On Starting OKRs During a Pandemic


Christine Stone headshot
Christine Sandman Stone

Global Head Product & Engineering Operations & Strategy, & TPMO at Groupon

Episode notes

In this episode, Christine Stone, who led the transition of Groupon from waterfall to agile, shares her experiences and insights on various aspects of agile practices, including advocating for women in tech, fostering innovation, preparing for OKRs, implementing successful OKRs, and tying OKRs to performance management.

What you will learn

  • The importance of measuring progress, adapting to change, and having an agile org chart and a clear template.
  • Groupon's approach to OKRs implementation.
  • The limitations of OKRs, the intersection of OKRs and portfolio management, and how OKRs can be relevant on a day-to-day basis for agile teams.

Show notes

  • [00:00:59] Leading Agile Transformations at Groupon. Christine discusses her experience leading the transition of Groupon from waterfall to agile. 
    • She helped nearly a thousand people change how they did their work every day, drawing on her work experiences and master's degree in organizational behavior and development. 
    • Christine emphasizes the importance of measuring progress and adapting to change. 
    • She also shares her experience of leading a team that went from being ranked worst to the first spot, which motivates her to help other teams achieve similar success.
  • [00:05:22] Advocating for Women in Tech and Using OKRs to Measure Progress. Christine discusses how she advocates for women in tech and uses OKRs to measure her progress in helping women gain position and wealth.
    •  She saves time for people in navigating job opportunities, salary negotiations, and career development. 
    • Christine mentions her blog post "Want Progress? Measure," where she sets a goal for each leader in her product engineering organization to have networking conversations with external and internal diverse talents.
    • She provides strategies for reaching out to people in a professional and respectful manner, such as asking for a virtual coffee to discuss work.
  • [00:11:46] Fostering Innovation at Groupon. Christine discusses how her team at Groupon is working on being more innovative and forward-thinking.
    • They use OKRs and have started listing discovery features in their plan for the quarter to transparently show ideas that are in early stages.
    • They also leverage their research and design teams to stay ahead of the game.
    • While they are still getting better at it, they are finding success by thinking ahead and creating a dual-track delivery process.
  • [00:15:45] Preparing for OKRs: The importance of having an agile org chart and a clear template. Christine emphasizes the significance of an agile org chart that identifies the named product person, scrum master, engineers, business counterpart, and other team members working together.
    • She explains that having an agile org chart tells her how they get work done and helps her understand who to go to when solving a problem.
    • She discusses the importance of having a clear template and mechanism for OKRs and an organizational agreement on how learning happens.
  • [00:17:41] Implementing Successful OKRs at Groupon. Christine shares the company's approach to OKRs implementation:
    • The use of an agile org chart
    • Silicon Valley Products Group's transitional roadmap
    • Commitment to transparency
    • The company also avoids top-down surprise ads and emphasizes the need for organizational support and being prepared for challenges.
  • [00:20:56] Limitations of OKRs and the importance of organizational readiness. Christine discusses the limitations of OKRs, including addressing cultural issues.
    • She shares how the company used OKRs during the COVID crisis and how they are starting to consider longer-term roadmaps.
    • Stone emphasizes the importance of measurability and impact and how quarterly OKR review meetings have accelerated progress.
  • [00:28:32] The Intersection of OKRs and Portfolio Management and the Importance of Disciplined Backlog Management. Christine discusses the importance of periodically reevaluating a company's backlog and how OKRs can help ensure that all work is driving a result. 
  • [00:36:03] How OKRs can be relevant on a day-to-day basis for agile teams. Christine explains how Groupon ensures OKRs are relevant to day-to-day activities of agile teams through a transitional roadmap.
    • The roadmap shows how every feature candidate planned for the quarter drives the results of the OKRs. As a result, squad members can make decisions without constantly seeking clarifications, which saves time and increases productivity.
  • [00:38:36] Groupon's approach to OKRs in performance management. Jenny asks Christine about tying OKRs to performance management, and Christine shares that she believes there are three areas to measure performance: 
    • Company goals through OKRs,
    • business strength through separate goal systems,
    • and individual talent development.
  • [00:41:33] Quick-Fire Questions for Christine:
    • What's your dream with a deadline? Christine’s dream is to give a big stage TED talk.
    • What do you appreciate most about your team? Christine appreciates her team's spirit of productive camaraderie.
    • What's your one piece of advice for someone starting their OKR journey? Christine advises finding someone who has successfully implemented OKRs before and asking them practical questions.
    • What's top of mind for you these days? For Christine, top of mind is excitement and deep interest in how Groupon will evolve as an organization with its new CEO and a stabilized pandemic ecosystem.

Relevant links

About our guest:

Christine Stone headshot
Christine Sandman Stone

Global Head Product & Engineering Operations & Strategy, & TPMO

Christine Stone is a successful leader and advisor with expertise in OKR leadership, modern talent development, product and engineering execution and measurement, and organizational development. Stone is also an author, speaker, and mentor.

Additional resources