Implementing OKR

Thoughts on OKR and how to get started.

Are you wondering with the set of tasks added in your current milestone, how you are going to help organization succeeding and also how you are growing personally? You might be in this situation because you have not goal clearly defined. When want to grow personally or with the team, in order to have focus and the well-directed path you must know what your goals are. This helps the team as well as individually by giving your brain a purpose and input when you are making a decision.

I’ve been reading Measure What Matters written by John Doerr and suggested by Atul to understand this topic and it’s a must read if you want to go through the use cases of OKR. In this article, we are going to discuss what is OKR (Objectives and key results) and how to start making use of it. Also, this article is for readers who want to fix goals in their organization or want to explore OKR.

To see at a glance, below is the flow of how can you get started with OKR and next to it, we’ll be discussing the points in details. Here the assumption is that organizational goal is clearly defined and if it’s not that’s the first thing you must think and set.

Process flow - OKR

Let’s discuss these points in detail.

1. Individual goals

This is the first step, where all of the team members will share the goals. The order of setting goals might vary from organization to organization about in which order the goals should be set. As in, should it start from the top level or from bottom level? But removing organizational hierarchy will ensure that every individual is happy doing what they do. In order to think about goals, we must focus on what. For example - what I want to achieve. Goals create alignment, clarity and job satisfaction.

Here you should make sure that the goal you add should be aligned with your personal goal. The idea of starting goal collection from every team members is that they will add goals based on their personal interest. That’s when you will enjoy doing stuff because it also fulfills achieving your personal goal.

Now if you’ll look closely, there are few constraints added under this. Let’s discuss them one by one.

1.1. Target for six months

Having no target will make you think your goals which you’ll never be able to achieve or you’ll keep extending the target time. You can set this to a year or just for three months, but in order to validate if this approach is working for your organization, you should be setting this time so that you can validate. For first time experiment with OKR I’d set this up for six months and in the ideal scenario I’d have set it for a year. In this article, I’ll be using 6 months to refer the time duration to achieve the goal I’ve set up. This you can assume to be the time you have defined for your setup.

1.2. Max five goals

Having too many numbers of goals will never be the right approach and here having five goals is also too much. Depending on the team size you have in your organization, you might reduce this number. The number will increase if you have less member team and decrease if you have more. The idea is that if you combine the goals of all the members, you are able to cover all aspects of organizational goal.

1.3. Complement The Team

The goal of every team member should be to ensure that their goal complements other team members and are aligned with organizational goals.

1.4. Rethink.

Rethink the individual goals, because once you lock it down, in the next six month you’ll not be changing this. If there is a need to change in goal, it’ll indicate that the goals were not well thought initially.

2. Ensure No Conflict of Interest

This process we are discussing is for software development team where all the team members are working towards the same organizational goal, so there can be a situation when there will be a conflict of interest. So you need to ensure that individual goals are set rightly by asking the following questions-

  1. Is there a conflict of interest, as in one goal is common in more than one member’s goal? Resolve it by negotiation. Ideally, a goal should be only owned by one individual, this will help in setting accountability and resolving down-level of conflicts.
  2. Is there sub-goals are being added? Fix it by removing parent goal because until sub-goal is not achieved, you’ll not be in the position of achieving the parent goal. Or if you can generalize, do it and merge it together.

3. Align Objectives - Measurable Objectives

Goals can be generic and you should not impose constraint of measurability on goals because the time when you do that you’ll limit your ability to be ambitious. In previous steps we have worked on deciding the goals, now is the time to translate it to objectives - which is measurable. The constraint to decide objective will be the same as when we defined the goals but here one additional constraint will be added and that is measurability.

3.1. Measurability

The objectives should be measurable so that at the end of the session, you should be able to check if you have achieved the objective. For measurability, you must have numbers on things like the number of user complaints about user experience and as an objective, it can be something like “reduce UX complaints by 50%” but as a goal, you might have said that you want no complaint about UX.

3.2. Align Objectives

Individual objectives should be aligned with the organizational goals as well as individual goals. It should be aligned in such a way so that individual objective doesn’t conflict with organizational goals.

4. Measurable Key Results

Each objective which are defined, there will be a list of items pointing on how this objective will be achieved and this is termed as key results. If we consider our previous example of “reducing UX complaints by 50%”, the key results can be - addressing previous feedback and incorporate 60 improvements in this session. The idea is that during the session of six months, by any hooks or crooks you want to achieve the objective. And while doing so, you will go through the measurable keys or measurable action items. At the course of this duration, in between some time, you might realize that some of the action items is not required or needs more work. Then you can refactor them and everyone in the team will be aware of the changes. The idea is that objectives will be constants and action item will be variable.

5. Execution

Depending on the process followed in your organization, execution might vary. This will not affect or add anything to your team’s development process. But additionally depending on individual objectives, you might be in a better situation to assign issues to the right contributor. Also while deciding feature or any improvement, you will think about goals in the first place and if it’s not helping to achieve the goal defined, you will be moving them to the backlog.

6. Validation and Repeat

At the end of the session (or target duration), you will spend time figuring out what went well and what didn’t. And you’ll be able to record learnings and repeat them when you set your goals, objectives or key results next time.


That is all for this article. If you have any thoughts on the same, feel free to add comments! Thank you for reading :)

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Ritesh Shrivastav