Measure What Matters by John Doerr

4 minutes estimated reading time

I was recommended Measure What Matters by my friend and fellow ex-Yahoo Cathy Ma. Cathy found the book useful in her way through managing teams. In Measure What Matters, John Doerr explains the idea of objectives and key results or OKRs.

Measure What Matters

About John Doerr

If you’ve worked in or around the Silicon Valley technology space from the PC age through to the 2010s Doerr’s name will have a passing familiarity to you. Doerr was a salesman at Intel in the 1970s, realised that there were too many good people ahead of him and took an over in venture capital instead. Doerr was involved in funding:

  • Compaq – Compaq kicked off the market for ‘IBM compatible’ PCs and made the first portable ‘IBM compatible’ PC. Soon after IBM was no longer the dominant player in personal computing leading to the Wintel duopoly. Compaq eventually offered a full range of large servers, workstations and PC when it acquired Digital Equipment Corporation and Tandem Computing. Compaq was in turn bought by H-P
  • Netscape – Netscape Communications mainstreamed the internet browser, email client, web servers and email servers. The server software lives on in Oracle’s product line via the Netscape – Sun Microsystems alliance. The browser indirectly carried on through an open source project Mozilla
  • Symantec – Symantec started off as a natural language processing company in the early 1980s, it became famous for its Mac antivirus software and then went into the DOS and Windows market after merging with Peter Norton Computing. It now has a consumer facing business called NortonLifeLock and the business focused software part of the business was sold to Broadcom
  • Sun Microsystems – Sun Microsystems started off as a UNIX workstation manufacturer. Over time they built up a healthy server and software business that supported much of the infrastructure of the web. They were instrumental in the evolution of several key computing technologies, among them Unix – which influenced parts of the macOS that I am typing this post on, RISC processors in your smartphone, thin client computing like Google Docs, and virtualised computing that is instrumental for cloud computing. Sun Microsystems workstations were popular with investment banks, telecoms companies and internet startups bought their servers. The company’s decline can be marked by the dot com crash. Oracle bought Sun Microsystems and their technology lives on
  • – was a first generation e-tailer in health and beauty products. Walgreens bought the business in 2011, and shut down the website five years later.
  • – needs no introduction
  • Intuit – Intuit sells financial software in the US. TurboTax helps Americans do their tax returns, Mint provides a personal finance dashboard for consumers and QuickBooks is accounting software for small and medium sized businesses
  • Macromedia – Macromedia was a software company that developed tools for creatives and programmers. It was eventually acquired by Adobe. Macromedia products live on in the Adobe product range
  • Google – the search engine.

About OKRs

For all of the companies that Doerr has funded he has advocated OKRs. The idea of OKRs came from Doerr’s colleague at Intel Andy Grove. OKRs are a collaborative process. The idea is that it is used with teams and the individuals who make up the teams. Management seeks to set challenging, ambitious goals with measurable results. The key results in OKRs are how you track progress towards the objective, create alignment within the team, and encourage engagement around measurable goals. They are also supposed to flex with circumstance, which is one of the key points of separation from Peter Drucker’s management by objectives (MBO).

The first part of the book Measure What Matters explains the origin and process behind OKRs.

You can get everything that you need in the first two chapters covering 35 pages.

The Cult of OKR

The rest of the book is a series of self aggrandising endorsements of OK from senior executives who are OKR advocates:

  • Larry Page of Alphabet
  • Bill Davidow of Intel
  • Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook
  • Bill Gates on The Gates Foundation

It crosses the line for me and almost reads like a high water mark for Silicon Valley hubris; Doerr’s book was published in 2018. Three years later and:

  • Bill Gates is in the most trouble he has been in since the Judge Jackson ruling
  • Alphabet and Facebook are being assailed by regulators around the world
  • Intel looks like a shadow of its former self. Its fabrication process are three years behind competitors. Customers are designing their own chips and AMD is eating their lunch in high performance processors

Secondly, Doerr’s book, whilst acknowledging Andy Groves role of OKR creator; fails to acknowledge that Andy gave a good descriptor of OKRs in his 1983 book High Output Management.

I think one of the reasons that I am not that keen on Measure What Matters, is that the book doesn’t work for culturally as a non-American. Instead I would recommend Andy Grove’s own book High Output Management. More books that might be of interest here.