OKR Cycles

A typical OKR cycle

OKRs were created to allow a company to set short-term goals that direct efforts towards areas where change would have a big impact on performance. When OKRs are planned, agreed and regularly discussed requires you to agree an OKR cycle when implementing OKRs. There are a number of things you look for in an OKR cycle.

The OKR cycle can’t be so long that there is a chance of the goal becoming irrelevant or unnecessary. The cycle should not be so short that you can’t complete a significant enough body of work that would make achievement of a goal difficult. The balance between too-long and not long enough for most has been tried and tested. For most companies a typical OKR cycle includes annual company OKRs and quarterly OKRs that are set by departments, teams and short-term project teams.

Annual OKR cycles

It is common for a company to set one or more annual OKRs. This or these OKRs are intended to direct, inspire and unify the efforts of the whole company. Company OKRs also provide a way of sharing and discussing progress at all-hands meetings and communications.

It is typical for medium and larger company OKRs to align with a company strategy. This might be expressed as Strategic Pillars or even Balanced Scorecard entities.

Smaller companies often opt for a single unifying OKR with Key Results representing key area of focus e.g. New Sales, Account growth, Retention, Referral.

These annual OKR cycles often contain aspirational or stretch targets. Knowing when and how much to stretch the company and teams is part of the OKR planning process. Teams need to understand and be comfortable with the idea of stretch goals where 100% achievement is not the only definition of OKR success during an OKR cycle.

ZOKRI allows you to clearly label the level of difficulty each Key Result presents. The OKR software then visualises what success looks like top ensure it is clear what both good and amazing progress would mean. Inspiring effort and innovation without being demotivating.

Quarterly OKR cycles

The quarterly OKR cycle is the engine room of achievement. These are the goals that are going to help the company OKRs get achieved and are typically organised in a cascade. The typical cycle has three stages.

  • Plan – OKRs are proposed, debated and committed to each quarter
  • Execute – OKR update and execution cadences are agreed and followed
  • Reflection / Retrospective – a retrospective happened for each OKR at the end of of the OKR cycle

Quarterly OKRs are usually set on the back of OKR retrospectives and planning workshops. These planning sessions are debating and answering the questions:

  • What are our biggest opportunities or challenges that if committed to and achieved or solved would support the company goals?
  • How would we measure the success of this Objective using Key Results?
  • How much do we stretch ourselves and how hard shall we make the targets?

The candidates for setting quarterly OKRs come from a decision on:

  • Continue with an existing OKR

or create a new OKR. New OKRs typically come from debates around:

  • KPIs that could or should be improved
  • Systems or processes that could or should be improved
  • Key projects that need to be delivered

OKR review cycles and agile execution

Planning and committing to OKR means committing to sharing updates and having great meetings at agreed cadences. This creates an OKR review cycle, pulse or rhythm that drives progress and the whole business forward.

If you set-and-forget your OKRs there is every chance performance and achievement levels will slip. OKR tracking therefore happens in check-ins and the valuable discussions and adjustments are made in OKR meetings.

Weekly Check-ins: Weekly check-ins are where individuals update OKR and To-dos progress and include a commentary for colleagues to read and respond to where appropriate. Sharing what is holding you back – dependencies and blockers are especially important.

Weekly Team Meetings: OKRs are part of the agenda for start of the week meetings where there’s more of a focus on executional plans, problem resolution and what needs to be accomplished in the coming week. You can also do a ‘Friday Wins’ meeting or round-up where you get to show-off successes and share learnings.

Monthly Meetings: Monthly meetings where to review the progress of all of your OKRs and agree what needs to be done in the next 30 days.

Quarterly Retrospective & Planning: Quarterly retrospectives are meetings where you review your OKR performance, discuss what you have learned and agree your priorities over the next quarter.

Annual Retrospective & Planning: An annual retrospective looks back on the past 12 months and where you plan the next 12 months.

Speed of change matters to OKR cycles

When planning your OKR cycles you should consider where your company is in terms of its maturity and the level of change and responsiveness that might be required. It is common for start-ups for example to not use annual OKRs. Too much is changing to look even a year ahead.

If you’re in a slow moving company or market then a quarter might feel too short, although what is often overlooked or misunderstood is the ability to roll-over an OKR for many quarters so that a goal can last 6 or 9 months for example. So rather than setting 6 month OKRs consider keeping to the quarterly cadence, having an end-of-quarter retrospective and then continuing the OKR if it’s still the right goal to commit to.