OKRs and I — a potential love story

This is my tale of a love story I was hoping for, even rooting for. But it is not about a handsome guy as you might expect, it is about OKRs. Not all love stories end up with a lasting relationship, this one might end up as a distant acquaintance…

“The OKR framework aims to define company and team “objectives” along with linked and measurable “key results” to provide “a critical thinking framework and ongoing discipline that seeks to ensure employees work together, focusing their efforts to make measurable contributions.” wikipedia


This is the story about me and OKR, the new, cool kid in Agile-town. I am a true believer in building teams with a common goal. And I like to use this goal, often represented as a few long term and several smaller short-term goals, to help us focus on what matters. OKR is an acronym for Objectives and Key Results. For someone like me this sounds like heaven! I mean, what’s not to like!? Objectives to help set the high level goal(s) and Key Results to help us reach those Objectives in a measurable way.

A while back I read about OKRs in a post written by Dan North and I became very intrigued. As I said I like to have a clear goal and often help teams set these when I find it lacking. But too often these team goals are not connected to the company goal. Or at the very least it is hard to see the connection. OKRs promised to fixed that. I played with the idea in my head and started to think about how using OKRs would help us create transparency. But we did not use OKRs where I was at the time, so I left it in the “I would like to try this out”-compartment of my head. In the meantime OKR grew from being the new kid in Agile-town to the new, cool kid in Agile-town. Everyone was talking warmly about OKRs and seemed to be using this to create transparency in the organisation. This was exactly why I liked OKRs when I first heard about it; that we know as a person and team how the things we do contribute to the overall goals. Very often the things we do feel like an endless row of tasks that are not (clearly) connected to the vision we hear about in quarterly meetings. And that is very frustrating! So I longed for OKRs. I envied all these people who bragged about how they were in the OKR in-crowd, while I was on the outside looking in.


Finally, the day came for me to get in the OKR in-crowd. My team and I were going to use OKRs — I was so excited!! By this time I had had a long distance crush for quite some time and my expectations were sky high. The promise of focus and transparency and knowing how we all contribute to the vision of our company was beaming towards me. Finally it was my turn!

As with all long distance crushes you give your crush traits and powers they might not have. The same had happened, I’m sad to say, with me and OKRs. Now I have used OKRs for almost one quarter and the lovestory is nowhere to be found. I don’t even think we have become friends. Why? I mean, this all sounded so promising! I don’t think I’m alone, actually this happens all the time. Take agile as a concept for instance. People buy a notion of high performing teams that deliver quality products to their users. Creating value for them every day, even every second! After they have bought the agile message they start their agile journey. Often they very quickly become disappointed when they realize that agile is no silver bullet. And the solution they were sold is no solution at all! It’s values, techniques and practices to help you achieve what you want, but it does not come for free. It requires hard work and discipline and it takes time. I fell in love with the notion of getting transparency and focus almost for free. I don’t know how it happened, I’m not usually this naive. But I had had a crush for a long time and built OKRs up in my head to be something that it’s clearly not. So it’s not you, OKR, it’s me. I’m the problem. I’m the reason the love story is nowhere to be found…


So what happened? We set the OKRs for the next quarter, they were aligned with the OKRs further up in the organisation and a good starting point. But no magic happened, no transparency fell down from the sky just because we set our OKRs. So we defined them, but we did not use them! Instead of using them actively, adjusting them when needed and having them top of mind at all times, they just became yet another set of goals. So we had the OKRs in addition to other goals and that, obviously, did not help us prioritize in a good way.

My crush has passed, the expectations have not been fulfilled. But the expectations were wrong. And that’s not OKRs fault — it’s mine. I expected OKRs to come along and solve the problem of focus and transparency, without doing the heavy lifting. And more so, I have learned that the other cool kids, the ones I envied for being in OKRs in-crowd when I was not, are also struggling. They also have their problems in getting the transparency we so sorely want.

So me and OKRs are starting over now. More realistic this time. Fewer expectations, only the notion of a framework I can use to help focus. But I will be the one doing it, not expecting some magic framework to do it for me. I don’t know if I still think it has the makings of a great love story, but maybe a long lasting friendship? Or maybe OKR will be one of those cool guys I once knew, who was cool for awhile, but no one talks about anymore. Time will show, but for now I am still slightly optimistic that this is something I really can use to help me focus and create the transparency I am so fond of.

How is your relationship with OKRs?

Originally postet on Miles blog October 2018

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