OKRs

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Overview

GitLab uses Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) as quarterly goals to execute our strategy to make sure [said] goals are clearly defined and aligned throughout the organization.

At Infrastructure, we have admittedly been lagging behind in terms of properly and, one might say, genuinely, adopting and using OKRs. Over the past few months we have focused on stabilizing GitLab.com's availability and we have approached planning in a very tactical fashion, essentially duct-taping our way through it. We treated OKRs as a set of guidelines rather than proper objectives, almost bordering on homework to be completed before the beginning of a quarter, a strategy that not only is not sustainable, it is, in fact, not a strategy at all.

GitLab.com's availability has arguably improved. Much work remains to be done, even as the chaos has subsided and has come under control. But we have found a disconnect between opposite ends of the department: as the team has grown, it has become harder to sustain a tactical approach. Availability continues to be our top priority, but we must start to plan and execute more strategically. In order to do so, we must deeply integrate OKRs in our workflows so we can produce timely, relevant data to track our progress towards well-defined objectives. As John Doerr so eloquently puts it, ideas are easy; execution is everything.

OKR Primer

OKRs stand for Objectives and Key Results. Quoting John Doerr from Measure What Matters:

OKRs are conceptually simple, almost deceivingly so, and thus are easy to take for granted. They're a powerful framework to manage our execution towarsds achieving our objectives, but to be truly effective, we must fully integrate OKRs into the organization end to end, particularly in terms of status checkpoints (mStaff and Staff meetings, 1:1s, etc) and workload management tools (milestones and issues). Additional guidelines are provided in the OKR section.

This blueprint charts the path to perform said integration in Infrastructure.

Infra OKRs

Infrastructure's productivity bandwidth is spread across three different but related areas:

Each team in Infrastructure has one objective and three KRs in support of said objective. These KRs are aligned with the three aforementioned areas.

Objectives

The overall Infrastructure objective is to make all user-visible services (particularly GitLab.com) ready for mission-critical workloads. Each team's objective support our this overall objective, as follows:

Additionally, AN has his own objective: improve observable availability for GitLab.com, which directly supports all three Infrastructure teams.

Key Results

Each team produces three KRs, which, as outlined above, must be measurable and verifiable. KR's are aligned with availability, product and infrastructure areas. The percentages of productivity bandwidth for the KRs is not necessarily distributed equally.

Implementation

We will keep track of OKRs using GitLab issues, properly tagged so queries can quickly gather the necessary data and duplication of data can be avoided.

Objectives

OKR objectives are tagged with okr:o, team:{team} and yyyy-qn labels and are assigned to each team's manager and the Director of Infrastructure. The description of the issue contains the objective definition.

Key Results

Each team codifies key results as issues in their respective issue trackers, tagged with okr:kr and yyyy-qn labels. The KR issues must be linked to the objective they support. These issues are assigned to each team's manager and to the Director of Infrastructure.

The description of the issue will use GitLab's KR definition format. Each KR issue is linked to its corresponding objective.

Milestones and Issues

We are moving towards parallel, themed milestones. Milestones and issues within said milestones have to be in supports of OKRs. Link milestones and issues with their corresponding KRs.

WorkFlow

Planning

A week before VPE starts the quarterly OKR process, Infrastructure starts internal discussions about our objectives and OKRs for each team within the department. This is our preparation work in advance of the actual Engineering-wide organization OKR period (and thus, cannot be considered finalized until said period ends).

The Director of Infrastructure will set the overall objective for the department and each team. Team members will discuss and bring forward 3 KRs per objective up for discussion.

When OKRs are set, the Director of Infrastructure will open issues for each objective and KR. These issues are intended to serve as anchors to associate team issues with specific O+KRs.

The Infrastructure OKRs will also be added to the VPE's OKR specification.

Tracking

Every week: