How Payhawk Drives Alignment and Scalability with OKRs

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Friday, May 05, 2023

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4 min read
Payhawk logo in white on an orange circular background

During our 23rd OKR Champions Roundtable, Boris Angelov, a Principal Product Manager (PM) leading Payhawk’s Spend Controls product area, discusses Payhawk’s introduction to OKRs — sharing growth pains, PM practices, and lessons learned from working with OKRs  

Payhawk provides seamless payment experiences. Their global solution facilitates these by combining corporate cards, expense management, accounts payable, and seamless ERP connections. Or as Boris notes, “In a nutshell, we are eliminating 90% of the money work finance teams still have today.” 

A healthy trajectory for their Series A

Payhawk's sales and marketing departments were the first to use OKRs. Initially, they had no specific product goals — results were evident without formal measurement processes.  

This approach soon became inadequate. They needed steady traction to get funding.  

The 3 problems of scaling 

While scrappy startup motions were fine initially, things started to break down as Payhawk scaled, facing issues across three key areas: 

  1. Context and alignment 
  2. Relationships 
  3. Measurability   

1. Missing context and alignment 

The lack of transparency and alignment across Payhawk meant executives weren’t aware of what was happening while pushing features without explaining their importance. Consequently, the sales team couldn’t understand why the PM team wasn’t delivering on critical requests.  

2. Top-down vs. bottom-up relationship

In the early stages, the PM team didn’t have the opportunity to challenge or question what they delivered, resulting in problems down the road. 

“We were kind of stuck in the old habit of executing without question.” 

3. Measuring impact

Country directors initially determined the impact of activities. However, things got tricky when six country directors clamored to add ideas to the roadmap.  

With PMs owning activities instead of outcomes, they weren’t measuring the impact of features on customers and the business. The product team was in danger of becoming a feature factory if things didn’t change. 

Introducing company-wide OKRs

Everything shifted when company-wide OKRs were introduced by leadership. 

The leadership team created a KPI tree to represent business needs and how the company makes money. OKRs were then defined annually and derived from the KPI tree. 

A slide containing Payhawk's companywide OKRs


Payhawk’s cadence was adapted from David Sacks. It synchronizes revenue and product seasons, which are offset to avoid chaos (e.g., having quarterly close and launch events happening at the same time.)  

A slide containing Payhawk's OKR cadence

For a closer look at what the product season entails, take a look at its components in the image below. 

A slide with Payhawk's Product Season

Strategic Briefs solve the problem of missing context and alignment 

The strategic brief is how Payhawk addressed the issue of missing context and alignment, with leadership highlighting the most critical objectives. 

“Out of all those company-wide objectives, the strategic brief is the document that says, okay, we want to focus on these objectives. This could be expansion or retention. It will generally identify strategic opportunities for the business.” 

The strategic brief helps: 

  • Define success 
  • Identify key strengths and obstacles 
  • Propose actions 
  • Establish a focus on what needs to be addressed 

Discovery Roasts repair the top-down vs. bottom-up relationship

Discovery Roasts allow teams to challenge each other alongside their OKRs, roadmaps, and methods.  

“Actually, we just had a weekly Discovery Roast today, this morning, and it was related to how we're going to improve the metric of time to close for accountants. We're basically arguing about, hey, what's the best way to do that?” 

Country directors are invited to participate in Roadmap Roasts where they can question or challenge certain product decisions. 

OKR and roadmap connection ensure measurability 

At Payhawk, different PMs own different metrics and process areas, with some focused on OKRs related to retention and others on new business at any given time. 

“As a product manager, I'll say, how can I improve the product quality and health of my area while focusing on retention goals? I'll define metrics around bugs, regression issues, customer requests, cleaning my backlog… Or I might connect whatever I want to do to an objective for new business. I'll usually define a metric around expected impact, adoption, and enablement.” 

Payhawk’s OKR failures and fixes

When Payhawk introduced OKRs to the product team, PMs could choose how they’d drive company-level OKRs, while being handed Strategic Briefs. However, they still needed to consider pre-existing roadmap items they needed to deliver.  

This quickly became confusing: they were trying to connect existing roadmap items to OKRs that had just been defined. 

a Slide showcasing the structure of Payhawk's OKRs

To fix this, Payhawk revisited its approach. Today, their company-wide OKRs and product OKRs inform strategic briefs and vice versa — area problems, opportunities, and customer feedback are inputs for product OKRs. Altogether, these define their roadmap and backlog.  

These newfound efficiencies enable Payhawk’s product team to create continuous value for its customers and the company. 

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