Align autonomous teams towards the right objectives
Originally created by Intel in the 1970s and popularized by Google* in the early 2000s, Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) have become one of the most effective methods for company leadership and teams to set clear, achievable goals with measurable outcomes. The objective is the overall goal, and the key results track the progress towards that goal. Key results are typically measured on a scale of 0–100% or any numerical range the team chooses.
The benefits of OKRs directly support business agility, specifically in regards to scaling agile. Organizations striving to transform themselves from traditional command and control hierarchies to autonomous and aligned teams have found that OKRs promote alignment across teams of teams, establish focus, foster both autonomy and accountability, encourage employee engagement, and inherently provide overall company transparency.
In addition to the many benefits of OKRs, another reason for their widespread adoption is simplicity. Here’s the basic OKR format with a corresponding example:
Objectives are leadership’s intent and what they want the teams to achieve. They should be qualitative, aspirational, and measurable in some way. Teams typically commit to 1-3 objectives per planning period, depending on the duration of the period.
Key results are how the team determines success towards the objective. They are always quantitative and represent the specific desired outcomes of the overall goal. Key results should also be challenging to achieve at 100%, which drives team ambition. To put this in perspective, most teams consider anything above 70% to be a success. A general rule of thumb is to have 3 to 5 key results per objective.
Tasks are the most often overlooked component of OKRs and represent the specific actions that team members should take to achieve the key results. Although tasks can and should change as things are tried and more is learned, self-managed teams need to take the time to establish an initial set of tasks and figure out who should do what at the very beginning of an OKR cadence period.
Similar to Scrum, OKRs implemented well follow a company-wide cadence, with repeating cycles of plan, do, inspect and adapt. They’re time-boxed with a typical cadence being a month for teams, a quarterly cadence for teams-of-teams, with annual company-level OKRs driving the overall vision.
OKRs are set during planning. Although they can be set top-down exclusively by leadership, they work best when established together by both leaders and the teams doing the work. Once created and planned, progress towards key results is tracked, usually every week. At the end of a cadence period, a retrospective should be held to determine the overall outcomes of each key result and whether the team achieved the overall objective. The retrospective also helps to look at what worked and what didn’t and continuously improve future OKRs.
An excellent way to implement OKRs in Favro is to create an OKR backlog on your collection’s left pane using a sheet board, with objectives broken down into supporting key results. Favro cards are used for both objectives and key results, letting the hierarchy maintain their relations.
Objectives and key results are then stack ranked with the highest priority items at the top. A custom field is also often used to represent business priority, making the order more explicit.
After creating objectives and the key results for a given period (or beyond), a board is created on the right side collection pane. This board is used to track the progress of key results from their starting percentage complete to ending percentage complete.
The highest priority key results are committed to the planning and tracking board via drag-and-drop when the team is ready. Keep in mind that the cards representing the key results should stay in both the OKR backlog and the board. The ability to have the same card in multiple places simultaneously is unique to Favro and is used to great advantage here.
The cards representing each key result are ideal for creating, assigning, and tracking the tasks necessary to make progress on the KR. Click on the card to open it up and use a checklist for the tasks.
As tasks are completed and progress is made, the cards representing the KRs are pulled from left to right along the team’s custom-created measurement scale. This progress can be seen both on the OKR planning board and in aggregate on the OKR backlog.
Another unique capability of Favro is the ability to have the same boards in multiple collections. This feature dramatically increases transparency and is perfect for bringing in the specific teams responsible for all aspects of the key results. For example, here’s a recruitment pipeline added to the OKR collection to help better collaborate towards the completion of the KR - Recruit 5 New Customer Success Representatives.
Both leadership and teams can clearly see the results during retrospectives and at the end of an OKR period. They often make use of additional custom fields to show metrics like Starting %, Ending %, and Objective Met. These are automatically aggregated up from key results to objectives and grand totals for the entire OKR backlog.
An additional benefit of using Favro for OKR planning and tracking is the ability to utilize the same OKR backlog as a roadmap. When dates are added to the objective and key result cards, indicating their cadence period, they’ll automatically appear in any timeline view. Create a timeline to view objectives on a roadmap, which can be instantly toggled from the default sheet view.
Using different filters lets you toggle between a high-level roadmap and a more detailed view that includes both objectives and selected key results.
Thanks to Favro’s flexibility, this is just one way to implement OKRs on the platform. The most obvious benefit is keeping your OKR planning and tracking in the same tool where your teams are already collaborating and getting things done.
As with many things, OKRs are deceptively simple to implement but often difficult to see actual results, especially in the beginning. It will most likely take your teams a few cadence periods to become proficient at creating good qualitative objectives and measurable key results. Real-world OKRs are more difficult to create than the examples you see in books and on the internet.
One common danger is for teams to create easily achievable key results. Remember that OKRs should be ambitious with the ultimate goal of achieving exceptional results. Teams should not consistently be hitting 100% of their objectives. Organizations striving for excellence should set nearly impossible goals, forcing teams to break the status quo and realize that achieving 70% to 80% is entirely acceptable.
Be patient, push yourselves to improve from cadence period to cadence period, and results will come. OKRs are one of the best techniques to help companies reach unprecedented heights and achieve business agility throughout the entire organization.
Here is a short demo on how to create, plan, and track your Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) in Favro and how they can help you achieve business agility:
* It was actually a Google team that first showed me how they implement OKRs in Favro, providing the inspiration for this article 🙂