Kate Boatman, Vice President of Digital Product and Business Management at T-Mobile

KATE BOATMAN
VP of Digital Product & Business Management, T-Mobile

WorkBoard at T-Mobile

Sponsor:
Chief Product Officer

Business Process Owner:
VP of Digital Product

WorkBoard Scope:
Digital Product Department-Wide, OKR Coach Certification, and Results Management Leader Certification

Key impacts:
Strategic alignment across a globally distributed Digital Product Department, adoption of Outcome Mindset Methodology, increased cross-functional accountability and systematic learning

OKR coaches:
117

Customer since:
2021

How do you approach enterprise-wide change across a globally-distributed company of more than 75,000 employees?

Kate Boatman, Vice President of Digital Product and Business Management at T-Mobile: One of the things that we're working on in T-Mobile is a large-scale transformation. An alignment on great outcomes is foundational for our overall efficacy and ensuring that we have an operating rhythm that will lead to success. Our mission here at T-Mobile is changing wireless for the good. What we're striving to do is minimize external dependencies for digital to allow the team to move faster and with greater authority. Digital sits at the intersection of business, people, and technology. It's a customer-facing entity here at T-Mobile, and it is an important part of our future and our growth strategy. This is our manifesto. It's the vision and mission set forth by our executive leadership. Our vision places the customer at the center of all we do, and the success of our digital and technology teams is ensuring that our technology and our solutions are in service to the customer, not the other way around.

You’ve been a strong OKR champion within your organization. Tell us about T-Mobile’s OKR journey and the value of OKRs in large-scale transformation.

An OKR culture is absolutely critical to realize and accelerate a collective mission to mobilize with speed, and that's important in an ever-changing market conditions, especially in telecommunications. OKRs are very simply and elegantly binding together purpose at scale.

OKRs ensure three things. First, it ensures that the work of the many march towards a common destination. Shared outcomes are critical to our cross-functional and highly collaborative organization. Second, it ensures the team’s continuity in driving focus and accountability. Delivery towards a mission often requires long-range planning, staying the course, and is imperative to driving the results that matter the most. Finally, OKRs ensure a connection to our customer value. At the core of our manifesto is our customer. When OKRs are born from the vision and mission, they support both the what and the why.

Our O's or our Objectives are intentionally aspirational. We have five. Our objectives don't change very often, as they reflect a pinnacle destination in a long-range journey. Our KRs are measurable. They're iterative, and they're dynamic. They do change, and they're purposefully measured against a smaller time frame, usually a quarter. We are inspired daily by the journey itself and can see progress in shorter time frames with confidence that we are on the right path.

An important part of an OKR culture is leaning into the red. We don't always hit every KR. In fact, we expect that we aren't going to, but red and leaning into it, learning from it, is how we adjust, so we can continue on a path to excellence and achievement. As we're going through a major reorganization, where our team is growing rapidly, OKRs are key to keeping everyone aligned, even as we have thousands of people coming into the organization. Equally as important as having OKRs is transparency and accessibility, ensuring that OKRs become central to an organization's operating rhythm. For us, WorkBoard isn't just a tool, it's a platform enabling rhythms of business towards common success. I don't have to ask my peers or my boss or other teams across the company, "Are we aligned?" I can see it. I can see it in my teams, I can see it in other teams' organizations, and OKRs have become an active part of our ways of working.

“WorkBoard isn't just a tool, it's a platform enabling rhythms of business towards common success.”

What are some of the OKR learnings or growing pains you’ve experienced during this enterprise-wide transition to an outcome-focused organization?

One of the things in going into an OKR culture is the importance of active leadership involvement. I cannot overstate this enough. Even Marcus, our Chief Product Officer, took the WorkBoard Outcome Mindset Coach Certification, and he preached OMM [Outcome Mindset Methodology] at every turn. It's very important that leaders and teams are equally aligned and engaged in the entire process.

Secondly, OKRs aren't just a check-the-box process, and they are far more than just measuring KPIs. We have a value at T-Mobile called Dream Big and Deliver. OKRs are an active way for us to do this at scale. And you don't get there overnight. You have to infuse OKRs into the DNA with embedded champions, coaches, and training. It takes true commitment to a longer-term process. It's an evolution as it is a part of a journey.

Some of the traps of OKRs are very important to understand. We've learned these at T-Mobile along the way. The first one is there's no such thing as a perfect OKR. They just don't exist. Don't let perfect be the enemy of good. You just have to start. From there, it's iterative. Second is you cannot delegate OKRs into any particular team or organization. Every person, every team, needs to own it. Managers delegating their own involvement can potentially put a team off course. The third big no-no here is limiting OKRs to your own organization. While that will drive some level of change and success, what we have found is that OKRs need to extend beyond a particular team. They're very cross-functional in nature. And finally, and maybe the biggest warning, is that OKRs are not a set-and-forget type of process. Old habits do die hard. We need to embed the results into the fabric of our culture, and this is one of the things that we're continuing to evolve as T-Mobile is on our own journey.

Tell us a little more about this idea of the perfect OKR. How did you navigate the urge to set perfect OKRs and potentially try to do too much as you were just getting started?

Old habits die hard, and one of the things that you do frequently is worry that if you put down something less than perfect, you're going to steer the ship in the wrong direction, and it took a lot of coaching to get us through that. I think the very first time we set OKRs, everyone went into it with a certain level of dis-ease. But coming out of that first time, we realized very quickly that there is no such thing. And now that we're on a journey, every single time we do this, it gets a little bit easier, and we evolve it to be a little bit tighter.

“You don't get there overnight. You have to infuse OKRs into the DNA with embedded champions, coaches, and training. It takes true commitment to a longer-term process.”

How do you ensure managers and leaders become champions of the process and don’t simply delegate the process to someone else, as you mentioned?

There are two sides of the recipe for success. One, great coaches. You have to invest in infrastructure around OKRs, and this is where the WorkBoard team has been so powerful in the partnership with T-Mobile. The second part of the recipe is you really need to own it. For me as a leader, it means instilling a change management process so that people are involved, not just at the beginning, but in the middle and along the way. The final thing I would say on this is you need to lead by example. Marcus is a perfect example of what that means to live and breathe an OKR culture, and it's allowed other leaders to do the same.

T-Mobile is an organization of 75,000 employees. How do you approach getting everyone aligned while incentivizing people to adopt this new Digital Operating Rhythm?

The path to success is paved with alignment. Alignment is an important part of what we need to achieve in order to drive success at T-Mobile. Alignment is a compass. Alignment allows you, from any relative position, to make sure that you're centered towards that North Star. Through our Objectives, and then being able to measure them with Key Results, we constantly are taking out our compass, whether it's weekly, or daily, or monthly, or in a larger group quarterly. So ensuring that we have alignment, not just up and down but across.

For us, WorkBoard is a service to our overall culture, it's an important part to be able to go into this application to enable a rhythm of business. It removes the idea of what I call ‘death by PowerPoint and Excel spreadsheets.’ Very honestly, when we started this process, we resorted very quickly back to the tools that we knew, which were primarily Excel. You should have seen the math inside of T-Mobile, trying to share Excels and get things updated, it's just not a natural tool and platform to really build an operating foundation for an OKR culture. And this is where WorkBoard, the platform, really is at the heartbeat of how we deliver on our operating model.

How do OKRs work in parallel with individual performance goals?

Our OKRs are baked into our performance management plan. So, T-Mobile, as a large company, has a fairly structured overall performance plan. It's an annual plan with quarterly evaluation, fairly typical. However, OKRs allow teams to also self-evaluate and know where they're at along the performance journey. This has absolutely been one of the single most important things in terms of creating a more, not only a performance-based culture, but a feedback culture.

You need to make sure that how people are acting, how people are showing up, and how they're getting work done, is equally as important as the results themselves. It is the culture that is the how, that will ultimately fuel innovation one day. So by investing in the how now, you are ensuring a path to innovation in the future. This is where I think the OKR platform and OKR methodology is such a great combination to having a standard performance structure.

When you bring teams in and start to do retrospectives together, take a look, go into the tool, drive dialogue with action, it's very powerful. It results in strategic conversation, and people can see it in action. So, it becomes less academic and just a powerful way of working instead of a process or a check-the-box type of activity. It's a very exciting shift. And it sets us up for a high-growth culture of richer collaboration.

“It is the culture that is the how, that will ultimately fuel innovation one day. So by investing in the how now, you are ensuring a path to innovation in the future.”

You’ve talked about T-Mobile’s adoption of a Digital Operating Rhythm. How have you ensured a successful transition away from a manual or analog operating cadence to digital and outcome-focused rhythms and rituals?

There are three pillars of success. The first is to empower and invest in support. We need to empower a Results Management Team to move our operating rhythm forward. While our team, our organization, and every individual in it needs to own it, it still needs to have a support ecosystem to be able to run it, manage it, and make sure it thrives. We have spent some time investing in an operating team, a Results Management Team, that helps support our two 2500-plus person organizations. This allows us to plan. This allows us to manage the platform and make sure we keep moving.

The second pillar is to move forward, but sometimes you need just pause and look backward. There needs to be a dedication and willingness to go in and review retrospectives, to be able to wallow a bit in it, it’s not only important to lean into the red, but it's also crucial to take a look at what part of our OKR process and learning can we bring in to change. So it's not just a retrospective on the work itself. It's a retrospective on the entire OKR framework.

Finally, and definitely not lastly, is to own it always. I can't underscore this enough, we need to own this all the way from top to bottom and side to side, for it to really become infused into the DNA. You cannot delegate away ownership and accountability. And that's at the heart of an OKR. One thing we’ve been able to do is to lean into WorkBoard as experts in a digitized application to support our operating rhythm and rely on their expertise on the OKR framework.

Tell us more about how you empower those support teams. What is at the intersection of the Digital Operating Rhythm and how those teams are organized?

There are two core areas at the intersection. One is our coaches. We have invested in coaching and that's led by our own internal team that manages our operating rhythm. Coaches are core. They pull everything into a central hub and spoke model. For example, I have a coach from another team. So they're not involved in the day-to-day work of the Kate Boatman team, yet they are there to support the building of our OKR and framework and enable our teams to have deep discussions. Secondly, is the platform itself. It really is almost a centrifuge, so you’re able to connect and triangulate all of the goals in the organization, to be able to sometimes question them and make sure that we're tracking towards our North Star.

“We need to empower a Results Management Team to move our operating rhythm forward. While our team, our organization, and every individual in it needs to own it, it still needs to have a support ecosystem to be able to run it, manage it, and make sure it thrives.”

When it comes to achieving OKRs, how do you interpret anything less than 100%?

So this has been a big change for us. Oftentimes, when you go into a big room and there's a red on the board, it’s scary for teams. We're all striving towards green, we're looking at those Christmas colors and very worried about what the conversation means if you're red. From a leadership perspective, you need to make sure that there is a safe space to talk about what things can be changed. And this is happening all the way from top to bottom.

I sat in with our CEO recently, and he said, "We need to spend more time on those areas that need help." And that's how we should look at them. They need help, maybe a shift in vision. So it's about inspiring teams to become more strategic and showcase that. In another leadership meeting I sit in every week, we call it the ‘Path to Green.’ So it still has some green notion, it's a Path to Green, and it creates some freedom for people to talk about what they are going to do in terms of learning and changing instead of just focusing on the red.

Tell us how OKRs play a part in promoting diversity and inclusion, especially within the many cross-functional teams at T-Mobile.

For our employee culture, we've really embraced the idea that diversity of thinking helps build the best future. Not only the best products, but new ways of working. We have a new program in Digital called the TOPS Program in which we invite other areas of the business into our working teams that share these common OKRs. We bring in other perspectives and this has really created a lot of creativity, innovation, and true career opportunities. Think about our care or retail front line who suddenly have a tour of duty in a digital team.

The Digital Team is highly cross-functional. A digital business kind of touches everything. It's marketing, it's technology, it's sales, it's service. So we have the great fortune to already have to operate in a very collaborative way. Now we have an operating model that embraces true diversity of teams, so instead of "Functions doing things,” we now have developers sitting next to frontline experts, sitting next to designers, or product people, and they all share common objectives. And the common objective doesn't discriminate because we're really working on behalf of a goal and our customer on a day-to-day basis.

What does it really mean to own something at T-Mobile? When you talk about cross-functional teams coming together, who really owns the Objective?

Everybody owns it. I know that's sort of a cop-out answer, but it's not. T-Mobile is built on a number of what we call, "Values in action." They're not just academic values. We celebrate them day-to-day by showcasing how we bring these values to life in the way that we work. One of our core values is actually, "Act like an owner." So we celebrate it by every person on any team, feeling like they own the piece of work. So if you're a software developer, you are responsible just as much for the customer as the product person, or the designer. So you are a part of that ownership. Everything that we do is almost set up through our OKR structure, like a mini-CEO organization, where you have the opportunity to be empowered and enabled to deliver your best work and the work of your life.

“Now we have an operating model that embraces true diversity of teams, so instead of 'Functions doing things,' we now have developers sitting next to frontline experts, sitting next to designers, or product people, and they all share common objectives.”

Tell us about the role of your dedicated Results Team. How do you select the right members for your Results Team and scale its impact to support all of T-Mobile?

The Results Team doesn't have to be incredibly giant, to be honest. It's a support ecosystem that is able to centralize and see across the team. However, when you have an ‘own it’ type of culture like we do at T-Mobile, it puts the power in a more decentralized fashion, so all our teams across Marcus's large organization have a portion of Marcus's OKRs. This way you don't put the burden of owning it on a support team, they're more or less a coaching team to make sure two things happen. One, we get across alignment, because sometimes you get so wrapped up in your vertical day-to-day, you want to make sure that you do look side to side. And second, they're making sure that we get wiser, richer, and deeper in terms of what we do.

Early on in this process, we had asked for volunteers, but we put out a list of criteria in terms of what kind of qualifications made a good coach, and we ask for true commitment. So you get a lot of hand-raisers, but if you're going to coach, you've got to be all in for the season, you got to be all in for the team. We drafted, but we also put forth some strong criteria on who we are looking for. This allowed the team to really be involved, and it allow those people to step forward and raise their hand. Again, you asked me earlier about how we get away from a culture that is mandated and instead invites in the team in a broader community.

How do these operating rhythms and the methodology allow you to bend technology but still meet the customers where they are?

The OKR process allows you to be very focused and structured, yet nimble. It reminds me a lot of Agile, which is a part of how we get work done. There's a lot of business agility in being able to be nimble, yet retain the structure, so you're not constantly changing your larger objectives, but you can course-correct depending on what's going on in the market or what's going on with business. T-Mobile has gone from a smaller telecommunications company that's just selling wireless and phones, to now we have a high-speed internet business, a four-brand prepaid business, and an entire division that's beyond the smartphone and focused on IOT and other areas. So having that agility is really critical as we think about whatever comes next, and that's quite frankly where we should always be, we should be hoping that how we're working right now is designed with the future in mind.

How are your Digital Operating Rhythm and greater alignment helping you experiment, iterate, and learn faster from and for your customers?

The Digital rhythms are so powerful, I can't underscore enough. Having operational structure is absolutely critical to being able to grow nimbly. I think that oftentimes people think operational structure puts a rigidity around what you do and boxes things in. It actually provides a framework, so you can constantly evaluate and think about how you apply and execute your strategy. True operational rigor ties together the strategy on one side with execution on the other, and it allows you to maneuver because we all know that the best laid plans are always going to end up a little bit different than expected. An operating foundation allows you to rapidly evaluate, lean into those reds, and make course corrections.

Do you see those rhythms and newly-achieved alignment as part of an arsenal in the war for talent? Are they helping T-Mobile attract and retain talent?

Absolutely. Today's talent situation is no joke. People have more opportunities than ever, and people are looking for a kind of culture. And this is where really investing in an employee-driven culture, a culture with purpose around goals and long-term vision is appealing to today's jobseekers. So when we sit down and talk to new and fresh talent, we’re not just talking the talk, we're walking the walk. And I can tell you from screening new employees, that's very meaningful. Culture is just as meaningful, and more and more employees are asking, "Show me. Show me how you've done this."

“True operational rigor ties together the strategy on one side with execution on the other… An operating foundation allows you to rapidly evaluate, lean into those reds, and make course corrections.”

What practices or rhythms are you finding most beneficial? How are you setting the tone with your Change Management Team?

On my team, I've instilled what I call OKR every other Friday. I bring my leadership team together, and we evaluate all of the OKRs. But on that particular Friday, we just have a wallow in one or two of the areas that need attention. That way, we can really get in and have a great conversation around one or two things, but it gets us in the mindset. So, by having that practice, we’re able to lead by example.

And don't forget about the practice of constantly coming back to your OKRs. Simply showing up at the end of the quarter and saying, "I hope this worked out," doesn’t work. If you're on a weight loss journey, you got to get on the scale every now and then.

We’re now finding a lot more meaning in connecting with our peers cross-functionally. In fact, just a couple weeks ago, there was a group of VPs that organically said, "We need to all get together and make sure our goals are lining up in a way that we can help our teams measure success across a bigger swath." So that has been a big change. Oftentimes you have the conversations, but they happen later in the game instead of early on. I'm talking about a conversation that happened in Q1 before Q2. That's a new thing for us. I found that to be refreshing and it happened organically. Nobody dictated that on this day we needed to have this. But that type of activity that happens organically will land itself into our operating rhythm. I can probably assure you that next quarter, we're going to do this a little bit more ceremoniously.

The platform was what actually drove the conversation in many ways because, for instance, I was going through my OKR process, and I had a question about one of my peers. I didn't need to go to him or send an email or do the Slack. I just could dive right into his set of emerging OKRs, and it was amazing. I could interpret what was going on and already had a set of strategic questions to ask. The platform itself is really an enabler. It's beyond a tool, it's foundational and a core element to our operating rhythm now.

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About Kate Boatman

Kate Boatman serves as the Vice President of Digital Product and Business Management for T-Mobile US, where she is driving the omnichannel expansion through digital transformation for the Consumer and Emerging business lines. The OKR methodology has been instrumental in accelerating success across commercial outcomes, product excellence, and a culture of innovation and collaboration. She will discuss the importance of getting the leadership team aligned, and how balancing aspirations and achievement requires not just OKRs but a digital operating rhythm that enables focus and faster decisions every week.

About T-Mobile

Founded in 1999, T-Mobile is America's supercharged ‘Un-carrier,’ offering a 4G LTE and nationwide 5G network. T-Mobile's controlling stockholder is Germany's Deutsche Telekom. While the brand operates in parts of Europe, U.S. is its largest territory with over 109 million mobile customers (as of March 2022). With U.S. headquarters in in Bellevue, Wash., T-Mobile provides services through its subsidiaries and operates its flagship brands, T-Mobile, Metro by T-Mobile, and Sprint.

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