot more room to fiddle. And I feel like every time I see people make really complicated methodologies, they get way too caught up in the rules and they don't think about, what are we actually trying to do? So, simple is better.

Lenny (00:23:04):

And what's your rule of thumb for number of key results?

Christina Wodtke (00:23:06):

I like three. I think about it as triangulating. I always like something that's really hardcore numbers. I like something that's a little squishier, like a quality, make sure you don't forget about it. And I usually like something that involves a dollar sign, but it's really going to be specific to what objective you're trying to do. Launch a new product. Well, you probably want to make a certain amount of money, well you want a certain amount of reach, and then you want that delight thing. And then when you get into the delight thing, you can say, "Well, is it going to be Metacritic? Is it going to be a survey? Is it going to be NPS?" You know, could figure out what one makes the most sense for you.

Lenny (00:23:45):

That's an interesting topic. Is there anything you find there to measure customer happiness, satisfaction, delight? What have you seen work best for that sort of squishy stuff?

Christina Wodtke (00:23:53):

I know there's a big backlash against NPS. I think it's okay. It's really funny because you can be insanely successful with a game that people feel yucky to play, and you can be incredibly successful with a product people hate using. Zoom, for example. How many times have you heard Zoom get cussed out? So, the question is, why would I care about that if I'm making money? And I would say the answer is, would you like to keep making money? It's always about retention.

Lenny (00:24:23):


Christina Wodtke (00:24:24):

So, anytime you can get strong retention signals, I think those are good signals to get. So, that comes out of qualitative research. There's nothing better. So, if you don't have a qualitative researcher on your team, I think you should get one. You need somebody who knows how to separate what people say and what they do, and what the truth is in that. And then use that to apply to your strategic decisions, so that happy users sell your product for you, right? Happy users stay with your product. Happy users are willing to type an email telling you when you're messing up. I mean, you want committed users. They're just so important.

Lenny (00:24:58):

One final question around the actual OKR document. What do you find are the most one or two common mistakes people make when writing out the objective or the key result in deciding on what to go with?

Christina Wodtke (00:25:09):

Objectives, people make them so fluffy that they don't have any meaning. They really should be a proper goal. We're doing this because we want to see this happen, it matters. We want to delight our customers. Sometimes people make them too fluffy and sometimes they make them too boring. It's like, "Oh, we're going to ship this thing." That doesn't inspire anybody. Your objectives should make you, when your alarm goes off and you wake up, you go, "Oh yeah, I'm changing the world today, or I'm doing something really cool." It shouldn't be like, snooze. So, I think an objective should be motivating but not ridiculous.


And then the key results, it's always going to be tasks. I mean, people put tasks in there all the time, and it can be tricky. Sometimes it feels like a task, like you have to get past a product review, so it's going to have a binary. They either said yes or no. But when you think about it, it is an outcome because it's really hard to get a product review group to say okay to anything. So, making sure that you have real outcomes that let you move forward, I think that's the biggest mistake people make in OKRs.

Lenny (00:26:13):

Yeah. I know you shared a few examples of just that came top-of-mind, but just is there any examples you can think of just, here's a really good example of an outcome? And I think your results are a lot easier, just move this metric 10% or hit-

Christina Wodtke (00:26:25):

Let's try to keep it fairly concrete. You're a online magazine selling interior design ideas. So, what are you trying to do? You're trying to get strong leads out to your advertisers, and that's really important, and you're doing it because you believe that people deserve to have homes that are warm and wonderful. You have this mission, and you want to make money while you do it. So, your strategy is going to be about connecting human beings with the brands that will suit their lifestyle. Okay, that's great. And then we get to the nitty-gritty, well, what does that actually mean? Are we going to really work on recommendations passionately? Are we going to really create various markets and throw down advertising where we think these people are? That's when your strategy comes into play because you're making all these interesting choices. So, let's say we're going to double down on recommendations, which has a lot of presuppositions.


We have to get people to like, we have to understand their patterns of behavior, and that's when we can start to go to OKRs. We can say, "Okay, so we have this online magazine, let's really work to get as many people being members rather than browsers as possible, so that we can start understanding what they like." And that's what Q1 could be really about, is starting to collect profiles of people's passions, and that sounds kind of exciting. "Okay, great. We're going to do that. We're going to create a profile of people's passions. Awesome." So, how would we know we were successful? "Oh, gosh. Well, we probably need a bunch of people to do it, but do we really need everybody? Maybe 30% of our audience flips over, and maybe that's right, maybe that's wrong." If you don't know, you just set it and you'll know by the end of Q3, whether you were stupid or not, it's fine, move on.


Okay, that's great. Okay, how many things should people do what with? So, they bookmark, favorite, like... How about like? Okay, so maybe they're going to like a certain number of products each week. Let's go for weekly active users. So, they're going to like three things and present it. Okay, so now we've got a couple of numbers that are pretty good. How do we know they're actually kind of liking it? Maybe you decide to do some panels, and we're going to measure using a customer panel, bring them in, have them talk to us, and we're going to do that at the end of every two weeks to hear how it's working and understand more about it.


Okay, now we have some OKRs. With key results, I always recommend spending 10 minutes brainstorming every single way you could possibly measure that outcome. Because with brainstorms, you always think of all the obvious stuff first and then you have no ideas and you're just sitting there with your post notes going, "How long is 10 minutes anyway?" And then you start getting the weird ideas. And often out of those weird ideas are really good insights. So, I recommend some pretty long brainstormings on the key results, but the objective is sort of a manifestation of the strategy at a one quarter level.

Lenny (00:29:26):

Amazing. That was an awesome example. You talked a bit earlier about how OKRs end up being... or sorry, key results end up being tasks for a lot of people. And this reminds me, we had the CPO of Figma on this podcast, and he told the story of how they moved away from OKRs at one point because they found themselves sitting in these meetings reviewing these large spreadsheets of hundreds of tasks-

Christina Wodtke (00:29:49):

Oh, god. Yeah.

Lenny (00:29:50):

... that were basically just tasks for ICs that they're working on, and they kind of lost sight of why does any of this matter? What are you even trying to do as a company? So, they moved away from OKRs and then they came back to them actually later and fixing some of these issues. So, maybe just as a question, what do you think is a sign that your OKR process is busted and that you need to spend some time improving and rethinking the way it works?

Christina Wodtke (00:30:13):

I think if those meetings are boring, that's a great example. One of the other benefits, which I didn't bring up about OKRs is that they scale really well. One of the biggest problems founders struggle with is they don't scale very well, but if you can set a good OKR and get people to work on it, then you don't have to decide all those little IC tasks. You don't want to be drug down with that. You got a job. CEOs got to figure out what's coming up down the line, not fiddling over everybody's tasks. So, you set the OKRs and then you ask in the meeting, "What are the top three initiatives that you're doing towards them?" Or two or five, whatever. It's going to vary a little bit, but you want to keep it small. You only want to look at the most important stuff and just trust your people to take care of everything else.


And then you can say, "Well, why do you think that's important? What do you think that's going to do?" Or, "I've been seeing that for weeks. Are you going to try something else anytime soon?" It's all about those conversations about, is our current strategy, not just at the company level, but at each departmental level, are these strategies working? Are they moving us forward, towards our goals? And so, looking through OKRs, I tell people, "When you first start, it might take a half hour, but after that it should just take 10 minutes." It's like, "I think that's stupid. We should talk about that." Or, "No, it looks fine, looks essentially correct, let's move on. Anybody got anything?" And then you can get into whatever else you do, if it's a metrics review situation or if it's talking about a new deal, the rest of the agenda.


But that constant checking in is like touching a lucky stone in your pocket. It reminds you, "Oh yeah, there's this thing, there's this thing." And that rhythm... I'm a teacher, I'm really into learning theory. So, there's a really big concept which is about repetition and retrieval practice. So, retrieval practice means that I put a fact in your brain and I keep asking you to go back and get it again. Qualitative research is really useful for understanding the psychology of your users.


I'll say, "Well, how do we understand the psychology of users?" And you'd be like, "Oh, I heard this." Okay, I bring it up. Well, it's the same thing in these weekly meetings, you're practicing retrieving what your OKRs are, and after a while they're just in that long-term memory and you don't have to struggle to think about them and you've got them. And anytime you make a decision and you're in a big rush, you don't want to go through a bunch of paper to try to find what were our OKRs? You just go, "Boo, this is what we should do. I know what we're trying to do and I know how to make a decision about that."

Lenny (00:32:44):

So, what I'm hearing is, a lot of this comes back to, if the meeting is not interesting and boring, change the way you run the meeting. Don't go through everything. Maybe just pick the things that are most interesting and focus on that. You don't have to review every single key result.

Christina Wodtke (00:32:57):

Keep the meeting level at the right place. I'm sorry, I wandered off in a different direction. I get really nerdy around learning theory.

Lenny (00:33:03):

No, I love it. I love learning how to learn. Feel free to share more as things come up. Okay. So, I don't know. I'm trying to think. Figma, I imagine they probably thought they could change this meeting, but I think maybe there's a more deep-rooted issue. And this is kind of where my next question is going to go, is what do you think are just the root issues of OKRs going wrong?

Christina Wodtke (00:33:24):

Oh, my god.

Lenny (00:33:25):

Maybe that's a symptom of the meeting, they're really boring, but yeah.

Christina Wodtke (00:33:27):

Well, the symptom, it's really wrong. Yeah, it means that you're in the weeds, man. You're fiddling with the little tiny bits. You got to let go of those. You have to trust your people. So, if we do the five why's, okay, why don't you trust your people? Is it you or are you hiring horribly? Okay, if you're hiring horribly, why are you hiring horribly? Is it because you can't find the right people? Is it because you're rushing through it? You have to keep chasing it down. OKRs are a great diagnostic tool because they tell you something's broken. So, if your OKRs are going sideways, something's broken deeper. There's also the problem with psychological safety. You need your teams to be able to say, "This isn't working. We're doing something else." Instead of just saying, "This isn't working, tell us how to fix it."


People are coming to you and saying, "How do we fix this problem?" Something's broken in the company. You're doing something wrong as a leader. You have to think about, if somebody doesn't know what to do and you're like, "Well, I have a strategy. I told you what my strategy is." And they don't know how to make decisions, it means something's wrong with the strategy or you aren't being clear, because the conversation always has two people. There's an old joke that I think about a lot, which is, if during the day you meet one asshole, he's probably an asshole. But if all day long you meet nobody but assholes, you might be the asshole. And I think that's very true. If your entire company's confused, you might be the asshole. You have to think about, how can I get more clear? If people are constantly bringing you little things, it's not because they're scared, it's because you're scary.


So, a lot of times your OKRs breaking are speaking to something else happening, and if your OKR process isn't working, then you have to step back and go, "Okay, how far deep do I have to go before I figure out what's wrong with my management team?" And it could be the CEO, but it could actually be some weird group dynamics, and you've got to focus on that. I really love Patrick Lencioni. Five Dysfunctions of a Team is his most famous book, and I would recommend that if you like the fable style book. But it's the same thing. You got to fix things at the top, you got to do your own work, and then everything else runs a little better.

Lenny (00:35:40):

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If you think back to what most often is the issue, in your experience, is it something at the top? Is it a middle manager doing something wrong? Is it just misunderstanding how to use OKRs? What do you think is usually the issue with OKRs not working well?

Christina Wodtke (00:36:57):

I can repeat everything I said, but instead I'll just say speed. People read, measure what matters. They get their panties in a bunch, they get really excited. They're just going to do OKRs for everybody, but they didn't really read the whole thing. You kind of skimmed it and you don't really understand how it works, and so you just implement it. Or you ask your head of HR to implement it, and it gets implemented and everybody's really happy and then they're really sad and then they spit it out. And then you say, "Okay, OKRs don't work." I mean, that's what I see over and over again. Nobody calls me for advice when they are thinking about OKRs. They call me for advice when they've done it in sales, every damn time.


I think it's... What is it, the illusion of knowledge? If I asked you right now, how does a bicycle work, or how does a pen work? You'd be like, "I know how that works." And if you tried to write it out, you couldn't. Well, I couldn't. How does a ballpoint pen work? Okay, there's a spring and there's some ink. I'm not sure. So, really thinking about, how would OKRs work throughout the company, is valuable. So, because you don't have time as a leader, what you should do is just give my book to your best team and say, "We're thinking about OKRs. Can you guys see if it works?" And then three months later, check in with them. "What did you figure out, guys?" Okay.


Because the best team always wants to be better. I love piloting with the best team, but they're still very imbued in your culture, so they'll figure out where OKRs in your culture don't fit. They'll figure out where it's helpful and then they can give it back to you and you have a template, and then you can take it to two more teams, and then you can take it to two more teams. And maybe you adopt it with your management team, little bit by little bit. That's how I tell people to start with OKRs. Just figure out your best multidisciplinary team team and say, "You guys start and let us know."

Lenny (00:38:44):

This might be a good time to talk a little bit more about your book for folks that are actually planning to roll out OKRs or trying to fix their OKRs. Can you just talk about what it is, how to find it, what it's called, anything else.

Christina Wodtke (00:38:54):

Yeah, it's called Radical Focus. I could have called it Guide to OKRs, but I think what's really important is to learn how to focus on the most important things and make them happen. It is a business fable, as they call it, where I tell a story about two startup founders and their struggle to find focus and how OKRs help them. And then the second half, it's the second edition that's out now, it's gotten twice as big because I started working with big companies as well as startups and had to work through, what does it mean when you have a larger company and what struggles they follow?


And so, I think the first part's nice because it's fun to read stories, but I think what's really good about is what you notice, which is when I talk you through this company trying to figure out what their OKRs were, everything became a lot more clear. And I think that's one of the powers of stories, is seeing an example. And then the rest of it is really like you could almost open it to any page and look at your problem, go, "Oh my problem's with strategy or my problem's with tasks versus outcomes." And you could flip around and figure out, what's the piece I need to solve?

Lenny (00:39:57):

And folks can find it on Amazon if they search for Radical Focus?

Christina Wodtke (00:39:59):

It's everywhere, baby.

Lenny (00:40:01):

Okay, great.

Christina Wodtke (00:40:01):

And it's been translated into eight languages, which is pretty cool.

Lenny (00:40:05):

Wow. Which one's your most favorite language it's been translated into?

Christina Wodtke (00:40:08):

Well, Chinese, because it sells like crazy because apparently some Chinese actress said she loved it and then it's been selling bigger there than anywhere else.

Lenny (00:40:17):

So, Chinese actresses using OKRs, what is going on?

Christina Wodtke (00:40:21):

Mind blown. Once again, life is always more surprising than anything you can imagine.

Lenny (00:40:25):

I have more questions I want to ask you about OKRs, but you were talking about storytelling and fables and things like that. So, you also wrote a book about, not that we're going to go through all your books, but you wrote a book about drawing and the power of drawing, and also you just believe in storytelling as a really powerful tool. So, I'd love to hear just your take on why storytelling is so powerful and why skilled drawing is so important for product leaders at the [inaudible 00:40:48].

Christina Wodtke (00:40:48):

I think there are some things that are fundamentally human that are built into our genes. Storytelling's one. If all of human history was a clock, we started writing things down at 11:00 PM, so most of human history has been an oral tradition where we told each other stories to help pass on knowledge. And so, don't get anywhere near the big kitty with the great big teeth because you will die, or don't eat those red berries because my grandfather threw up for three days and then croaked. But we tell them better than that. Longer stories tend to have more conflicts and they tend to be seen as having more information. So, if you use storytelling, you're talking to the most ancient part of the human brain and you will get attention, you'll get comprehension and you'll get retention. The teacher's Holy Trinity, right?. So, I love stories. They work well, they catch people's attention.


And one thing I read that kind of blew my mind was, they said that if you tell people a bunch of facts, they'll forget most of them, especially those that don't fit into their current mental model of how the world works. But if you tell them a story that's full of facts, they will remember it. And if you look at TED, everybody loves a TED Talk. They're mostly all just stories, and facts sprinkled inside those stories. So, I think stories are very powerful. I think images are very powerful. Words are very abstract. If I say the word chair, what pops into your brain? Was it a big easy chair? Was it a hard wooden chair? We use these words as if everybody knows what we're talking about, but people don't.


So, in my time in industry, because I was at, what, Yahoo, LinkedIn, Zynga, MySpace, stuff like that, I just found if I got on the whiteboard and drew really badly, and I think it's almost important to draw badly, make some marks, make some squares. Somebody else will go, "No, no, no, it doesn't work that way. Give me this pen," and start doing it. And it gets you so fast to a shared vision of what's going on. I know designers spend all this time making wireframes and I'm like, that's the lamest use of time ever. Just get some whiteboards, go into the room with your engineers and start making some marks together and that just works better.

[NEW_PARAGRAPH]And I found that for some reason in America, people seem to think that you have to be one of the chosen few and born a drawer. But it's like anything, it's like playing piano, you just got to practice a little bit. So, the book mostly just has some really simple things you can draw, and then it tells you how to use them in business. So, I wanted to make something that was even simpler than Back of the Napkin, which is an awesome book, but gets pretty intense, pretty quickly.

Lenny (00:43:22):

With the storytelling piece, I feel like most people are like, "Yes, I know storytelling is powerful." But they don't know how to do it. Is there one tip you could share? Just how to get a little bit better at storytelling or integrate storytelling into your work as a product leader or founder?

Christina Wodtke (00:43:37):

If you say one tip, you're really holding me down. I would say-

Lenny (00:43:41):

You could do two tips if that makes it easier.

Christina Wodtke (00:43:43):

... when you finish telling a story, if you're telling it to someone you can trust, say, "What's something I could have done to make the story better?" You're going to find out, do I just blather on forever, or do I not give enough details? I mean, if you're only going to do one thing, get feedback, is always the answer. The second tip would be structurally there's a beginning, middle, and end. Intrigue people with a hook, a mystery. That's the beginning, right? A mystery, a secret, a surprise. The middle is, you can tell them a little bit about it. That's where you get your message in. If you're trying to pitch something, sneak your product in, whatever. And the end is always going to be success and celebration because you're trying to get people excited about your story or remember this information. So, just a basic structure in your head really, can kind of make a big difference.

Lenny (00:44:29):

Yeah, I love that. That's such a actionable, straightforward tactic for getting better, just ask people, "How could this have been a better story?" Great idea. Your second piece made me think about the Minto Pyramid. Do you know much about, do you work with that at all? The Minto Pyramid principle?

Christina Wodtke (00:44:45):

I had a Minto binge for a little while, but I moved onto other stuff. I do.

Lenny (00:44:45):

I think it was a triangle.

Christina Wodtke (00:44:45):

Yes, but I can't recount it to you. I do remember it.

Lenny (00:44:54):

I was just going to ask because it's kind of the reverse concept, which is, you start with the conclusion and then you kind of share how you got there.

Christina Wodtke (00:45:01):

I think that's a good one. I mean, if you think about what's the job of a hook, a hook just gets you excited. So, how do you get people excited? You can start with a conclusion. There's going to be success. Oh, tell me more. I want to be successful. It could be a mystery. Ooh, what's happening there? I want to be part of that. It could be a secret. Something happened and I'm not going to tell anybody else, but I'm going to tell you. There's so many ways to hook people in, but they're all doing the same job because you want people to actually listen to you and not pretend and nod. So, I think you can do it backwards as well. But I bet even when Barbara Minto did it, she probably opened with a success and ended with a success, I would bet good money, to remind people that there's a happy ending and the story's worth following.

Lenny (00:45:42):

That's a really interesting perspective because to me, there were opposites of build tension and you reveal the answer. The Minto approach is start with the answer. Here's what we're going to do and here's why, and here's all the work I did to get there. Your point is, that's also really interesting. You're like, "Oh wow. I don't know how you got to that."

Christina Wodtke (00:45:56):

There's so many ways to tell a story. Just don't bore your users.

Lenny (00:46:00):

Great advice. Okay, I want to come back to a couple more OKR questions. It could be less fun than the story maybe, but hopefully more useful. I want to just get your take on what is the cadence of a healthy OKR process? What are the ceremonies and meetings and emails that are involved? I know you have this kind of weekly status email practice. Do you recommend... How do you describe the system of an OKR process?

Christina Wodtke (00:46:23):

Oh my gosh, I'm glad you asked because I think the cadence is probably the single most valuable piece of it. So, every Monday, because Monday is a great temporal landmark, look at your week, and you go, "Okay, what am I going to do to move the ball forward?" And it could be an email to your boss, it could be an email to your accountability group, could be an email out to your team, could be standing there like standup. I mean, it's very easy. OKR rituals were built on agile rituals. So, there's a lot of connections there, which is great.


So, you just, Mondays you commit and Fridays you celebrate. People do not value celebrations enough. I've had CEOs who said, "Well, it was the middle of the quarter, so we didn't start OKRs, but we did start Friday celebrations. And oh my God, things are already changing. Things are already getting better." The simple act of getting together and saying, "What was the most awesome thing that happened to you this week? What's the most awesome thing that happened in marketing? What's the most awesome thing that design did this week?" It makes people feel like they're part of something really special and it's super exciting.


So, you have these [inaudible 00:47:26] bookends and I think if you only do that, you're probably in good shape. I think status emails, I hated them so profoundly for most of my life. I had this huge team at MySpace and my project manager would gather everybody's status emails and put them together into this giant status email that I had to send to my boss. And I was so busy, I just sent it forward figuring it was fine. And then I read it and there was this really bad thing in my status email that should not have happened.


I was like, "Fuck." And I waited to hear back from my boss, and nothing. Apparently he wasn't reading them either. So, I was like, "What's the point of the stupid thing?" And then when I was at Zynga, we were using OKRs and they were really short. They were like, "What's your confidence level on your key results? What did you do last week? And what are you doing next week?" And the last week, next week is great because it allows you to start noting down what stops you from getting shit done. And that, I got to say, there's so much learning in that. I tried to do this, but what? Did I get sick? Did somebody get mad at me? Did somebody not want to work with me? Do we not have this critical database? The whole, I tried to do this last week and I failed, learning goes through the roof.


And that rhythm of just having three P1s, you can't have more than three P1s. You can have as many P2s as you want and P3s if you really think you should, but you can scam it... scam it. You can skim it, right? Go through it really quickly. And we would all send them to emails. You could subscribe to email lists, which meant I could read the status emails of most of the company, and I would know what was going on and I could quickly see who should I go over and talk to, and who should I make a connection with? So, those emails were invaluable. I think a lot of my clients are doing it in Slack now instead. And that works really well, if you have this place where you're putting your status in and people will quickly go, skim, skim, skim, skim. "Oh, okay. I got to talk to that guy." So, it's hyper valuable.

Lenny (00:49:20):

If you assume others, the OKR doc, you're like, "Here's our outcomes for the quarter. Here's our three key results." You make that plan once a quarter. You have any recommendation how long to spend on planning your OKR?

Christina Wodtke (00:49:32):

My goal is always as little as possible. Time you're planning is not the time you're shipping, and the best is the enemy of the good. So, in an ideal world, you would grade your OKRs week at the end of the quarter, maybe second to the last week of the quarter, depending on it. If it takes you a whole week to set OKRs, which I hope it doesn't, but who knows. And then the very last week you set your OKRs for the next quarter and that's it.

Lenny (00:49:58):


Christina Wodtke (00:49:59):

Boom. If you can do it at in a... usually you can do it in four days total, unless you have a very hierarchal, huge deep bench. And even then, I have something, I'm going to share this with you because I don't think many people talk about this. The approval process will kill you. I've seen it happen over and over again. I was working with one of my clients and we came up with this different kind of approval process that's working really well, is that basically instead of having your boss approve it, you write your OKRs, you get three... I'm a big fan of the rule of three, because I'm a storyteller, but you could do less or more, I guess, teams that work with you enough to know what you're up to, to look them over and they just look them over, 24 hour turnaround.


They say, "This looks right, but I don't think this is possible." They give you that feedback and you're done. That's it. That's the entire approval process, and it's so fast and it works so well. And that means you might have to say no to somebody if they're asking you to do more than... if you had 10 teams asking you to look over their OKRs, you have to say no. You want to keep it down to a reasonable number, but if you do one a day, it could be done in a week.

Lenny (00:51:09):

I'm thinking about companies the size of Airbnb when I left, trying to do it that quickly. And it's hard to imagine, partly because there's top level strategy that has to align with individual team roadmaps and dependencies, and platform teams and things like that. So, I imagine it's hard to do as the company's scales. I like the drive to make it a week and be done.

Christina Wodtke (00:51:29):

Well, I mean, who really has to approve it and what does it cost you if you get it wrong? And so, if tech looked at it, if somebody from strategy looked at it, if somebody from sales looked at it, whatever, the right people looked at it, you're probably fine. And if you're not right, you'll figure it out over the quarter and do better next quarter. We have to let go or we will get mired down in all this crap.

Lenny (00:51:57):

I love that. I went off track, but just to kind of put a ribbon on the concept of OKRs, you have this document with your object, your outcomes, your key results, and then your recommendation is do a weekly email. And is the idea everyone on the team sends this weekly email or Slacks to the rest of the team?

Christina Wodtke (00:52:15):

To the rest of the company if you can.

Lenny (00:52:18):

Wow. Okay. [inaudible 00:52:19].

Christina Wodtke (00:52:19):

That's the thing, is Google, even as a huge company, everybody's OKRs and their weekly updates are on their intranet. You can look stuff up, so why not?

Lenny (00:52:28):

Got it. And we'll link to a template that you have on your blog post. And also I think in the book, I imagine you have this template of what it is, but essentially it's your confidence level of hitting your OKR, what you did last week, what you're going to do next week.

Christina Wodtke (00:52:40):

And then a few notes if you need to.

Lenny (00:52:42):

Does this replace stand-ups in your experience?

Christina Wodtke (00:52:45):

It could. I never try to tell engineering how to get their shit done, but if they felt like it was doing the same job, then they could combine them.

Lenny (00:52:56):

Cool. Okay, great. And is there anything else? Is this the whole OKR process, in your experience?

Christina Wodtke (00:53:01):

The only other thing I would bring up is thinking about the word grading. So, a lot of people think about trying to make something really numerical, like 0.08, I got 80% of the way there, but a lot of times they're qualitative. So, how do you think about that getting approved by the product committee? So, it doesn't matter. It really doesn't matter. Don't get fussy. Don't try to make it really precise. Just go ahead and say, "Ah, hand wave, hand wave, 80%." What matters is, why 80%? Really focus on the learning. So, we almost got there. Well, if we would've gotten there, if we got two more days, that's fine. We basically got there. We knew what we were doing. If we didn't, if we were really far away, what went wrong?


It's all about the retrospectives. Make sure your grading is secondary to retrospective, is the biggest thing I would say, because that's what's going to be valuable. And you could spend so many hours trying to come up with some fake measurement system that never is quite accurate and just wastes everybody's time when you could just be faster. I'm just obsessed with speed. You may have noticed that.

Lenny (00:54:03):

I thought it was 70%, is that 80% is success? Is that the rule of thumb for OKRs?

Christina Wodtke (00:54:07):

It's about 70%. Some people do 80%, some people do 0.075, I don't know. My feeling is, a good goal is one that makes you feel somewhat uncomfortable but not doomed. You're like, "Woo, that's kind of good, that's going to be tricky. Okay, let's go for it." That's about where I like to land with a key result.

Lenny (00:54:29):

I had a newsletter post with Lane Shackleton from Coda, and he made this point that OKRs were created by Google, which is the most incredible business model in history. They just print money, and for them it's okay not to hit their goals, like 70% of goal is fine, it'll be fine, we're making so much money. And so, his perspective for most companies, it doesn't make sense to set the goal to be like 70% of this goal you set is a success. Do you have a perspective on that?

Christina Wodtke (00:54:57):

I think you'll never know what you're capable of unless you try to do something that you're not sure you can do.

Lenny (00:55:01):

I agree. I find setting more ambitious goals than you think you can immediately achieve actually really pushes you to achieve them.

Christina Wodtke (00:55:08):

And the literature agrees. There's a lot of literature that shows ambitious goals are actually quite motivating unless you feel you're doomed, at which point then they're demotivating.

Lenny (00:55:16):

I've seen that too. Okay, two more OKR questions. One is, I noted this from before so I'm just going to come back to it. There's a balance with key results of, as you've talked about, being very precise and metrics-driven and focused. And then there's, you talked a bit about sometimes it's okay for them to be a little fuzzy, like quality and delight, and those latter ones are harder to measure, it's hard to keep people accountable. Do you have any advice for just how to find that right balance of, this is what will keep you accountable, and this is how we drive the business forward, and this is how we know you're doing a good job, versus here's a general thing that we think is success and it's fine. Do your best.

Christina Wodtke (00:55:57):

Yeah. One of the most common arguments I have with my friends is I think everything can be measured to a certain degree. Not precisely necessarily, but you can get enough of a swag to be useful. So, by trying to measure things, you'll start learning how to measure things. So, you maybe try NPS and you're like, "Wow, this is not actually accurate, or weird, or not." There's a lot of stuff we don't know until we try them. And of course, my background is in lean and agile and design and they're all iterative. They're all about, let's try something and then learn something and then do something. Which is why I'm so fanatically iterative. So, I think that when you got these fuzzy things, you just got to start trying out ways to measure it and trust the team to be able to figure out whether it's working or not.


Revenue, it's easy. This is what we're making now, this is what we could be making. Or you're not making anything now, so you can look up some numbers from public companies or whatnot. That's easy. DAU, it's easy. Acquisition numbers, it's easy. But when it comes to will people stay, do people actually like this? That's harder, but it's not impossible. There's a lot of user researchers who have worked hard to figure out how to measure it.


So, you can either buy the obvious off-the-rack package like an NPS, or you can dig a little harder and figure out what would be meaningful to your company. And I think there's a desire not to do things that are hard and take a little bit longer, but that's where you're going to get the super value. That's how you become the next Netflix or Amazon or whatnot. So, you really got to say, "How will we know about our product and what are the approaches are out there and which one makes sense for us?"

Lenny (00:57:47):

Final OKR-related question. Say someone's listening to this and they're like, "Wow, this is awesome. I want to do this at our company, we have a focus problem, we have alignment problems, we need to be more clear about what we're working on." Other than buying your book and reading it and sharing with everyone, what would you recommend would be the first few steps to work along that journey to rolling out an OKR process at the company?

Christina Wodtke (00:58:09):

I hate to say this, but there are a lot of consultants that have popped out of nowhere and it's kind of terrifying because so many of them really, really suck and they're just like, "Oh, OKR sounds like SMART goals or whatever, I'll just use that." Or it's hot, and so I'm going to figure it out by reading some articles. And so, I would ask for references. I think that's a good one.

Lenny (00:58:33):

So, your advice is find someone to come in and help you figure out how to do this well and find the right person.

Christina Wodtke (00:58:40):

Yeah, I guess I think that finding someone to coach you is really high value, but I also think it would be okay if you just read a book or read a bunch of blog posts and start experimenting. It's not rocket science. You just listened to this podcast, listen to it again. Take lots of notes, Google around, see if you can learn a little more about some of the concepts that you didn't fully understand or you want to know more about. And then just run a tiny pilot and say, "Okay, what does this mean for us?" You don't even have to call them OKRs. You can just try, "We're going to do a outcome focus this quarter and let's see where it takes us." But just try it because that's where you learn stuff. And try it at a small, safe level where you don't think it's going to hurt too many things.

Lenny (00:59:25):

And you said to start with a high performing team.

Christina Wodtke (00:59:27):

Oh, yes.

Lenny (00:59:28):

[inaudible 00:59:28] point.

Christina Wodtke (00:59:28):

Because they're smart, they're capable, and if anybody's going to figure out how to make it work, they will. If you try to fix a bad team with OKRs, you'll make everybody hate OKRs and make the bad team worse. So, just don't do that. It's not a medicine, but that high preferring team, they're going to be the ones who go, "Oh, well, okay, our stand-up's like this, so we should add this to standup. And then instead of emails, let's just have a brag channel on our..." I've seen people do the coolest stuff with OKRs, totally changing what I recommend, doing wonderful things with it, just because they're smart and they messed with it till it worked.

Lenny (01:00:03):

Awesome. Final question in topic. You teach product management at Stanford. What's maybe a surprising or contrarian opinion about how to learn to do product management, how to get into product management, how to do product management, from your experience teaching young PMs?

Christina Wodtke (01:00:22):

I taught it and a bunch of students who thought they were going to be product managers realized that they wanted to be interaction designers and not product managers at all. I think one of the things that might be off with a lot of the product management education and conferences is, it's good that they take a lot from UX and it is important to be people-centered, but the reality is the product manager serves the business. That's their role. Teresa Torres talks about the product trio, right? Trio.

Lenny (01:00:52):


Christina Wodtke (01:00:53):

Trio. She's talking about business and user experience and technology. So, if product's over here messing with the user experience or products over there, messing with engineering, who's taking care of the business? And I think it's absolutely critical product managers, they say they're the mini CEO, but that just means they want to be in charge and nobody's in charge. It's all about working together as a team. So, they need to understand business models, they need to understand how to do a target market, and what is a target market, why is that target market the right one to go after, and how is it going to grow, and what are the trends that are going on that's going to change the business?


Product managers need to serve the business and it's not a bad thing. If you have a company, it needs to survive and all money is, is oxygen, it lets the company keep going, unless people are being greedy assholes, which definitely happens. But it's okay to care about the health and well-being of the company's ability to make money and feed itself. And don't do anything unethical, but really focus on these questions. And if you don't know business models, if you can't talk about why you might want to do a subscription or if you want to just do one-off sales, if you don't understand why you know have all these in-app purchases in your mobile devices, go learn it. I'm really shocked at how many product managers are just smart people who care about users and just showed up and said, "Yes, I will be a product manager." So, no, business is a real thing. It has a long history of knowledge and understanding, and go do that.

Lenny (01:02:30):

What I'm hearing is, maybe product sense is overrated in your experience.

Christina Wodtke (01:02:34):

Ain't none of them yet old enough to have product sense. I mean, seriously. Product sense is intuition, intuition is compressed experience, compressed experience comes from having lots of experience. And if you're young and you don't have a lot of experience, the smartest thing you could do is learn. You've got to learn what models work and why they work, and just intuition is overvalued and under-exists.

Lenny (01:03:01):

Imagine that's kind of freeing to a lot of people listening, where they're like, "Man, I just don't know if I have product sense. How do I learn product?" All this. Yeah, don't worry about it is what you're saying. Any other advice for just people thinking about getting into product or trying to get into product other... Many can't get to Stanford and learn product from someone like you. What else would you suggest they do to try to help them get into a product management role? What other activities or areas they should spend time, in your experience?

Christina Wodtke (01:03:30):

I think I agree with my friend Ken Norton on this, in that you shouldn't probably start in product. Go be an engineer or be a designer, work, get to know businesses. And I got into product from, well, I was a developer and then I was a designer, and both of those gave me a lot of knowledge. But when I moved into product, it came out of my startup where I had to learn business, and I absolutely had to learn business or else I wasn't surviving. So, I would say work for a company that's small enough that you can poke into the corners and learn from other people, and learn and then do stuff.


I don't know, it's funny because I'm at Stanford, which is all fancy with a degree and stuff and I'm like, "No, no, no, just read up, go hang out with people, get a job, figure it out." Because that's very much how I did it. And I think that if people want to get into product, I'd ask, "Why? Why do you want to be in product? Do you want to be in charge?" I learned that nobody's in charge. No matter what you do, you have to use your influence, you have to use your people skills.


Are you willing to work on your interpersonal dynamics? Because if you can't fire someone, if you can't tell somebody their behavior is interfering with the ability to get things done, don't be a product manager. If you can't solve the fight between two of your coworkers, don't be a product manager. If you can't go out and talk to somebody in a Starbucks line and say, "Hey, we're working on this new thing, what do you think?" Don't be a product manager. You got to have hustle. You got to talk to people. You got to always have your eye on the bottom line.


Maybe you don't want to be a product manager. Maybe it's much more fun to leave work every day at 6:00 and be a designer and think about how all the systems work and how and where the error message is going to come in, and is blue the right color, all the combinations of that, that's fun. Or you really want to be an engineer and solve puzzles all day. Product manager is probably the worst job unless you love talking to everybody and connecting them and stepping into the mess.

Lenny (01:05:24):

I definitely agree. There's not enough talk about how painful and hard the PM role is and how thankless it often is.

Christina Wodtke (01:05:29):

And I love it, but I love everything. I fell in love with the web and I haven't stopped, even though it's now mostly on phones and stuff. It's an exciting space. But yeah, you got to step up and do the hard stuff.

Lenny (01:05:42):

That is an awesome way to end it. And with that, we've reached our very exciting lightning round where I just have six quick questions. I don't know if you know they are, so let's just go through them and see how it goes. Are you ready?

Christina Wodtke (01:05:53):

I love it.

Lenny (01:05:54):

What are two or three books that you recommend most to other people?

Christina Wodtke (01:05:59):

The Fearless Organization. I think that book on psychological safety is the bomb. It's so, so, so good. For fiction, I loved The Overstory. It's about trees, and it's mind-blowing and so good. I'm going to leave it at that. Less is better.

Lenny (01:06:17):

I tried reading The Overstory and it's very long, but beautiful.

Christina Wodtke (01:06:20):

It's a lot like Cloud Atlas. If you liked Cloud Atlas, you'll like The Overstory.

Lenny (01:06:24):

I think I watched that movie.

Christina Wodtke (01:06:25):

No, a terrible movie. Only read the book.

Lenny (01:06:28):

I agree. Speaking of movies, what's a favorite recent movie or TV show?

Christina Wodtke (01:06:33):

We just saw Wakanda Forever and it's a very different movie than Black Panther, and my kid and I spent quite a bit of time talking about it and what it meant and it was a lot deeper than I expected. And I'm very passionate about the Mayan people because I live in Belize part of the year, and I don't know, the Mayans are just the OGs of everything, invented zero, writing. They're just so amazing.

Lenny (01:06:56):

Love it. Next question, favorite interview question that you like to ask when you're interviewing people.

Christina Wodtke (01:07:01):

What questions should I have asked you? I've been using that one forever, whether I am interviewing somebody or being interviewed, because the person is an expert in themselves. And if you say, "What question should I have asked you?" A lot of times they'll be like, "Oof." They'll be knocked off-base and then they'll give you a really honest answer.

Lenny (01:07:20):

What are five SaaS products or tools that you just love and use constantly?

Christina Wodtke (01:07:24):

Oh, I hate all technology. That's what the problem is, if you've been a product manager and a designer, all you can see is the flaws. But I would say I like Zoom better than you might think. It's terrible, but it's better than everything else. Slack, when I saw it, I was like, "This is not going to get rid of email. This is just going to be another channel of nonsense." And that showed up. But I do use it. God knows, I use it.


The Google Suites, I got to say the Google Suite is pretty amazing. Most people think that the students who go to Stanford are all rich, but 70% of them have huge amounts of financial aid. And so, I'm always looking for things that are free and won't cost too much for these students. So many of them are first generation, the first student who's gone in their family here. So, having the Google Suite and being able to have free slides, free docs, everything interconnected, Drive is sort of a gift. So, I've got to say I love those.

Lenny (01:08:20):

Cool. I didn't expect the question to go in that direction, but I love it. Two more questions. What's something relatively minor that you've seen a company you've worked with change in their product development process that's had a tremendous impact on their ability to execute and ship crates?

Christina Wodtke (01:08:35):

I will never forget when people stopped sitting with their disciplines and started sitting with their teams. I think that we in tech want everything to be tech and be remote and everything, blah, blah, blah. And there are definitely jobs that are wonderful remote, but if you're trying to innovate, there's nothing like getting the product trio to sit together, and preferably with walls. Walls are really underrated. If you can just give them a war room where they can put stuff on the wall, or I hate to say it, cubicles, I'd rather see offices, but if you can give people walls, it becomes part of your memory. And then you're not using your short-term memory to remember stuff. You're using it to think, and so the war room becomes a living memory so you can make connections. I mean, it's one of the hardest things I have to teach my students too, is that some things are just better done analog and that's okay.

Lenny (01:09:27):

Reminds me of a story I just heard from a friend where there was a team sitting next to a data science team and they were one table apart. They're right next to each other. And the data team just had a lot of concerns with what that team was building. They didn't believe in what they're doing and they're just like, "Why are we wasting these resources on this thing?" And the head of data science put one of the data people on the team and had them sit just one table over with the team and everything changed. They're just like, "Okay, let's do this. This is great. We're going to build some awesome products."

Christina Wodtke (01:09:55):

We're human.

Lenny (01:09:56):

Just that one move.

Christina Wodtke (01:09:58):

We are human. We are social. Yeah, and I think moving people around every year or so, everybody hates it. Nobody wants to change desks, but do it to them anyway. It always makes things better.

Lenny (01:10:07):

Final question. What's a company that you think has a really strong and effective product culture? If you can name one, if not, that's okay too.

Christina Wodtke (01:10:14):

Well, I think of all my clients, the best cultures all seem to be very small companies working in strange little corners of the world. They're not the big, sexy guys. Everybody's there because they want to make dog food or they want to make this kind of financial software, and they're amazing. I think we treat scale like it's a virtue when it's merely a tactic, and it might be a bad tactic as well. So yeah, I think there's something really sweet around 250 people working on something that everybody agrees is important.

Lenny (01:10:49):

Christina, I honor you as emperor for life of OKRs.

Christina Wodtke (01:10:54):


Lenny (01:10:54):

You've achieved it. I'm very proud of you. I think we've made a big dent in how people perceive OKRs and will utilize OKRs.

Christina Wodtke (01:10:54):

I hope so.

Lenny (01:11:03):

Thank you so much for being here. Two final questions. Where can folks find you online if they want to learn more, reach out? And how can listeners be useful to you?

Christina Wodtke (01:11:10):

If they want to learn more, I've been blogging at, like a hack writer since 2000. It's where I've dumped my thoughts for a long time, so it's always a good place if you want to go spelunking about anything. If you want to attempt to hire me, is not a bad place to go. I say attempt because I teach, and so I don't have a lot of time. But you know what users could do? Users could slow down. I just wish everybody would take a deep breath and think about, "Okay, we're going to adopt this thing. Let's read up on it. Let's think about it. Oh, we're going to build this new product? Let's do a literature review, let's do a competitive analysis. Let's see what's been done. Let's learn from the past."


I think if you could slow down, you'll end up going a lot faster. So, I would encourage people, if you're in a panic and you're in a tizzy, and I know the economics bad and the world's on fire, but just take some deep breaths before you do anything and just ask yourself, "What's a good way to do it? What's a good way for me to move forward?" I think I would like to encourage that.

Lenny (01:12:16):

A beautiful way to end it, but I also want to make sure you plug your books. Just say the titles of your books and where people can find them, and then we'll [inaudible 01:12:24].

Christina Wodtke (01:12:23):

Radical Focus. Get the second edition. The Team That Managed Itself. And Pencil Me In. Those are my three books that are out there right now. You can get them pretty much anywhere I do believe, but definitely, I mean Amazon. Amazon rules us all, so they're definitely there.

Lenny (01:12:40):

Amazing. Christina, again, thank you for being here. We'll all go slow down right now.

Christina Wodtke (01:12:44):

Thank you so much for having me here, Lenny, and sharing your audience with me. It's been an honor.

Lenny (01:12:47):

Bye everyone. Thank you so much for listening. If you found this valuable, you can subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcast app. Also, please consider giving us a rating or leaving a review as that really helps other listeners find the podcast. You can find all past episodes or learn more about the show at See you in the next episode.