Tag Archive for: OKR

Webinar | OKRs: The Path to Your Success

Goals are what drive us and create a path to our success. Many of us have a big goal in mind that guides us. But one big goal can be overwhelming: how do we decide on the smaller parts and day-to-day actions that will help us achieve it?   

In this webinar, goal-setting experts Regina Martins and Birge Kahraman introduce you to the concept of OKRs, or Objectives and Key Results. They show you how to break your big, ambitious goals down into small, achievable, and clear steps. They outline how you can write action-orientated and strong objectives as well as impactful key results. Together, they explore how Agile teams can use OKRs, and how we can connect them to our business goals.

Continue Reading

Combine your OKRs with Agile Strategy Map™ for Success

OKRs are one of the most widely used goal-setting frameworks, defined by a set of Objectives and Key Results, which each employee in an organization works towards. The Agile Strategy Map™ is a collaborative framework developed by agile42 that helps organizations design, manage, execute, and support their strategy. 

In this blog post, I’ll bring you an alternative look at the Agile Strategy Map™ and how organizations can combine it with the OKR approach to planning, with the ultimate result of more realistic goals.

What is The Agile Strategy Map™?

The Agile Strategy Map™  is a way to design a company strategy in a transparent and incremental way, based on continuous experimentation and adaptation. It makes this strategy available to everyone in the organization. The framework also provides a solid operating model that allows you to break down identified success factors into workable items, in a collaborative and agile way. agile42 has developed this framework through real-life experiences with clients and the help of many coaches who contributed over time to refine and improve its usability. The Agile Strategy Map™ can be a stand-alone tool for an organization, or it can be used in the context of an approach inspired by the principles of ORGANIC Agility. In this case, it corresponds to the basic principle of validating changes in small increments. 

What are OKRs?

OKR (or OKRs) stands for Objectives and Key Results, and it is a framework for setting a company, team, or individual’s goals. The value of OKRs is that they create transparency around the organization’s goals, which in turn helps employees feel more aligned and committed to achieving those goals. 

Further reading: A Complete Guide to OKRs

The overlap between OKRs and The Agile Strategy Map™

OKRs and Agile Strategy Map share two crucial principles that contribute to success:

  • Change (and delivery) in small and frequent increments
  • Engaging people actively in the process of change (and delivery)

Along with those principles, there are also a few other common elements:

  • Both spotlight focus
  • They combine bottom-up and top-down approaches
  • They have regular cadences
  • Each has roles

Advantages of The Agile Strategy Map™

The Agile Strategy Map™ will help you build more realistic KRs, experiment in a safe-to-fail way, and avoid flying blindly. There are a number of advantages to combining the two frameworks, rather than simply using OKRs alone. 

The Agile Strategy Map™ can distinguish the different types of KRs more clearly

I have been involved in many different companies’ OKR plans over the course of my career. I observed that the teams were usually struggling to name the correct “target” for their Key Results. Most of the time, people use common sense or draw from previous experiences or market benchmarks. The challenge is to strike a balance between ambition and achievability. The OKR framework uses different types of Key Results, including “Learning, Committed and Aspirational.” However, in reality, I’ve mostly encountered Key Results for “Committed” and “Aspirational” types; I rarely see “Learning” KRs. 

The Agile Strategy Map™ uses Success Factors

To indicate how you will accomplish your Goal, The Agile Strategy Map™ uses Success Factors. Depending on the organization’s prior knowledge level about the goal, these will be either Confirmed or Potential Success Factors. Distinguishing the “possibility” from “plausibility” will decrease your risk and improve the success of your decisions.

The Cynefin Framework presents the basis of this approach. Cynefin provides a way to make sense of the context we are in by observing patterns and constraints. It also provides guidance about the most appropriate way to act.

After analyzing our path towards the targets, if we don’t recognize patterns, best or good practices, governing or rigid constraints, most probably we are finding ourselves in an “Unordered Domain.” In that case, we have to be empirical, maybe design a few experiments to probe the environment in the hope to identify emergent practices. All the Key Results (or Success Factors) we see are the “Potential Success Factors” and we need to validate these at some level. 

The Agile Strategy Map™ allows you to see your journey more clearly

The Agile Strategy Map™ collects and shows all learnings, failures, and decision points. As Spanish philosopher George Santayana said, “Those who don’t remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” 

The Agile Strategy Map™ follows the insights and theory provided by Wardley maps, named after Simon Wardley. Wardley combined the thinking of OODA loops (the decision-making cycle of observe, orient, decide, and act) from military strategist John Boyd and The Art of War from Chinese general Sun Tzu to create a basic cycle for thinking about strategy. According to Wardley’s Map, good strategy tools shall be visual, context-specific, positional, and display connections. It helps us navigate the plan, anchoring us by reference a direction and suggesting a movement and/or changes, where we are going, and where we have been. 

The Agile Strategy Map™ allows you to iterate and improve on OKRs

OKRs are usually followed for a certain period, and when they are done, they are done. It’s possible to re-iterate the Key Results and make them more ambitious, but they don’t show you the journey and what you have learned along the way. Although OKRs are visual, context-specific, positional, and have anchors, they lack movement. They are static. They don’t suggest changes based on where you have been. This can make it difficult to recognize and respond to  the signals that are hinting towards direction changes, potentially invalidating the relevance of the defined Targets/Objectives. The Agile Strategy Map™ allows you to constantly introduce new Potential Success Factors (PSFs) as they appear, and quickly relate them to the existing map, and identify dependencies and impacts very quickly. 

How to combine OKRs and Agile Strategy Map™ 

It’s possible to combine the OKR framework to achieve the above-mentioned advantages. Here is an outline of how to do this effectively. 

Step 1: Create your OKR pyramid 

Define an inspirational goal for yourself and/or your team and then divide that into smaller, reachable, quarterly objectives. Then, define the Key Results that will help you reach your objective. Next, plot the tasks and projects that will result in achieving the defined Key Results. 

Step 2: Reframe your Objective as your “Strategic Goal” 

Ensure that your Goal has clearly defined “desired outcomes” which are measurable and connected to creating value for users, customers, and/or employees. They should also give direction. 

Step 3: Refine your Key Results and decide if they are “Confirmed” or “Potential” Success Factors

Confirmed Success Factors (CSFs)

Confirmed Success Factors (CSFs) are based on past learnings or proven practices and they might be in the form of processes, rules, policies, constraints, approaches. In short, they include everything that works within the organization, and has an established value proposition for customers. Given the defined Goal, we may identify a subset of CSFs that will be enablers for achieving that Goal. These are our “Committed Key Results.” The fact that they are confirmed tells us that they are Learned, and the fact that we choose them as relevant for achieving our goals makes them Committed.

A Confirmed Success Factor may be expressed in the following form: 

Potential Success Factors (PSFs) 

Potential Success Factors (PSFs) are hypotheses that we believe might help us to achieve our goal. These hypotheses need to be made explicit so that through transparency, dependencies can be made visible. The primary purpose of declaring explicitly what could be helpful towards achieving the goal is to identify changes or adaptations that can be used to our advantage. As such hypotheses could emerge at any time, integrating them with the Agile Strategy Map™ provides a means to re-evaluate our strategy and the relevance of all existing success factors.

A Potential Success Factor is expressed in the following form:

Step 4: Classify your projects and/or tasks as Necessary Conditions or Experiments depending on the Success Factors

To be able to leverage a CSF we need to maintain and continuously evolve it. This requires a CSF always has at least one Necessary Condition (NC). The NC will bring the strategy to a tactical level and allow operational work to start. NCs can act as an anticipatory trigger, reacting to or prompting specific events/needs. For example, we could periodically review a policy to check how it’s performing against some Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). 

We may express a Necessary Condition in the following form:

Experiments are our way to decrease the unknowns of our hypothesis, so we can validate or invalidate them as fast as possible, empirically, and without relying on assumptions that ultimately increase risk. Experiments also help prioritize and identify dependencies. They may need NCs as the prerequisite elements to start the Experiments. To get quick feedback and make decisions, the recommended duration of an experiment should be between four and 12 weeks. While, in Cynefin terms, experiments in the Complicated domain should evaluate identified options, experiments in the Complex domain aims at identifying potential options.

A practical example of combining OKRs with The Agile Strategy Map™

Let’s put all that theoretical knowledge into a more concrete example.

As the “Space Tourists Inc.” you have the company vision “Be the leader of the space tourism market.” During your annual planning meeting, you have decided to increase your share of space tourism as part of your Q1 goal. 

Example Key Results 

After some conversations with your team members and management, you picked two Key Results to focus on: 

  • Increase sign-ups for Mars travel by 30% (which you know will increase your share in the market)
  • Increasing the returning travelers by 20% (which you hypothesize can help to increase your share in the market)

Example CSFs and PSFs

In this example, you have one CSFs and one PSF.

Unpacking the CSF

We learned that “increasing sign-ups for Mars travel” can help us to achieve our goal of “increasing our share in the space tourism market”. We can measure it with the “number of the tickets sold to Mars.”  

  • Increasing sign-ups for Mars travel by 30% comes with two Necessary Conditions
  • We need to increase the Marketing Activities by 20%; otherwise, we can’t reach enough people to create Mars’ travel demand
  • We need to operate two more spaceships to Mars; otherwise, we can’t meet the demand

Although you’ve got some clear plans and conditions for increasing sign-ups, you aren’t sure if increasing the returning travelers will expand your market share. If there are more returning travelers, your market share will be higher if these returning travellers book more flights through you, and do not go through a competitor. 

In order to increase the number of the returning customers, you want to start with increasing the flight satisfaction. It makes sense to have this as a Key Result because your previous experiments validated that people tend to fly with you more than once if they enjoyed the experience. 

Unpacking the PSF

By improving our flight satisfaction, we expect that more people will sign up for a second flight as returning travelers (and don’t prefer a competitor), which should support achieving our goal of increasing the space tourism market share. 

Your hypotheses are, “if we can increase your flight service satisfaction and improve the landing experience, this will positively impact the returning customer rate.”

For each different hypothesis, you can create separate PSFs. 

Let’s start with the following piece of the puzzle: “by improving our in-flight service satisfaction…” If you achieve this, you expect that people will want to fly with you more often, which should support achieving your goal of increasing your market share in space tourism. We will measure this with an improved flight satisfaction survey.

Next, we’ll look at the “improve our landing experience” part. If you achieve this, you can expect that people will want to fly with you more often, which should support your goal of increasing your market share in space tourism. We can also measure this with an improved flight satisfaction survey.

Unpacking the Necessary Conditions and Experiments

Landing experience is strictly tied to one Necessary Condition, “Launching Landing Gear 2.0,” and one experiment, “Distribute laughing gas during landing.” 

  • We need to launch Landing Gear 2.0; otherwise, we’ll keep having hard bumps, which increases significantly the risk of injuring passengers 
  • To complete Landing Gear 2.0, we have to complete dummy-crash tests and score 100 points from the NASA evaluation. 

As for the experiment:

  • We need to distribute laughing gas inside our crafts during landing to foster positive memories. If we don’t, we won’t be able to positively influence the memories of our customers. 
  • To start experimenting, we need to buy laughing gas, buy a distribution device, and install the device in our crafts.

This example sums up the interpretation of OKRs together with the Agile Strategy Map. In that way, you can define your Objectives and Key Results with more clarity and confidence. 

Want a guided free demo of the Agile Strategy Map™?

Our experienced coaches are happy to talk you through this software and how it can supercharge your goals. You can read more about the Agile Strategy Map™ and pricing information, or contact us to book a free demo with our experienced consultants. 


The Ins and Outs of OKRs

Goals are what drives us, and creates a path to our success. Whether you’re a student, employee, or entrepreneur, you should have one big goal in mind that informs everything you want to achieve. But what do you do when you have identified the goal and know what you want to achieve? It’s time to break this goal into smaller parts and measurable outcomes, and Objectives and Key Results (OKR or OKRs) can be the perfect framework to achieve this.

Learn how to successfully implement OKRs in our virtual training: Get your OKR certification now

What are Objectives and Key Results?

OKR (or OKRs) stands for Objectives and Key Results, and it is a framework for setting a company, team, or individual’s goals. The value of OKRs is that they create transparency around the organization’s goals, which in turn helps employees feel more aligned and committed to achieving those goals. 

OKRs put outcomes first because it’s a way of working purposefully, rather than focusing solely on metrics, which can be misleading. Just like the goal of the agile teams, OKRs work to deliver value rather than just checking items off a list. 

Within OKRs, an Objective is what you want to achieve. Once you have an Objective, you  need to define Key Results, which describe how you will reach that Objective. Key results are visible and measurable outcomes which bring success to you and your organisation. When working with OKRs, we refer to all the projects and tasks that will help you realize your Key Results as “Initiatives”.  

John Doerr summarizes OKRs in his well-known book “Measure What Matters” as “Objectives and key results are like Yin and Yang of goal setting – principle and practice, vision and execution.”

What are Objectives and Key Results

OKR Examples

Even once you know the definition of OKRs, it can be hard to fully grasp how they work without some examples. 

Examples of Objectives

According to the definition in the book Measure What Matters by John Doerr, Objectives are defined as significant, concrete, action-oriented, and (ideally) inspirational. 

Although there were no OKRs at that time, there is an excellent example of an Objective in John F. Kennedy’s speech to Congress in May 1961: “I believe that this Nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth.

Example OKR JFK 

More “formal” examples include the following:

  • Decrease the carbon footprint of every household in Berlin
  • Improve German fluency in daily conversations
  • Make the company website more user-friendly

Examples of Key Results

Author Christina Wodtke said it best when she said, “I know I’ve got the right Key Results when you are also a little scared you can’t make them.”

Key Results represent the “how” part of your journey. They need to be SMART (specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and timebound) as well as ambitious and verifiable. You should have a direct influence on the results and be able to quantify them.

If we continue with one of the examples of an Objective from above, the related KRs could include the following:

  • Make the company website more user-friendly.
    • KR1: Increase loading speed by 20%
    • KR2: Shorten purchase flow from 6 steps to 3
    • KR3: Increase the NPS from 65 to 75
    • KR4: Grow the recurring visit 10% for Q4

Why do we need Objectives and Key Results?

The OKR process brings your ideas to life by helping you focus on what matters. Many teams and organizations suffer because of distractions. Distractions are all the seemingly good ideas that arise when working towards a goal, but don’t actually help to achieve that goal. They just overload you or take your valuable time without bringing any additional value.  

In addition to focusing your efforts, OKRs are also great for creating alignment, clarity, and achievable commitments, as well as tracking progress. 

The OKR framework is more than a goal-setting framework; it’s an essential part of the drive towards continuous improvement. It requires the involvement of every individual and involves every aspect of the business; from strategy to processes, behavioral changes, and even individual development.

How to write Objectives and Key Results

All levels of the organization and every department must be involved with setting OKRs, which need to serve the same company vision and strategy. Ideally, one individual (or team) should only commit to one Objective and at most five Key Results. 

This process will require making some bold decisions initially, especially when it comes to cleaning up all the unnecessary tasks and processes your company is accustomed to doing. It’s never easy to say “goodbye” and eliminate the hard work you have done before. However, if this work is no longer aligned with your OKRs, you need to be brave and focus on what matters. 

Step one: Define your business priorities 

To get started with OKRs, you need to start defining your long-term business priorities. You don’t need to have your entire future mapped out right away: three to four items for the next 12-month period is a good start. These priorities will form your organizational OKRs. This first step is at the strategic level and helps to define your direction for the year.

Step two: Break your annual goals down into smaller goals

Once your annual, high-level strategic OKRs are in place, you can start breaking them down to your tactical OKRs, which brings you one level down, to the operational level. These are your quarterly OKRs, and they will help you focus on the upcoming 90 days. 

Step three: Ask your team how they can contribute 

With your organizational and tactical goals defined, it’s time to bring the team on board. Engage your team, take a bottom-up approach, and find out from your team members how they can best contribute to achieving those OKRs. It is critical to involve your team at this stage, as these are the people who will be bringing the goals to life. The aim of this step is to define your Key Results. 

Step four: Plan projects and initiatives

Finally, teams can come together and start to plan the projects or initiatives they want to do, in order to fulfill their OKRs. 

Step five: Follow up

It’s essential to follow up on the OKR progress. Weekly or biweekly meetings are ideal to talk about the process, progress, and flow. They create transparency and accountability, and solve impediments.

Don’t be discouraged if you don’t successfully meet all your OKR results at the end of the quarter. Companies can rarely achieve their OKRs in their very first cycle. OKRs will mature and improve iteratively. Never forget that “perfection is the enemy of the good”: trying to perfect everything early on can get in the way of long-term improvement. 

The pyramid of clarity

It’s a challenge to create a balance between high-level, long-term goals and short-term plans. Asana’s “pyramid of clarity” is the way to see how things fit together. You can determine how every individual daily task fits into the overall company strategy and mission. When you use the pyramid of clarity, you provide responsibility, strategy, and purpose to your organization. It also assists in structuring your OKRs in nested OKRs and cadences.

OKR pyramid

Cascading vs Aligning OKRs

Cascading OKRs is the process of aligning objectives and key results from higher levels of the organization to lower levels. This ensures that everyone in the organization is working towards the same goals and that the objectives at every level contribute to the achievement of the organization’s strategic objectives.

To cascade OKRs effectively, organizations should start by defining their top-level objectives and key results. These should be specific, measurable, and aligned with the organization’s mission and vision. The top-level OKRs should then be communicated to the rest of the organization, along with the rationale behind them, to gain buy-in and commitment.

Next, each department or team should develop their own set of OKRs based on the top-level OKRs. These departmental or team-level OKRs should be specific and measurable and should contribute to the achievement of the top-level OKRs.

Cascading OKRs

Aligning OKRs refers to the process of ensuring that objectives and key results across the organization are aligned with the organization’s overall strategy and mission. This makes sure that everyone in the organization is working towards the same goals and that the objectives at every level contribute to the achievement of the organization’s strategic objectives, however it doesn’t mandate any hierarchical structure. Aligning OKRs allows for more flexibility and autonomy, and it keeps everyone on the same page. This is the healthy way of committing to realistic OKRs, because it gives an opportunity to everyone to be involved.

Between cascading and aligning OKRs, organizations should choose the approach that best fits their goals and needs. However, in the wrong hands, cascading OKRs could turn quickly to a hierarchical/top-down commanding tool and take away the team’s autonomy. Management should never use OKRs as a control mechanism. They will work at best for the empowered teams, who decide how to reach the desired outcomes. As an organization, you should be able to balance the objects with bidirectional goal setting.

Cascading OKRs (2)

Measuring progress through the OKR cycle

OKRs are a tool for setting and achieving goals. That means you have to take an organized, analytical, and initiative-oriented approach to writing and reviewing your OKRs. A great way to do this is by conducting weekly or biweekly meetings to discuss your OKR progress for the week. 

OKR Cycle - Cadences

How regularly should you review OKRs?

Checking and adjusting different levels of OKRs requires different rhythms: your big annual goals might require an annual check-in, for instance, while operational OKRs require weekly progress meetings. This is a great time to discuss your individual and collective progress toward your company’s stated objectives. During those meetings, you also should check your confidence towards OKRs and go over the week’s priorities.

It can be helpful to sync this cadence with your Scrum rituals. The initiatives can be divided into sprint goals and during every review, it’s possible to see the progress. Retrospective meetings are a great way to improve your processes and collaboration.

OKR and Scrum

OKRs vs KPIs: What’s the difference?

OKRs are not designed to keep track of every single thing going on in the company. They are stripped back to the most important goals, which will have a significant impact when you achieve those targets. KPIs, or Key Performance Indicators, are more focused on the day-to-day, business-as-usual aspects of the company. A KPI is a critical indicator of progress toward an intended result. You may measure many different things within your business, but only a few of them are crucial for your organization. Those crucial indicators are your KPIs.  

A great way to understand this is with the analogy of a car trip. The Objectives are your destination, and Key Results are the road towards this destination. KPIs, meanwhile, are your car’s dashboard, showing that your engine is running correctly. Just like the numbers in your car’s dashboard, your overall business performance, risks, and all the other activities are measured by KPIs. KPIs are direct indicators that immediately tell you if something is working or not. 

OKRs vs KPIs

Is a KPI and a Key Result the same thing? 

KPIs and KRs are not the same thing. However, in some cases, a KPI can become a Key Result. For this, it has to fulfil all of the following criteria: 

  • It needs to have a base-line, target value, time-frame, and an owner
  • It has to have the purpose of advancing you towards your vision and strategy. 

For example, revenue can be one of your KPIs. If you measure your baseline, you may set an ambitious but achievable target for a three-month time-box. If your tactical Objective is”drive worldwide sales growth,” you can add your revenue KPI as a KR: “Increase the Revenue from $3 million to $4 million in the fourth quarter.” 

Health metrics can add to your success

Health Metrics are all the other things clustered together that you need to keep an eye on to keep business going. They can vary from the Team Mood to Customer Satisfaction or Code Health. You may use traffic lights or any other metric management best practice. Just ensure that you don’t overcrowd your radar with unnecessary information. It’s also essential to have up-to-date data.

Company culture plays a significant role in success of OKRs

Adopting OKRs usually requires more than changing the project management approach. It’s a new way of working. A safe company culture is essential, wherein people are not afraid to set ambitious stretch goals, fail, and learn. As in any cultural transformation, change will not happen immediately. But it is possible to transform the company’s dynamics in a few months, if you focus on aligning and engaging the team. To achieve that, your mission and committed goals need to come first, and the team should feel comfortable speaking up and having disagreements. It’s also important to make it okay to deliver the bad news and impediments without fear. 


Consistency and focus are two big keys to achieving your goals, whether they’re long-term or short-term. Over time, your goals and accomplishments will add up and become the building blocks of your success. The OKR technique will increase your team’s capabilities and focus on the right things. It will change your company culture in a more open and collaborative way. All the self-reflections along your journey will make you more resilient and adaptive. Last but not least, don’t forget to celebrate your achievements, learn from your failures, and trust your team members.

If you want to learn more about the OKRs, we highly recommend reading Measure What Matters by John Doerr and Radical Focus by Christina Wodtke. 

Need help with your goal-setting?

Goal-setting is one of the most important predictors of success, but it’s also one of the hardest to get right. Sign up to the agile42 Corporate Learning Program and we can help you set your team up for success, with custom training and coaching based on your particular business needs. Contact us for more info. 

goal-setting and OKRs

Goal setting as a tool for organizational change: a case study

This article explores how Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) and goal setting can change the collaboration style within an organization, based on agile42’s experiences with a particular recent case study. In this instance, we introduced OKRs and noticed a number of changes emerging organically within the organization. The OKRs were intended to set strategic product goals, but we noticed new ways of collaborating, bringing about positive organizational change and empowering teams to self-organize. In this article we outline the challenges the company was dealing with initially, the positive side effects the OKRs supported, and some assumptions that contributed to these positive side effects.

The challenges the company faced

We were approached to work with a product department made up of 15 tech teams, all of which work on a single product. They had several challenges that both the teams and management were hoping to improve. 

Firstly, they had identified a strong lack of direction and priority on department level because there was no product strategy or roadmap. They were working from a long feature list from stakeholders, which had a number of contradictory requests and contained detailed descriptions with fixed scopes.

The teams were also noticing a lack of team autonomy. They weren’t able to make decisions related to product improvement. It was the kind of culture we refer to as a Feature Factory, where the team was building a large quantity of requested features rather than taking an iterative approach to build and improve the product. The result was a lack of focus on the value of the functionality. To make matters more difficult, the dev teams didn’t have access to the business problem, so they were not able to do any reasonable scoping.  

Additionally, there were strong dependencies between teams. Most of them were able to deliver smaller features independently within their area, but when it came to bigger releases, dependencies occurred all over the place and created bottlenecks.

Team feature list

OKRs as a tool for organizational change

The leadership team started to experiment with OKRs and set strategic product goals for the department. Over time it grew to a full goal-setting framework. They started with big and broad intentions that were valid for the year. The intentions for the year included the following examples: 

  • Build up a new revenue stream (including a new customer type)
  • Increase the product usability
  • Integrate partners via an SDK (Software Development Kit)
  • Migrate to new cloud provider

For every quarter the big intentions were broken down into Objectives and measurable Key Results, which were valid for the whole department. Some examples for the quarterly department Objectives and Key Results included the following:

  • Yearly Intention: Build up a new revenue stream
    • Objective: soft-launch our MVP
    • Key Result 1: Launch two cities
    • Key Result 2: Sign up 50,000 new users per city 
    • Key Result 3: Learn the top five feature wishes of our users
  • Yearly Intention: Increase the product usability
    • Objective: Decrease misleading items in sales funnel and checkout
    • Key Result 1: Increase conversion rate by 4%
    • Key Result 2: Reactivate 100,000 passive users
    • Key Result 3: Identify the top three usability flaws during checkout

With those given targets all teams were asked to set their own quarterly OKRs that contribute to the abovementioned department goals. All this was synchronized and made transparent in newly introduced events: every quarter there was a Review, Retrospective, and Planning event with all teams together. 

The positive effects of goal setting

Some time after introducing the new goal setting framework, there were three key positive organizational changes noticeable that had not been anticipated. 

Positive Impact of OKRs

Photo by Jud Mackrill on Unsplash

Focus on outcome instead of output

There was a distinct shift in the mindset, from an output- to an outcome-oriented approach. In the beginning the strategic goals were used to get a feature list implemented (e.g. integrate voucher provider X). This gave little freedom to the product teams for problem-solving. 

By formulating the Key Result as a measurable business value (e.g. increase monthly active users by X%) the teams were asked to find solutions themselves. In this case a voucher provider could help to reach the Key Result, but it is only one possible way to do so among many others. The teams needed to ask themselves, “what can we do in order to increase monthly active users? And that's a totally different challenge than “I have to implement feature X”. It encouraged team members to consider the impact of their work and the features they built, rather than just checking them off a list. 

Product Discovery Streams

This positive side effect came along with another challenge and opportunity. While the teams were great at delivering a clearly described feature, most of them were not accustomed to being involved in solving a business problem. They simply didn’t have the skills required to dive into the business context, understand the customer, run interviews, evaluate possible ideas, and design and run experiments with a subset of users. 

The organization started to realize that there was huge scope for new skills to be learnt. So they began to experiment with product discovery streams that were using design thinking, user experience design, and other approaches depending on the situation. Within a stream, people from different departments started to work together that wouldn’t have been in contact before, e.g. business development, operations, UX, product teams, and developers. 

The organization increased its ability evaluate and test ideas before implementation, and reduced potential waste of unwanted features. Customer centricity also increased significantly as there was research made about their needs and wishes rather than untested assumptions.  

The emergence of temporary teams

Another unplanned positive effect was the building and dissolving of temporary teams around business problems. Depending on the nature of the topic, as well as its complexity and size, a group of people came together to solve the problem. Previously, backlog items would have been sent from one team to another, with bottlenecks forming in between. The new system meant that teams faced with time pressure, teams could simply come together for a short period of time, get the work done, and then move back to their original teams - with the added bonus of enhanced sharing of knowledge. 

Why did these positive changes occur?

There are a number of conditions that contributed positively to the above side effects of the goal setting. Although it is highly multifactorial, we want to highlight some factors that we believe have had a strong influence.

Connecting people rather than coordinating 

First of all we observed a strong focus on connecting people rather than coordinating them. The leadership team understood that if people know and trust one another, they will collaborate in a meaningful way when it is needed. So there were a lot of social events and team building activities that created bonds between people, especially during pandemic times. This made it easier to ask for help and to collaborate on a specific problem.

Leadership allowed freedom to self-organize

We observed that the leadership team gave the teams a lot of freedom and set high expectations for the teams to self-organize. This was to such a high degree that there were even complaints about missing structure to help teams coordinate themselves, and concerns that the leadership team was too uninvolved. Although we initiated rounds for coordination, the interference stayed low so that the relevant structures simply grew around specific work needs.

The UX department was strong, capable, and eager

Finally we saw that the UX department was strong, capable and eager to change the mindset within the department and company. They quickly took the initiative to drive a product-focused rather than a project-focused mindset, and to experiment with product discovery. It also was their first time doing so, but they did a great job by involving the right people, being willing to fail and to learn from that.

Self organizing teams

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

What can we learn from this case study?

In conclusion we observed these organizational and cultural changes happened due to the implementation of OKRs (or any strategic goal-setting framework). It guided the department towards a few common goals. This influenced how the organization collaborated, while new structures evolved and rituals grew organically around these structures. This resilient structure developed organically - not by management or consultant’s design, but by the needs of the people that work with them. 

Many organizations focus on designing collaboration models and defining how people are supposed to do their work. There’s a saying that will be familiar to most who have heard of Agile frameworks: “manage the work and let the people self organize around it”. This case study was a great example of this, and can serve as inspiration for other managers and leadership teams. Allowing teams to self-organise around the goal-setting framework has a big impact and can be a change management tool in and of itself, leading to new structures and ways of working.

Interested in transformation at your company? 

We are available for training, coaching, consulting, workshops, and courses, both in-person and remotely. Take a look at our online short courses, browse our Scrum and Kanban certifications, and check out our leadership courses. If you’re interested and want more information, feel free to contact us