Values and why it’s important not to simply stick them up on your wall

by Lawrence Walsh | Jan 20, 2020

time icon 6 mins

In today’s edition of Giant Talk – the world’s first OKR podcast we talk values and how Spiceworks of Austin, Texas have integrated values throughout their OKRs.

Lawrence: Hi everybody. Welcome back to Giant Talk – The world’s first OKR podcast. This afternoon I am delighted to welcome Scott DiValerio from Spiceworks, based in Austin, Texas. Hi, Scott.

Scott: Hey Lawrence. Good to talk with you this morning.

Lawrence: Absolutely. Thank you for joining us. So today, me and Scott are going to be talking about the kind of unique way, really, that you guys at Spiceworks have linked OKRs and your value stream, right?

Scott: Definitely.

Lawrence: So, I guess Just give us a quick introduction to yourself and what Spiceworks do.

Scott: You bet. Yeah, I started many years ago, actually at Price Waterhouse, and then transitioned into operating roles at companies like Microsoft, Lenovo, company called Coin Star and then Retail Me Not. And now, Spiceworks. At Spiceworks we basically connect IT buyers with IT sellers. Great company that got started about 14 years ago with the view to try to help IT professionals in their day to day job and develop some free apps that would track troubled tickets. They would do network monitoring and inventory management in the small, mid-size kind of IT shops and from that realise that they wanted to have a community to talk to each other and to talk to brands and so built out of community where today, you know, we have roughly 6 to 7 million monthly uniques that come in and work on the Spiceworks platform and try to get information about how to work within their systems. Put new systems in, what’s latest technology and connect with great brands to be able to purchase technology at the right point in time.

Lawrence: Cool. So how long have you been with the company?

Scott: Ah, close to two years. So, I came in around December of 2017 and been working with the founders and the exec team in order to kind of re pivot the business a bit and get its words. You know, focusing on really providing great connections. And it’s kind of how we got to connecting what we’re trying to do from an outcome or OKR, ours to kind of the overall strategy and then to our value system.

Lawrence: Right. OK, interesting. So, what’s your actual role within the organisation?

Scott: I’m Chief Operating and Financial Officer. So, it encompasses the revenue team, which for us includes sales, client’s success and our delivery team, which is both at ops as well as content creation and research of business analytics. Then the Finance Organisation, which obviously includes your traditional accounting and finance. And I also have our HR team and our IT/ Dev ops team. So kind of a broad role in one that allows me to kind of work across the number of the organisations and in support of a great product and engineering team as well.

Lawrence: Wow. So that is a really broad role and you must have quite a few direct reports?

Scott: A few a few. You know, I think one of the things that it always try to do is bring on great people to help out and I have a great person that’s running our revenue team with me, which is really certainly helpful. And then certainly HR and IT ops in, and the finance rolls. So, you know, five or six direct reports, but they’re really strong people, which, which is really helpful.

Lawrence: Amazing! And how big are the team at Spiceworks?

Scott: Spiceworks in total is roughly 230 people today across the world. And, ah, you know, we have operations in Austin, Texas, and some satellite folks across the U. S. Sales folks across the U. S. And then a group of about 30 folks or so in the UK with a couple of folks in Australia and some folks in Spain, So kind of a mix. But, you know, mostly centralised in London and Austin Texas.

Lawrence: Okay, fantastic. So, you’ve already mentioned the topic that we are here to talk about, which is OKRs. So how long is it since OKRs were introduced at Spiceworks?

Scott: Yeah it’s probably been within the last 18 months or so in the form that they are today. And you know, the way we did it was about the month or so before I joined the company we had a new SVP of product engineering join, Manish Dixit, and he took a look at the what was happening with product engineering and overall, in working with J. Hallberg, our founder, we came up with a strategy that really was based off the three key pillars that we need to do for the business. Which was to simplify our core business while we invested in data to build overall connections. And really, what that was around was transforming the business that we had, which was an ad ops type business which was generating significant amounts of data repositioning that data to be able to provide insights the folks that are working on our platform, our IT professionals and the like, and to provide more, market intelligence and connections to our brands. You know, the largest technology brands across the globe. And in doing that, we have an overall pillar around our people and making sure that, you know, we have great people in that we’re empowering them to do their role. As we set those three main pillars with the foundation being the people, we then set about setting key objectives. In order to obtain those key pillars which we then tied our version of OKRs to that to be able to manage the business and increase the velocity and the product and engineering team and increase the performance across our revenue and the rest of the teams across the company.

Lawrence: Okay, fantastic! So, they’ve had a pretty well-structured set up then? And it’s born out of these three key areas for you. This sort of simplifying best build. Is that right?

Scott: Yeah, it did. And you know, one of the things that it did. You know, for example, when Manish first came in and product engineering, I think he spent some time trying to see what the team was working on and how many projects and those types of things. And I think we had 53 or 54 projects going on in product and engineering. Today we have around 15 and those 15 are tied back to these three key principles, three keys strategic pillars and as we set up the product roadmap on a three year basis and then a one year basis and then a quarterly basis, it really is all around. How are we hitting outcomes and objectives from those three to be able to do that. Which has allowed us to be significantly more efficient in how we bring products to market and more efficient in how we fix the current product suite so that it we can deliver it at a much more efficient rate.

Lawrence: Right. OK, so tell me about how you guys have sort of set up your structure with OKRs within Spiceworks then, because I seem to remember you telling me that there’s kind of a bit of a OKR agile hybrid going on.

Scott: Definitely, definitely. Yeah. One of things we did do is we implemented agile in order to be able to get a structure and then set the OKRs based on that agile framework and so as we sit down each quarter and take a look. It’s OK. What did we achieve? And then what do we need to achieve to be able to reach that three-year planning goal at 24 month winning goal, that one-year planning goal. We then set clear objectives that come out of each of those pillars and it’s usually, you know, 10 or 15 key things that need to get done under each pillar that are then grouped up into squads. That then equate into what I would say about 15 key projects that we work on in any particular quarter. Um, with those objectives tied back to individual performance reviews and overall department performance as well. And so what it’s allowed us really to do is not only improve the overall velocity in our product and engineering team, it’s allowed our marketing team be much more structured and us to set key performance criteria, OKRs for our marketing team that line up with what the product team is doing, which then allows us to set up those same things with our sales team, so that we have a much more planned way that we bring things in to market. What we want to talk to our customers about, what we want to talk to our IT professionals about, and able to do that while increasing the overall margins of the business and improving the overall product that we are delivering across the board.

Lawrence: Okay, interesting. So, we mentioned at the beginning what we are talking about really is the link that you guys have set up between OKRs and values. So, how important are values within Spiceworks?

Great first 10 minutes from Season 4 Episode 4 of Giant Talk. If you want to listen to more from Scott and Lawrence listen to the podcast episode here.

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