10/14/22 Note to Flipside

A brief history of management frameworks

Dave Balter
5 min readOct 17, 2022

Back at dunnhumby, an organization with 2,500 employees, we delivered the strategy of the business through a framework called the OGSM.

Yes, I agree, it’s an awkward acronym, unless of course you don’t have the mind of middle schooler.

Anyhoo, OGSM stands for Objective, Goals, Strategies and Measures, and it was a goal setting plan designed by the Japanese in the 1950s. dunnhumby apparently borrowed the framework from one of its largest customers, Proctor & Gamble, who were gifted the framework from the Japanese in a 10-day fasting ceremony (that last part isn’t true, but would be cool if it was).

OGSMs are like OKRs, but I guess not really, mainly because saying OKR doesn’t make you giggle.

Actually, OKRs are like Okra but without the bitter aftertaste. That’s in italics because, strangely, that’s the tagline that was used to market OKRs when they entered the management landscape in the 1970s. While catchy, the tag was dropped because of a lawsuit filed by the national vegetable commission, who felt it was a trademark infringement on their own Okra tag, If you can’t beat them, Okra them. Which, clearly, didn’t help sell any Okra at all.

None of this is actually true, but what is is that OKRs are an evolution of MBOs, which stands for “Management by Objectives”, and were first rolled out by Peter Drucker in 1954 in his seminal book, The Practice of Management. In another controversial legal issue, MBOs were all the rage until the similarly-named HBO launched 18 years later, which led to the landmark HBO vs. MBO (1972) supreme court case. Before an official ruling occurred, Intel CEO Andy Grove evolved MBOs into OKRs. Chalk a lucky win up for HBO right there.

Grove’s move was savvy, as OKRs blossomed and apparently became Google’s framework for planning — and were later identified as the key reason Google crushed Ask Jeeves. And, who doesn’t want to be like Google? Personally, I’ve tried leading by OKRs a few times and find them to be overly complex. Then again, last I checked I haven’t built a company as large as Google, so what do I know? (PS: I’ve also tried Okra, and find it acceptable).

Anyway, after practicing OGSMs for years with dunnhumby, we started teaching the framework to others at places like like intelligent.ly, (where Fred Destin titles it sorta like it was my framework, which caused what can only be described as an international kerfuffle, and due to ‘tortious abominations’ I’m now unwelcome in Japan), and ultimately Smarterer.

Later on, the folks at Pluralsight acquired Smarterer, and we suggested they manage by OGSMs; in one historical meeting, they shuttered the blinds in the conference room, dimmed the lights and whispered that the OGSM wasn’t for them. A robot butler silently approached (powered by a Tesla battery) carrying a slip of paper that offered one simple, unassuming word. That word was “Playbook”.

1 of 6 Flipside Rocks for Q4 2022

The Playbook had no nifty acronym. I’m pretty sure PLYBK offended the vowel commission, who has long unionized to ensure that vowels remain embedded in any corporate management framework (you, of course, realize that we aptly named Smarterer with an extra ‘e’ to curry favor from said commission. And possibly that this was recision for our u-less naming of BzzAgent. Pointless insights, but still useful for background in your own leadership management journey).

1 of 6 Flipside Rocks for Q4 2022

The truth is The Playbook seems to be an offshoot of the reveled parable of Rocks, Pebbles, Sand. I know, I know, the bebop in you is immediately reminded of the Stanley Clarke jazz album, but it’s not that (and of course Clarke, under pressure from the legal goons at Universal Music Group, later had to change the name of the album to Slab, Gravel, Rubble which didn’t help with sales one bit).

1 of 6 Flipside Rocks for Q4 2022

The Playbook is actually a riff on a mindfulness framework delivered by a totally made-up philosophy professor on a date unknown at a school that was not HBS. But here’s the key for your lock: the framework has now been wonderfully bastardized for executive planning.

It works like this: a leadership team outlines the Rocks 🪨 — they gotta fill that jar first. Once the Rocks are clear, then the organization can fill in the Pebbles and Sand ⌛️(some versions add a 4th element, Water 🌊, which once added, unfortunately just makes sludge. After years of politicking and lobbying, the water commission finally conceded they weren’t that useful in the analogy, and now duly focus on real things, like solving droughts).

Today, Flipside uses a version of the Playbook to plan its quarterly objectives.

You saw a bit of that earlier this week in our all company meeting (full deck sent to the company but, confidential — with apologies — to you, dear reader). Apparently if you add cutesy pictures to your Rocks, they become more achievable. Or at least more delicious.

If you want access to a template version of The Playbook, Pillar.vc has it served up, piping hot. You’ll notice that, like all good management frameworks, Flipside’s Playbook is an adaptation, borrowing from the best of the frameworks before — and contemplating the frameworks that will come after.

I implore you to keep all this quiet, of course, with the acknowledgement that Flipside has been contacted by the management framework commission, and is no longer able to comment on anything about anyone, anywhere.