5 Steps how Project Managers can leverage OKRs
How Objectives and Key Results allow you to turn your Strategy into Action
OKRs, or Objectives and Key Results, are a framework for defining and tracking objectives and their outcomes. The development of OKRs is generally attributed to Andy Grove, the "Father of OKRs", who introduced the approach at Intel during his tenure and documented it in his book "High Output Management". The concept was later popularized by John Doerr, who has been a major proponent of the OKR system.
The primary goal of OKRs is to create alignment and engagement around measurable goals. Essentially, OKRs are a way to ensure that the company focuses efforts on the same important issues throughout the organization.
What are OKRs?
Before we dive into the practicalities, let's build up a mutual understanding of what OKRs are and how they should be defined within a company. In general, writing OKRs is an art in itself. When written well, they allow a clear and common understanding of the priorities. With this priority in mind, they build a transparent path towards to achieving the goal.
The Objective is a significant (as in the objective truly matters to the overarching company vision), concrete, action-oriented, and (ideally) inspirational statement. It should be short, engaging, and understandable by all members of the company.
The Key Results are a set of metrics that measure your progress towards the Objective. For each Objective, you should have a set of 2 to 5 Key Results. More than that, and no one will remember them. They need to be quantifiable and measurable.
The "sweet spot" for an OKR period is usually a quarter. This is long enough to get something meaningful done but short enough to correct course if things aren't working out as planned.
How to set up and implement OKRs in your company:
1. Define the objective
Precisely state the action you want to fulfil as well as the desired outcome for your business. An example: A company has developed their first prototype and now wants to find out whether there is a market for the new product. Their Objective could be to "Assess product-market fit for the new prototype"
2. Develop key results based on the given objective
Now that you know your objective - to assess product-market fit - it's time to state key results that are required to meet this objective. As discussed, we need to make it actionable and integrate quantifiable data to monitor the progress and performance. In our example, one key result could be to "verify buying intent of at least 100 customers". This result shows you immediately that there is a minimum customer base for your prototype. Make sure to outline 2-5 key results for each objective.
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3. Distill each key result into actions
Moving forward, we shift from high-level strategic goals and tactical actions to an in-depth focus on the operational tasks. It's important to identify the specific steps necessary to achieve our key results. Through collaborative brainstorming, we can explore various approaches to reach our objectives. In tools like Merlin Project, you can capture your brainstorming results in a mind map, which can then be effortlessly converted into different formats. If you're inclined towards traditional project management techniques, you can visualize the outcomes in a Gantt chart by opting for the Work Breakdown structure. Make sure to integrate the expected duration/work of each activity and link activities together for a clear waterfall chart. Alternatively, if you lean towards agile methodologies, you might choose the net plan format and implement a Kanban board for visualization.
4. Create Accountability
After all tasks have been entered into your project system, it’s essential to allocate resources to each task. In Merlin Project, you can use the "Resources" view to enter and assign resources. Clarifying who is responsible for what is a critical step prior to initiating project execution. Each key result should have an individual assigned to be accountable for its success. This ensures that the responsible party is motivated to stay updated on all tasks connected to that key result and serves as your point person for evaluating ongoing progress.
5. Monitor the progress
As previously suggested, setting OKR (Objectives and Key Results) cycles to a quarterly rhythm is advisable, as it provides the flexibility needed to adjust your strategy in response to changing conditions. Nonetheless, there may be instances where annual OKR periods are more appropriate. This is particularly the case when the objectives are planned over a more extended period, and shorter review cycles would only add unnecessary bureaucracy and overhead, detracting from the time available for actual implementation.
In all cases, you should create a routine to check the current progress. Oftentimes it makes sense to use a weekly format for a quick check-in. This allows you as a project manager to assess how swiftly the team for a certain key result is proceeding, where potential barriers are and who needs to be integrated in order to get rid of them. In Merlin Project, you can attach a note for the outcomes of the check-in meeting to the respective activity.
If you have set up check-in meetings as activities in your project plan: Simply right-click on the check-in meeting, select Insert > Attachment > Information to add general information. In case issues or risks arose during the last week, make sure to enter and assess them via the attachments as well. This allows you to store all necessary documentation within your project directly.
If you don't have set up designated activities for check-in meetings, you can add the attachment "Event" to another activity and state all information about the meeting in this attachment.
At the end of your OKR cycle, it makes sense to reflect on the execution. Were we able to succeed with the key result? What did we learn during this phase? Where do we take it from here? The learnings can easily be stored in Merlin Project as well. Under the attachement "Risk" you can enter lessons learned that allow you to profit from the learnings for upcoming projects / OKR cycles.
Final Thoughts on OKRs
In wrapping up the discussion on Objectives and Key Results (OKRs), it's clear that this framework is far more than a performance tracking tool; it's a holistic approach that can revolutionize an organization. By setting a limited number of objectives, companies are able to channel their efforts into the most impactful areas, ensuring that every ounce of energy is directed towards what's truly significant. OKRs align teams under a unified vision, connecting each individual's contributions to the broader success of the company, and establishing clear priorities.
The routine tracking that OKRs require holds teams accountable, maintaining a steady march towards the set objectives. Moreover, they aren't just about reaching targets within the comfort zone; OKRs actively push teams to stretch their capabilities, to innovate, and to exceed their own expectations of what's achievable.
However, the journey of implementing OKRs is not without its challenges. The ambition to reach high can sometimes set the bar too far, resulting in a pattern of underachievement that may demotivate rather than inspire. The complexity of quantifying key results, especially for goals that are qualitative, can present a significant hurdle. Additionally, weaving OKRs into the fabric of a company's culture demands commitment at every level, necessitating a unified buy-in that can be difficult to secure.
Despite these challenges, when applied effectively, OKRs have the power to be a transformative force, fostering a culture steeped in focus, alignment, engagement, accountability, and remarkable accomplishment. For organizations willing to embrace this framework, OKRs offer a pathway to not just chart progress, but to catalyze substantial growth and success.
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