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The Ultimate Guide To Objectives and Key Results – OKRs

07. OKRs & Agile Ways Of Working

OKRs combine with agile best-practices

OKRs and agile ways of working have a powerful synergy. So much so, if you’re proposing to use OKRs and you’re not either working in more agile ways, or proposing to as part of this journey, you may want to plan to. 

 

What are OKRs there to do?

OKRs are goals that a company and teams are committed to achieving. They consist of an Objective and a selection of measurable outcomes that if achieved would mean your Objective has been achieved, these are your Key Results. The important part in this definition as far as this article goes is the word ‘outcomes’. Outcomes are your desirable future end-state after a period of time, usually a quarter, that you want to get to. Here’s an example of an OKR.

Objective: The what and why
Become 2021’s leading banking disruptor

Key Results: As measured by
Achieve 10m active customers
Get the referral engine going with a customer referral rate of 10%
Achieve a CSAT score of 95%

This annual company OKR has been written to unify the company and inspire teams, both functional and cross-functional, to propose OKRs that they believe would help achieve this. Focusing on the areas of greatest impact and most importance. Which is separate from the business-of-usual processes and jobs that run a company or team.

What does agile mean in the context of OKRs?

The goal of adopting agile ways of working is to create an organisation capable of adapting to changing circumstances and capable of seizing every opportunity.

Having an agile culture where people and the behaviors, habits, systems, and processes adopted, improve productivity, innovation and value in a way that balances the needs of an organisation, customers and employees.

Being agile involves doing work differently by focusing on performance and outcomes. And if you’re doing work differently you are behaving differently. So what is different?

Agile workplaces have three defining differences. These are where, when and how work is done.

“Agile is an approach to getting work done with maximum flexibility and minimum constraints. It goes beyond just flexible working and focuses on eliminating the barriers to getting work done efficiently.” Unilever

A common thread of agile is to reduce traditional hierarchical ways of working and empower and trust employees to work towards planned desirable outcomes, often OKRs.

If we take the OKR example above, an agile organisation would be able to discuss the goal in and across teams, and where ‘best’ easily form cross-functional teams to target specific supporting OKRs.

Getting a referral engine going for example is likely to involve marketing, product management and engineering all working together. If getting 10% of customers to referrer another customer was the Key Result, over the course of a quarter there are going to be a number of Initiatives undertaken that need varying levels of collaboration.

This is where having processes like weekly check-ins to share priorities for the week ahead and any issues matter. 

Asynchronous check-ins and short in-person team meetings remove any executional friction that exists, and are central to being agile. As is having the ability to share your ideas, be heard, and take calculated risks if necessary, as the consequences of failure will come with learnings not punishment.

This cadence, ownership and autonomy is empowering. What is energising is the ability to learn from colleagues, take risks, try new things, and connect the work you’re doing with an outcome that closes learning loops. Which is where the retrospectives of both Initiatives completed and OKRs closed comes in. 

  • Did what you expected to happen actually happen?
  • What did you learn?
  • What would you keep, start and stop doing next time?

 

OKRs provide the focus and scoreboard for agile teams

ZOKRI has been built from the ground up to allow OKRs to be created and have agile teams work towards their achievement. The features, weekly processes and workflows that work alongside these OKRs in the ZOKRI platform are:

  • OKRs – the committed measurable outcomes for agile teams to focus on.

  • Asynchronous check-ins for briefing and collaboration without a meetings – owners and collaborators of OKRs, Initiatives and Metrics can update State e.g. Proposed, Active, Slow, Stuck, Completed, Progress, Confidence and Comment on what’s holding them back and going well without the need for a team meeting.

  • Activity alignment and collaboration – Initiatives that start life Ideas or hypothesis for activities that will achieve your OKRs and end up being completed and learnings captured. Additionally, integrations with project tools like Jira to stop double-entry of what’s being worked on, priorities for the week ahead, and what’s completed.

  • Easy to run meetings – From pre-planned agendas, actions, notes to embeddable meeting components like OKRs, KPIs, Actions and more  


Role of Initiatives

It is ‘doing’ that drives performance changes. This is why Initiatives really matter. 

A teams best ideas for the projects and tasks that you ‘think’ should be ‘done’ because they will help achieve the targets in OKRs are Initiatives.

It is a ‘think it’ not a ‘know it’ by virtue of the fact that Initiatives, in most instances, are non-validated hypothesis for work you believe will have a measurable impact on metrics (KPIs) that you have decided matter and need to be improved.

There are examples whereby you might also repeat and Initiative. For example, the hypothesis was that improving the ‘quality and depth’ of content on the website would help generate traffic and leads. Once proven you are likely to do more it.

This is why ZOKRI allows you to document Initiative results and success, and share what you’d Keep, Start and Stop doing next time should you repeat the Initiatives. This provides a structure and process where ideation, intent, rigour and learning loops can compliment busy hard working teams. In ZOKRI can also link Initiative progress to your project tools e.g. Jira, Trello, Asana .. so no double entry is going to be required.