How OKR does not become an „Agile Zombie“

Many organisations (companies) find it challenging to cope with new environmental challenges. „Agility“ is quickly identified as a „magic formula“, but unfortunately only „half-heartedly“ and therefore not sustainably introduced.

An „agile zombie“ quickly develops.

One framework that „can“ help in this context is OKR (Objectives and Key Results). This framework was introduced at Google around 1999 but is also used by established Swiss and German companies such as Digitec Galaxus in Switzerland and in Germany.

So how does OKR not become an „Agile Zombie“?

Now it would be straightforward for companies to read the book by John Doerr**, who brought OKR to Google and then make an introduction on their own. It could work in individual cases, but it doesn’t have to. And then there are the “Agile Zombies”, which never really work.

Recently I visited an OKR Master — Training (COM) to enhance and perfect my OKR-Know-how, this with the thought in my head “Let’s see if this will bring anything”. What was central for me — and here I tried to put myself in companies that want to introduce OKR: Every company can acquire OKR theory on its own. But how does a new and designated OKR Master of such a company formulate “proper and good” OKRs without training and prior knowledge? Is that actually possible?

In practice, it is not so easy for the “newcomers” to start without experience and training. Some people will benefit from practical experience from agile environments. But it also all comes down to reasonable discussion and cooperation within the OKR team — which is often forgotten. And this is where such an “OKR Master”, well deserved in practice and training, helps.

But what makes „right“ and „good“ OKRs so now

One company in the retail trade has, among other things, the annual target: „Our real-time information about the product makes shopping with us an experience“.

The objectives (3 months, max. 5 objectives) are based on the following criteria*:

  • Qualitative and overarching
  • Feasible
  • Balance between inspiring and achievable
  • Derived from the company’s mission statement

An example: „Our customers in Baden-Württemberg know which fish is on the table because the supply chain for our fish becomes transparent for customers“.

Anyone who has ever been served unpleasantly smelling fish will thank this retailer for his initiative…

The Key Results (max. 5 per Objective) are SMAAART* (more than „SMART“):

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Ambitious
  • Associated with Objective
  • Relevant
  • Timely

An example: „Supply chain for fish is available for all branches in Baden-Württemberg in the new customer experience app via AR function (Augmented Reality)“. Mind you, and this is only one of 5 Key Results.

Now voices are claiming that these OKRs may be unrealistic, but they are actually ambitious and therefore just right, because they are about the „Stretch Goals“, not about Business-As-Usual. And it takes courage.

A qualified OKR Master takes on the role of coach and enabler and is a crucial part for the success of the OKRs by making sure that the OKRs are formulated correctly. Additionally, I clearly recommend the support of qualified people in the beginning.

In short…

For me, it is therefore clear that I will bring an OKR Master training to Switzerland because it is worth investing a few days for companies to really learn something practical in order to increase the chances of success of a planned OKR introduction (thanks for this finding to Thomas Walter from die.agilen). Consulting and support are recommended as an additional measure.

So the OKR introduction will not be an Agile Zombie.

More on this topic will be available at the next Digital Community — Event on September 19th in Zurich, or directly here at me (keyword OKR Training) — Just get in touch.


Agile Zombie Illustration:

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