Our love ❤️ for chat, team coordination, and OKR

One of our clients reported the following in late 2019:

“After using OKR for less than 3 months, I sent much fewer Telegram messages to remind my team about our weekly priorities.”

After we shared it in this article, we received several inquiries from curious leaders and our fellow global OKR coaches specifically about that testimony.

Hence, we thought it’d be fun to further explore that particular topic with the person who said it, Hadikusuma Wahab (or “Dhiku” as his peers and close friends like to call him).

Dhiku currently serves as the Senior VP of Product in Vidio.

Fun fact: As the largest streaming platform in Indonesia, Vidio recently snapped the no.1 most downloaded free app on Play Store Indonesia. Zoom, the ubiquitous app during this COVID-19 pandemic, reigned over the second position.

Starting in 2020, Vidio has adopted OKR as its way of working across the board, including the Management in which Dhiku is in. The following excerpt is part of our recent conversation with Dhiku about his experience adopting OKR at a company scale. The complete dialogue will be published soon.

“We, Asians, love to chat.” Dhiku started.

And, that love to chat spills over into the realm of work.

“It is not surprising to see your friends’ or your own WhatsApp/Telegram filled with tens of work-related chat groups.”

From the more serious groups (e.g. with the boss or boss’ boss) to fun-centric chat rooms (e.g. with no boss around).

Just for fun: This is a hilarious stand-up comedy about WhatsApp groups at work.

“Speaking about Indonesia alone, many companies rely on chat platforms to manage work.” Dhiku was so sure as he recalled most of, if not all, his working friends experience the same reality.

Managing work via group chats

The Product group in Vidio used Telegram to manage work. Used, as past tense.

“I used to rely on Telegram a lot to send reminders about weekly priorities and work assignments to my product managers, designers, and data folks. I didn’t remember how it was started, but it was a habit to track progress.”

That habit was not exclusive to the Product group; others in Ops, Sales, and so on were doing the same.

“It was tiring!” as Dhiku acknowledged, it was far from ideal.

“So much energy was spent tracking messages, including my own, trying to recall what needs to be done.”

It’s not about which chat platform

“Some of my friends in other companies moved from WhatsApp/Telegram to a different chat platform that was built specifically for work.”

The move did not solve the problem. All the inherent issues with relying on group chat persisted.

The expectation your team members would read the respective messages did not come true. Forcing the importance or urgency of your message with the powerful mention feature also didn’t do the trick.

Team coordination requires a supportive process, not a different or more feature-rich chat platform. The tool will prove to be powerful when the former has been properly taken care of; not vice versa.

The OKR Shift

The Product group already started to feel and notice a higher level of alignment 6 weeks into their adoption of OKR.

Something else evolved a few weeks after that timeline.

“The weekly cadence discipline requires and allows my direct reports to design and articulate what they need to do. I could then focus on directing with guidance and, whenever necessary, filling in the information/knowledge gap e.g. with something I learned from the Management briefings, etc.”

Dhiku continued, “They are then clear about their weekly milestones and the scope of their commitments. In other words, there is clarity about what’s expected from them — by their peers, including me.”

One of the product managers in the team, Letitia, elaborated it further in her interview.

This might sound small, but the impact was huge.

In 3 bullet points, Dhiku summarized how the team’s coordination paradigm had literally shifted:

1/ I am no longer a coordination driver.2/ Initiatives and prioritization came from my team members.3/ The commitment and reminder to do the weekly cadence came from their own peers.

In fact, there is no single driver anymore. It is as if the team is coordinating for and by themselves.

More time for something else

“I am enjoying the bigger-picture view now because much of my energy and time has been freed up from coordinating work.”

“It is pretty amazing to witness how OKR structures and facilitates this type of self-coordination.”

OKR naturally distributes the effort and responsibility almost equally to all involved.

As a bonus, Dhiku added, “My product managers also reported a higher sense of ownership since most of the initiatives must come from them. Not from me.”

Closing thoughts

The Vidio Product team now has simple rules for their chat groups. They mostly use them for hashing things out quickly, red alerts, and having fun.

Questions that require 1 minute or less to answer e.g. “Which release will [bugfix A] be included in?” are OK.

As amusing as it might sound, the discipline cultivated by adopting OKR has led to less “abuse” of group chats.

Abuse, as in using (something) to bad effect or for a bad purpose.

Organizations often continue doing something albeit they know it is ineffective (worse, unhealthy) because no better alternative presented itself, yet.

Dhiku concluded, “In Vidio, we had been searching for that alternative until we found OKR.”


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