OKR Pragmatic 5

Objective & Key Results

Pragmatic 5: How to get started with OKR

Objectives & Key Results (OKR) let my heart beats faster! I love and hate them at the same time. Why? They have some simple principles, which are easy to understand, but hard to implement. I see a lot of teams struggling, e.g. understanding the difference output, outcome & impact. And Stakeholder Management is a challenge. It’s about changing our way of thinking. That has never been an easy one.

In this article, I share my PRAGMATIC 5 about Objectives & Key Result and how to get started in an agile environment.

Because Google is doing it…

“Google is a successful company, and they’re using OKR as their goal-setting framework? Then we should do it as well.” If this is your answer, why you should start with OKRs, please don’t start;-) OKR is a lean framework and not a recipe. You need to adapt it to your context and answer a few questions upfront:

  • What is your biggest organizational challenge at the moment? 
  • How do you create value for your customers? 
  • What is your vision?
  • How do measure your goals? 
  • How do you ensure your focus, transparency & alignment within your organization? 

Get started with OKR

Objectives & Key Results have some basics principles and practices. If you want to get a rough overview I recommend Felipe Castro. For more detailed insights: you should have a look at these two books:

  • High Output Management by Andrew Grove, Co-Founder of Intel
  • Measure what matters by John Doerr, Worked at Intel, helped Google to start with OKR

Done is better than perfect!

Understanding the difference between Output – Outcome – Impact is crucial. How could you be more outcome-driven if you don’t get what it is? Christophe Achouiantz summarized it nicely in this article. I saw many teams struggling in switching from output-focus to outcome-focus. They challenged each other that intensively, that I saw a lot of frustrated team members. Literally, they were just sitting there, waiting that this whole OKR thing is over. “Out of the books-OKRs” won’t work in the first round – that’s at least my experience. Nevertheless, I remind my teams (and myself) that this is a huge change we are in and we should also inspect & adapt our OKRs. And yes: I allow “outputish” key results from time to time. From my experience, they are better than nothing and are a basis for further improvements.

Just having metrics is not enough

Measurement is key with OKRs. But: You should not fall into the trap of just measuring everything you have. Objectives & Key Results is about focus. Therefore, think about what is the one metric that matters for your product or service. Yes, one metric, not two or three or four!Focus on your Northstar or the OMTM (one metric that matters). Besides your Northstar, you should think about how to measure your key results for every objective. They will change from cycle to cycle. Your OMTM stays the same, at least for more than a cycle as it is linked to your vision. Lean Analytics by Benjamin Yoskovitz & Alistair Croll is a comprehensive book that helps you do understand the power of data.

Agile Ceremonies & OKRs

You’re using scrum or kanban in your team? And you’re asking yourself how to combine the events efficiently? It was my challenge as well when I started with the team. You can imagine how the reaction of some developers was: not another meeting. I saw this fight coming and suggested the following: Let’s figure out together how we integrate our OKR events into the existing agile ceremonies. For example, we decided to start in the sprint planning with the OKR check-in. Ensure that the team understands why we’re implementing OKRs, and the rest will follow.

A pragmatic conclusion

Getting started with Objectives & Key Results isn’t that hard if you’re doing your homework in advance. You should get clarity what are your pains and needs regarding your goal-setting & alignment process. In addition please have in mind: It needs a big mindest and behavior change in your organization. You need patience and humility. Not all of your OKRs will be outcome-focused in the first iteration. Not all of your team will be happy with it. To reach the “happy end”, you will need some persistence for sure, but it’s worth it.

Download: Infographic OKR