Drawing the way with OKRs

Eisenhower once said that “plans are nothing, but planning is everything”, and though (hopefully) we won’t have to plan actions like the ones this man had to, in today’s world even the simplest decision can be just as complex. When it comes to ensuring that the decisions, objectives, and individual priorities of each person in our team are aligned to the defined vision that exists regarding the direction of our organization, frameworks such as Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) can be of great value.

A while back, we started leading a team that collaborates with the Agile Mindset, and provides different learning resources for anyone willing to learn. It’s made up of people from different roles (developers, project managers, agilists, and so on) that have the common purpose of sharing knowledge and experiences. This group has over 70 people around the world, and even though we shared an idea of a plan, it was very difficult to always be aligned. At that time, we were taking a course in which several practices were shared, including OKRs. We thought this might be useful for our situation, which is why we decided to use it to plan our next quarter.

Using OKRs consists of defining objectives for your organization or team (you can choose the time range: for instance, quarterly or annual) and for each one establish 3-4 measurable results that help to visualize the progress. The purpose of OKRs is to create a structure that aligns the company with teams and individuals. In this model, objectives must be purpose-driven, ambitious, and an indication of where we want to go. Key Results, on the other hand, need to show us how to get there and be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound).

For our specific scenario, and mainly based upon the company’s culture, we decided to take the following steps:

  1. First, we wanted to understand the needs of our stakeholders (teams in charge of talent development, leadership programs, among others) and how they could be covered by our team, which is why we had several meetings with them to understand their situation.
  2. Next step, we facilitated a conversation with our team to understand their perspective regarding which they considered to be the most valuable next actions to take. Then we shared with them the stakeholder’s input, to expand our ideas.
  3. Once the brainstorming was done, we began reviewing all the ideas and understanding what was behind each topic. For example, some people thought it would be important to improve their handling of online tools while others suggested we needed internal training to develop facilitation skills, which led us to think there may be an objective related to the career growth and skills development of our team members.
  4. After we defined the objectives, we had a conversation to understand which key results would allow us to reach them, prioritizing according to our team’s capacity and our stakeholder’s input.
  5. When we concluded all the steps, we uploaded the next quarter’s OKRs in our online repository, so it could be visible to our team and anyone else interested in our planning.

An example of our defined OKRs is the following one:

Objective: Increase the number of learning resources that we provide to the company.

  • Key Result 1: increase our available workshops by 15%.
  • Key Result 2: create at least 10 new learning pills (we call this way a training that lasts less than 45min).
  • Key Result 3: write at least 10 new articles.

After this practice, the team began to regularly check the OKRs when they thought of new actions, which taught them the value of understanding what we delivered with each step. It also helped with the alignment between all of us, and the empowerment of each region to create action plans that can collaborate with the whole team’s objectives. We learned from this practice about the importance of each member understanding the impact that their actions have on the long-term plan, and how much it helps to be able to draw the way by establishing objectives that are aligned to real needs. We are even now escalating this to an annual plan so that each quarter’s OKR definition collaborates on the result of a bigger plan. 

If you’re planning on trying OKRs, we suggest that your first step is to research your stakeholders’ needs. It is good to have a plan, but useless if what we provide by achieving it is not what was needed from your team.

Whether it is for personal use, or to implement with a team, if you need to establish a north and be aligned with a bigger plan, we encourage you to experiment with a different approach through the use of OKRs.

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