Objective Key Results (OKR) - An introduction

Objective Key Results (OKR)

Goal setting for the teams around strategic objectives has always been prevalent. Why the new interest in OKR? The answer may lie in the huge traction and adoption of Agile across organizations.

 

The intent of this blog is to simplify the context of OKR and to draw a parallel with agile ways of working. As a coach simplifying the context with the right intent and starting with the core, just enough basics is the key to working with OKR’s or with any other tool. Creating quick success stories and cross pollination within teams is one of the main factors to ensure the right adoption.

 

Objective Key Results is a simple goal setting mechanism within an organization. Setting goals for individuals and teams motivates them, gives them a sense of accomplishment and brings inclusivity while pushing individuals to achieve their goals and increasing productivity. Let’s define some key terms for better understanding.

 

Objective is a picture of a better future. A statement which is short , engaging and motivating. What one wants to accomplish, significant, action oriented and aspirational. Simply – “what is it you want?”

 

Key results explain how the objectives can be measured. These are quantifiable outcomes. As the acronym SMART suggests, KR’s should be smart, measurable, aligned , relevant to the strategic objectives and timebound.

 

Activities describe the actions or initiatives to be taken to achieve the stated objectives.

 

The strategic objectives or the vision is set by the leadership and it is cascaded to the lower levels. The activities are undertaken by the teams and the OKR’s are set by them in alignment with the strategic goals.

 

Usually the strategic goals are set annually and cascaded to the department level, which sets quarterly OKR ‘s, which are then further broken down to team level and individual level. 

 

How to set OKR’s?

 

Conduct OKR sessions at all levels to bring in transparency and to onboard teams. Start setting fewer strategic objectives (maximum/recommended is 5) . Set 3-4 Key results for each of the objectives. It is a good practice to set tolerances of threshold for each of the goals.

 

Break the high level objectives into projects or initiatives and assign them to the teams.

 

Teams should then get together and pick the Key results to be showcased to achieve the objective. These results have to undergo a quarterly review to check if the teams are making progress or if the management intervention is needed to remove any impediments.

 

Similarly managers in discussion with individuals have to identify what activities they will have to undertake to achieve the team goals. Frequent cadence meetings should be called to check if there are any show stoppers . Also frequent  progress review meetings help teams to maintain focus on their  goals and to ensure early detection and resolution of issues.

 

Usually goals are set and forgotten. This shows performance gaps and lack of focus, Doing so results in losing confidence on OKR’s. Also having haphazard meetings takes away the focus from the goals Cadence meetings should become a habit, it will help to keep results on top of the mind. More frequent meetings can be done at the team and individual level, quarterly meetings at the department level and annual review meetings at the strategic level. Choose and customize the cadence based on the needs of the organization.

 

OKR’ s share the same mindset as Agile. Below are a few principles which overlap.

 

        • Bidirectional flow of the objectives
        • Empowering the teams to set their goals by being aligned with the vision of the organization.
        • Frequent review process to support fail faster culture.
        • Shorter cadence meetings to shorten the feedback loop.
        • Prioritizing the objectives and whenever required reprioritizing them
        • Higher level annual goals set at the top level. More detailed and incremental goals set at the team level. 
        • Outcome/Value based results.

How to focus on OKR’s while using SCRUM Framework?

 

        • Activities to achieve the Key results can be part of the Product and Sprint backlog.
        • Sprint Planning can help prioritize which Key results can be achieved and come up with activities to achieve those.
        • DOD can showcase what percentage of the Key results will be delivered to achieve doneness of the sprint.
        • Daily scrum can be used by individuals to voice out any impediments they face to complete the activities which help in achieving the key results
        • Sprint Retrospective can be used to review the progress or understand the effectiveness of the activities undertaken to achieve the key results.
        • In organizations where agile ways of working are introduced, bringing OKR’s as goal setting tools could be effective. Changing the old ways of goal setting mechanisms which is usually a top down approach set by leadership and reviewed annually and managers reviewing their teams to understand their progress quarterly could be challenging.
        • Cadence meetings are considered overhead or a repetition.  Teams and individuals find the key results a bit overwhelming all though they are set by them.
        • Starting small with fewer objectives and key results will be a better approach in onboarding teams. Publishing the progress of the teams on information radiators would instill a sense of ownership towards their work.

We believe  combining OKR and Agile practices go a long way in  engaging the team and aligning them with the strategic endeavours. This article only broaches the topic of OKR’s but should help the uninitiated to get some direction.

 

Sudha Madhuri Burra

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