Using OKRs for aligning impact from boardrooms to pixels

Define, focus and scale goals in an organisation using OKRs

I did a talk at Agile Australia 2017 (video)on this topic and discussed how objectives and key results (OKRs) can be used to fill that alignment gap between the company vision and the teams doing the work.

How many times have you been gathered in a room with someone from the executive team saying we have a new goal for the company? These lofty goals get the company excited for moment and only upon returning to your desk you think to yourself, “how is the work I am doing contributing to that goal?”

At that moment all that energy, is gone. That’s the catch, goals are meant give drive and purpose to the work that we do. But if we can’t relate to them then what good are they?

Define

OKRs is a framework that combines the qualitative and quantitative nature of goals.

What makes a good objective?

Short and inspirational — Your team should be fired up by it and it should be memorable so that you don’t have to look it up to remember what it was.

Be customer focused —It is easy to say we want to be the number one platform/app but if possible, reframing around the customer can help deliver a better reason around the objective.

Stay solution agnostic — we don’t want to be prescriptive at the objective level. We want this to be high level so that the team can decide how they want to achieve that goal.

Defines the why — Why does this goal matter to the company/customer? Having the why helps you stay on track once you start work on the OKR.

Key results for the customer

When you don’t have much data or your product has not been launched then using activity based key results is acceptable: talk to 10 customers, launching the app or release a new feature. However with software, it’s no longer good enough that we deliver working software but we need to start measuring what value it is providing once we deliver it.

This is why I recommend that if you start with activity based key results to make an effort to move towards the value based key results. Some of examples of this using pirate metrics (AARRR), customer experience and tech performance. These values measure customer behaviour.

OKRs can be the catalyst for teams to move from a mindset of delivering a feature to delivering value.

Rather than forgetting about the feature once it is done and released. We are now measuring the value that it is delivering after release. What we are doing is reframing value as not only in terms of the business but including customer value too.

Focus

OKRs is a framework to set focus for the organization

Teams today are all too often feature factories, with little regard for whether the features actually solve business problems. — Marty Cagan

From one of my old teams, our old backlog was a mix of different priorities from senior stakeholders, some were clearly defined but many were not. With OKRs we finally understood what we were working on and why.

Focusing on goals helps with effectiveness. OKRs helped our teams say no to some things because we could show the business that we are focused on a goal that is important to them.

Scale

OKRs help you define the goal and use the network effects in an organization to scale out the goal.

It starts at the company level. The company level OKRs is can be challenging to establish but it is crucial to get right because without them then each department or team can use OKRs but it will be hard to ensure that they are aligned in the same direction or whether they are heading in imposing directions.

Goals should start at the top level but over time they should take on the learnings at all of the different levels to inform the higher level goals. Rather than a one-way cascade (aka waterfall) of goals, it is a top down and bottom up approach.

This ability to adapt and be agile with goals is why OKRs is better than traditional annual goal setting because you can change and adjust throughout the year.

Scaling goals, is also about sharing the goal itself within the organization

Normally traditionally annual goal setting is done behind close doors whether that is with you and your manager or you and your team. Very rare do they get publicized through the company.

With OKRs the goal is to get it visible by everyone in the organization. This serves two purposes

  1. Transparency — Everyone know what everyone is working on. There is no ambiguity and you can see how each team is contributing to the goals
  2. Feedback — When you first draft your OKRs, they can be reviewed by others in the org. Based on conversations you can adjust/change your OKRs so that there is better alignment

Knowing that you can influence and shape company goals through your learnings of your OKRs is empowering to the teams involved. This depends on trust from management at all layers that their teams will be doing their best to achieve the goals.

Conclusion

By defining, focusing and scaling goals, teams will be able to connect the objectives set in the boardrooms all the way down to the teams delivering pixels as measured by the key results of the impact on customer value.

Thanks to Richard Shy of Elabor8 for this visual illustration of my talk

References

These are the articles, videos and content that helped me on my journey with OKRs