PlantVillage has received funding from Schmidt Futures. Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google was influential in bringing OKRs as project management to Google during its early days. OKRs” stands for Objectives and Key Results. PlantVillage received professional support from Raya Kuo and Ryan Burke on the development and deployment of OKRs. We want to share a little bit about that and to orientate new partners as they join us.
OKRs: Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) comprise an objective or clearly defined goal, and 3–5 key result-specific measures used to track the achievement of that goal. We have received professional insights from Eric Schmidt and Google on OKRs, which we already use with partners such as CGIAR for project implementation. For the CETC IL, we will start with the RFA solicitation, where we will encourage applicants to set their objectives and expected key results. We learned from the Markets, Risk & Resilience (MRR) IL at UC Davis through the “All In” program how coaching and capacity building could already occur at the grant writing stage and the strong benefits they have for the applicants. We will provide online tutorials and personalized training for the applicants and can arrange to have a larger training from a Schmidt Futures representative.
For the projects selected for funding, we will set up an “Annual and Quarterly” OKR structure in a shared Google Sheets document. OKRs follow a waterfall tier of priority and importance and therefore are hierarchical. The annual OKR begins with a mission statement that aligns with the overall goal of the CETC IL to mitigate the effects of current and emerging biotic threats to crops of particular importance to food security through a combined research and local capacity development approach. From there, we flow down into attainable goals that will advance the group to successfully achieve our annual OKRs by the end of the term. From these annual goals, we will break down and derive 4 sets of quarterly goals. Each quarter runs approximately 3 months and includes 1 week of reflection and evaluation in preparation for the next quarter. Each quarter focuses on a different core component of the annual OKRs. For example, if the annual of a portfolio partner was to expand some predictive tool from one pest to another, the first quarter would be used to focus on learnings of the current predictive tools and understand how and why it works (if it does). The next two quarters would focus on the development and testing of the new models and the last quarter would focus on monitoring and evaluating its performance in a real world setting.
From this quarterly process,it is simple to set up sub-OKRs. Sub-OKRs are the next waterfall tier from quarterly OKRs. They enable intensive Key Results (KRs) to be broken down by the team leader to become even more measurable and specific. Sub-OKRs are optional and largely dependent on the project or team accountable for the KR. An example of when sub-OKRs are helpful is when working with an external collaborator, CIP, and data collection. In this example, the quarterly objective would be “Collect a large database of sweetpotato images that include the top 5 diseases” with KR 1: Collect 1,000 images of sweetpotato virus disease. In this case, the CIP team would break down KR 1 into a sub OKR, where the objective becomes Collect 1,000 images of sweetpotato virus disease and the KRs accurately reflect how the CIP team will achieve this like KR 1: Collect 200 images of sweetpotato virus disease at the onset of symptoms in Research Field A by May 11. This level of specificity is crucial in successfully advancing large projects with multiple international collaborators.
Another critical benefit of OKRs is accountability. Each OKR, whether a part of annual, quarterly or sub OKRs, has an owner which assumes responsibility for leading the progress of the OKR. This diversifies the leadership, appropriately assigns activities based on persons’ or actors’ strength, and tangibly ties the organizations to work together even when remote and on different continents.