Specialized OKR apps don't work—Coda does

Why you need Coda for strategic planning.

Blog > OKRs · 5 min read
Hi there. I’m Oliver Heckmann and I have a superpower: helping organizations implement a planning process that actually sticks. I sharpened this skill as the VP of Engineering at Google, where I led quarterly goal-setting for a 1500+ engineering team. I’ve also served as an advisor to companies from varied industries and of various sizes. As the Head of Engineering at Coda, I lead this process across the company, ensuring that each team generates objectives and key results (OKRs) that ladder up into our company-level vision, or as we call it, our “Big Bets.” When I joined Coda, I was thrilled to discover a platform that made it easy to implement what I’ve uncovered as strategic planning best practices to easily keep the team accountable. Since then, many customers have looked to the Coda team to help improve their planning process, so I decided to share what I’ve learned more broadly. By reading this blog, I hope you walk away with a sense of what to consider when choosing an OKR tool and the common pitfalls that come with spreadsheets and specialized OKR apps. Objectives and key results (OKRs) are important because they provide clarity and focus on what needs to be achieved, align teams and individuals to common objectives, and enable tracking progress and accountability. OKRs encourage ambitious and measurable goals, promote transparency and collaboration, and foster a culture of continuous improvement. By setting clear objectives and defining key results that indicate success, OKRs help drive performance, prioritize efforts, and ensure that everyone is working toward the same goals. No matter where you actually do your OKR planning, keep in mind that the outcome is more comprehensive than your list of goals— there’s a lot to consider before and after putting this together.
The outcome of planning is much more than a list of OKRs.
From the outside, planning may look like it only consists of top down guidance, target metrics, key priorities, and some sort of broader presentation, such as an All Hands meeting. But, to be successful, you need clear direction (often in the form of guidelines) and forums to ensure this resonates with the teams. But if these are spread across mediums (docs, spreadsheets, OKR tools, and emails), you’re immediately introducing friction and fragmentation for anyone trying to truly understand and execute the full plan.
For new team members
  • How many docs or sheets would you have to share to get them up to speed?
  • How much explanation would be needed for them to understand what we are doing and why?
In my experience at Google, we noticeably felt this friction. Our standard operating procedures were spread widely across Google Slides and Google Docs, while key metrics were housed in Google Sheets. And I witnessed my reports draft their plans in a number of note-taking tools before copy/pasting into our in-house software, which led to many issues—including being a few million dollars overcommitted one year. Part of the reason I joined Coda was because I was encouraged by the possibility of solving this problem. After years of taste-testing our own product to solve this problem, I’m pleased with the system we’ve created. We use Coda to guide, plan, and track OKRs from end-to-end, and I continue to learn and create solutions every time we conduct planning. Specialized tools promise a silver bullet for enterprises to get on the same page, but they often end up creating new obstacles. Right now, we’re seeing organizations of all sizes substituting narrow, single-use apps for Coda. A great example is one of our enterprise customers, who examines all new tool requests through the lens of “how can we get this done in Coda?”
Enterprise procurement teams are asking “Can we get this done in Coda without adding a new tool?"
Why? Because Coda offers teams flexibility, transparency, and value that specialized apps can’t. And the same is true for OKR apps. Specialized tools have one way of doing things—their way. Despite their claims of “customization” and “flexibility,” you’ll be at the mercy of how they think the OKR process should be done. Coda’s flexibility allows you to structure your OKRs exactly as you want. You can generate custom views, add detailed text descriptions, incorporate additional data such as project planning or resource allocation, and link to relevant documents or databases. We have a number of OKR templates that your team can use for inspiration and to get a running start. Our Solutions Architects are also at your service to create a custom OKR process that scales across your organization. Adding another tool to your stack means creating data silos for your team to overcome. When OKRs are tracked in one app and the execution work is done in another, your team becomes the connective tissue between them. Your team spends hours copy/pasting between apps, communicating updates via Slack/email, and tracking down the latest updates. It’s tiring for your team and it leads to a lack of trust in your chosen OKR app. Your team wants to make an update once and have it communicated everywhere so they can get back to doing what they love. Not to mention, they don’t want to learn another tool! This is the beauty of Coda. Coda serves as a tool for setting and tracking OKRs, storing and accessing SOPs, and getting the actual work done. When everything lives in one place, your team doesn’t need to switch between multiple platforms, meaning increased productivity and a better employee experience. Coda won’t replace many of your essential tools, like CRMs, virtual whiteboards, or analytics dashboards. But Coda—unlike Ally (now Microsoft Viva Goals), Lattice, Profit, 15five, and Leapsome—deeply integrates with your tool stack. So instead of linking from your OKR tool to your Miro board, Airtable base, Monday board, or Jira tickets, you can bring it all into one single source of truth. We have over 600 Packs and counting available in the Gallery. In fact anyone can easily build their own integration in the Pack Studio. Be sure to check out the Packs in the Coda Gallery to explore all of our integrations. Single-use apps force you to pay full price for an under-utilized tool. The best OKRs have buy-in across the organization, meaning all team members have visibility into plans, progress, and updates. To grant this transparency, everyone needs access. Gate-keeping based on role, seniority, or department means more silos and wasted time spent re-communicating to the rest of the org. With Coda, you aren’t forced to choose between cost and collaboration. Our Maker Billing model means viewers and editors are free, so you end up paying for a fraction of the organization while gaining org-wide transparency. Hypothetically, if you did purchase a single-use app for the entire organization, this expenditure mounts quickly without reciprocating value. In most scenarios, your bill ends up exceeding what you would pay for Coda—and that’s just for one use case. In addition to OKRs, Coda can fill unlimited scenarios as well as replace your project trackers, wikis, knowledge management tools, and hundreds of other apps. Coda is a doc that your team will use everyday to get work done. From my experience in helping teams build OKR processes, single-use apps get very little usage throughout the quarter and because they’re locked up away from your team’s day-to-day, they quickly go stale. The costs of these apps mount while providing little ROI to your organization. When teams come to me looking for direction, I start by asking where they are running their planning process today. The most prolific answer—the same as it was in the 90s—is spreadsheets, whether that’s Excel, Google Sheets, or even some table-based productivity softwares like Airtable, Clickup, and Wrike. While spreadsheets can store a table of key results, they struggle when scaling beyond the OKRs of a single team. Typically, I see spreadsheets cause a few issues for teams doing OKR planning. For the sake of brevity, I’ll mention how we’ve helped teams solve this in Coda.

Make OKRs discoverable.

Each team—and even each team member— want to see what they are responsible for, and nothing else. But achieving this in a spreadsheet is incredibly complex, yet in Coda this is super simple. Tables in Coda operate more like a database, so creating a page with a view filtered to a team, user, etc. is quick and easy. And you can even make filtering personal, so the filters you add only affect your view. In Coda, tables talk to each other. When you make an update in your view, it updates everywhere. So your OKRs never go stale.

Consolidating to a single source of truth.

Writing meaningful rich text with diagrams or even media is nearly impossible in spreadsheets. So teams end up linking to Google Docs, which leads to a multitude of frictions in its own right. Coda lets you add rich text, videos, diagrams, tables, and even data from other services through Packs, directly into the OKR. You can even embed your other tools into Coda, so your analytics dashboard, FigJam file, and more live in one place.

Collaborate without limitations.

Spreadsheets—in particular Google Sheets—can run into issues when too many users are trying to edit the same cell. During OKR creation, you may have entire teams in the same tab, massaging their OKRs. Limitations on simple collaboration make this frustrating. But this is what Coda was built for. Coda lets your entire team work simultaneously in the same doc, row, and cell without overwriting other each other’s work.

Access OKRs where your team needs it.

Spreadsheets aren’t easily interconnected - you will need all your teams to go to your OKR doc regularly to keep it updated. Your teams can easily add and edit their OKRs from anywhere (e.g. their team docs, 1:1 docs, personal notes, and more) while all the information automatically syncs to your central Coda OKR hub.
This makes it easy to bring the OKRs from your planning docs into the docs and tools your teams use for execution of said plans.

Keep the team informed.

Spreadsheets are not good at communication and automation. Coda docs can send emails or Slack messages automatically and flexibly. At Coda for example, we send an automated message to OKR owners who haven’t updated their OKR status in two weeks instead of having program managers manually hunt for updates.

Handle advanced features, like dependencies.

Spreadsheets have a flat storage model - this that are easy in a real database can be incredibly hard in a spreadsheet. In advanced OKR implementations, companies often want to add features like dependency tracking, for example, to track that all teams required to achieve a KR have signed off and allocated resources to the KR. Implementations of this in spreadsheets is possible, but incredibly complicated, resulting in a complex and hard to maintain spreadsheet. In Coda, this can be set up in seconds as a relationship between the OKR and a dependency table.

Ready to get started? We’re experts in helping companies with OKR planning.

We’ve consulted and helped develop OKR solutions for many companies and can custom fit you with an OKR process that sticks. As I mentioned earlier, I have extensive experience with OKRs from 14 years at Google as VP of Engineering. I have been helping customers introduce and tune their OKR process to their specific needs and would be very happy to help you as well, if needed. Check out my recent episode about OKR planning on the startup podcast. Explore how Pinterest’s Product team gets aligned and tracks their goals on Coda. And try this super simple org wide OKR tracker to get started. Let me know how I can help!

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