Working to ensure user value, innovation and performance

We all (most of us anyways) want to succeed – we go to work aiming to create results. Most of us do our best, and we certainly do many things.

However, perhaps we should ask “are we doing the right things?”

When training leaders, product managers and employees in FINN to create outstanding products, we build skills in innovation and performance by practicing slow thinking through questions like this.

The FINN brand has a great reputation in Norway. We have won several prizes, including top of RepTrak Norway; top of the Norwegian customer satisfaction barometer; Lean enterprise of the year; Norway’s most innovative firm, and high rankings on Great Place to Work.

We are proud to celebrate these achievements. Yet, what have we done right in our organization to deserve them? Of course, what we have done has had an impact – yet, we strongly believe that how we do things has an effect on our continued results.

We certainly do something internally to deserve this reputation – some call it “culture”, but some think that’s too fluffy a description to get a grip on – so I will try to explain how we work (and an illustration is included at the end, if all the words confuse you).

Meaning, mastery and autonomy

We are an agile organization. We put users first. We manage by objectives and key results. We are convinced that success  is more likely if we know what we are trying to achieve, and when we continuously measure the effects of what we do. Plus, this way of working motivates people more – and motivated people perform better!

In short, this is how we do it:

Formulate user-centered objectives and make sure everyone in a team or working group knows and understands why we are here. We create meaning for our people by clarifying the value we aim to create and for whom we are creating value.

Identify a set of specific, measurable and relevant key performance indicators. Indicators are tangible signs of whether we are achieving what we want.

The most important and steady indicators are called Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and these are monitored so we know how we are doing towards reaching our objective.

To identify relevant indicators we ask: How do we know if we are creating the intended value? What can we observe, count or measure that tells us whether we are about to succeed in achieving our objective?

A balanced set of KPIs will cover all dimensions of the required results, and help us avoid creating negative effects through sub-optimization. To get a balanced set of indicators, our teams reflect on the following questions: What unfortunate things could happen if we concentrate on one indicator at any cost?

What else should we monitor in order to avoid these unfortunate consequences? A balanced set of KPIs often contains some results indicators and some process indicators, but if some indicators are lagging we emphasize the need for leading indicators (early signs of how we are doing).

Establish a set of key results (goals). Key results are specific results to achieve within a specified time on a chosen indicator. Key Result = Indicator (KPI) + Target value + Date.

In order to set key results, we need to monitor and assess the status of our indicators (quantitative), and gather insights and reflect on whether something has happened in our surroundings that we need to take into consideration (qualitative).

Monitoring and assessing status is an important step in setting good key results.

We ask several questions:

  • How are we doing in achieving our objectives?
  • Does the last measured value on our KPIs indicate we have fulfilled our objective?
  • Are there specific market problems our users are experiencing holding us back from achieving our objective?
  • Which target values of our KPIs are adequate to say we have fulfilled our objective, and when do we need to reach these?
  • Which target values are achievable, within what date?

Prioritize key results (goals) to pursue. When we prioritize key results, we take into consideration the status of each key result and assess where the greatest gap between desired and actual results are.

Often, there are also dependencies between the key results that we must take into consideration when we prioritize, i.e. we must often give priority to key results based on process indicators over key results based on results indicators.

Through specific and prioritized key results, our employees can experience mastery. They know what to focus on, and may steer their efforts towards the right things.

Find fresh insights and create new ideas. The world is changing continuously. Aiming to reach our key results doing what we are used to think and do, will result in stagnation. Therefore, we must create new ideas.

Our employees have autonomy to discover insights and create ideas. Managers do not (most of them) direct what employees do, they focus on which key results the team or work group should achieve.

All employees in a team/work group are involved in idea work – and often employees from other teams, as well as customers, to ensure we get more and better ideas based on relevant insights and experiences.

Relevant questions we ask:

  • How can we reach our key results?
  • What is hindering  reaching our key results?
  • How can we overcome these?
  • What insights do we need?
  • Which new perspectives should we take or people should we ask?
  • Who can inspire us to think more boldly?
  • What ideas come to mind if we assume the target values of our key results are double of what they actually are?

Prioritize ideas that have the most positive effects on your key results (making us more likely to reach our goals).

There are often many ideas on how to achieve our key results. Employees, managers, and people on the outside (other departments, customers or users) may have exciting ideas and strong opinions.

Efficient prioritization of ideas in a group requires employees to communicate how they think, what they emphasize and what assessments they make when selecting or arguing in favor of an idea (rather than counting on different gut feelings).

We score ideas based on the effect they have on the prioritized key result, then give the ideas a score based on the effort/cost of implementing the idea. The ideas most likely to positively affect the prioritized key result(s), and which simultaneously are the easiest to implement are given highest priority.

Experiment to reduce risks. Learn if the most promising ideas indeed have an effect before you invest time and resources implementing them.

Define actions needed to realize the idea, implement as fast as possible and in iterations. We want to create maximum user value. This requires a good balance between doing the right things (prioritization of actions), doing things fast (flow), and doing things right (quality).

Employees are given autonomy when implementing actions/initiatives they believe will positively affect key results.

Leaders focus on being accessible, supportive and assisting in removing obstacles during implementation, following up on quality indicators and workflow (time per task, number of tasks per week) to complete deliveries as fast as possible, with a healthy balance between progress and quality.

Check results frequently. Everything we do, our actions, should have an observable effect on the indicators we monitor to show whether we are achieving our objectives.

Frequent follow up of effects can help us learn and adjust our course in time – maybe we need to prioritize new key results or adjust the target values? Perhaps we need to prioritize new ideas?

It is useful to establish a routine to systematically follow up results and monitor status i.e. weekly, every other week, or in monthly meetings.

“The swirl” – conceptualizing how we work to ensure user value, innovation and performance

We aim to succeed! Our recipe is to collaborate effectively. Our work process is agile where user-oriented objectives and clear key results are the engine, and what we do is dependent on the effects we see.


More to read about Product management