You heard about OKRs and know how to write an Objective and 3-5 Key Results per Objective. But based on which information will you choose your Objectives and what happens after writing measurable Key Results? Even if you reach them 100% how do you know what was it good for? Let me start the story from the beginning. The OKR Process is just one part of the big picture. Meaningful OKRs require a fruitful ground where they can flourish. I visualised the process from the beginning how I start it when I coach a team.
A solid vision and strategy are crucial to start the OKR Process at all. In this post I won’t go into detail how to define the vision and strategy, nevertheless I’ll give you some hints and maybe I’ll write about it in another post.
First of all, I “Start with Why?” Yes, I’m referring to Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle. The three core questions “Why, How and What” help to find your inner compass. After finding the compass the question to answer is, where do you want the compass take you to? How does the future in 3-5 years look like? A vision alone won’t help. You need a good strategy for a vision to come true. A good strategy answers questions such as “How does your portfolio look like? Is it a rather horizontal or vertical portfolio?”, “What difference do you make compared to your competitors?”, “What are your strengths and weaknesses?”. Depending on the context, I apply different vision boards, templates or canvases. For example Roman Pichler’s Product Vision Board, Geoffrey Moore’s Product Vision Template, Alex Osterwalder’s Business Model Canvas, Value Proposition Canvas, Team Vision Canvas, just to name a few. The key is you are clear about for whom your service/product is, what problems do you solve and how?
Once you have defined your vision and strategy it is now time to define your business goals (e.g. revenue, growth, market share, etc.) and focus (e.g. develop new service, refine product portfolio, etc.) for the next 12-18 months. This part sounds easy but it is not, because here you’ll need to make some of the toughest decisions. Defining your focus means saying “no”. Say only “yes” to gate openers, things that truly enable you to go the next step.
The most important aspect of it all is to make the rather abstract vision and long term goals tangible and break down into manageable steps. However slicing the big hairy audacious goal into small pieces is not enough. I want to be able to recognise early enough if the route I took is the right one, along the way, not at the end of the road. And this is exactly where Objectives and Key Results come in handy.
By defining the next manageable steps in OKR Planning the so called OKR Cycle starts. The duration of an OKR Cycle depends on the pace of your business and organisation, but I’d recommend 3-4 months. The initiatives are hypothesises, experiments, activities, mini-projects, etc. you undertake in order to reach the Key Results.
During the cycle there will be regular (weekly or bi-weekly) OKR Check-Ins where you track the progress you make towards your goal. The progress shows you if your approach with the chosen initiatives is right or not and gives you the possibility to re-think it. In these check-ins you should also talk about the confidence level in order to figure out where to pay special attention to. If something is stopping you from making progress, how can you eliminate these blockers. Confidence Level is to me like Weather Forecast. When you look out fo the window you can see how the weather is today (this week) and accordingly decide what to wear. If it is a sunny spring day you are carefree and keep on doing what you’re doing. If it is cold you try a little bit harder with warm clothes and tea to get through the day. If it’s burning hot outside you don’t function unless someone brings you an AC.
After the OKR Cycles ends, there will be the OKR Review, where you step back and have a look at the big picture. Did the efforts during the OKR Cycle pay off? What progress did you make with your Key Results? After reaching all the Key Results, can you also confirm that you have reached your Objectives? What about the outcome? What about the Business Impact? Do you see a positive progress in the Business KPIs in connection with the OKRs? What has changed in the last 3-4 months? The OKR Review is a pit stop to review if the strategy and strategic focus is still valid and relevant.
In the OKR Retrospective it is time to reflect about the collaboration and cooperation within (and maybe outside the team). Also reflect about the process itself. Why did you start applying the OKR Framework in the first place and does it help you indeed? If not quite as thought, what are the reasons and how can you improve it? What are the learnings to consider in the next OKR iteration? With all these insights you gained during the first OKR Cycle you can now plan the next iteration.
Believe me, the more time you invest in the first OKR Cycles, to smoother the next iterations will become. Don’t give up after 1-2 Cycles. Think of it as a new born baby. It takes 3 months to lift and hold the head up while lying on its tummy, 6 months to sit, 9 months to crawl, 12 months to pull up and stand, 15 months to walk (with a lot of falls), 24 months to climb down the stairs. Just like you would not let the baby unsupervised, I’d recommend to have an OKR Coach, who guides you for a while till you have internalised the OKR process.
I hope you find it helpful. I’d love to hear about your challenges and questions regarding the OKR Process. I think about writing more on how to define the vision and strategy. Would you be interested? Leave a comment here or contact me via LinkedIn or Twitter.