OKR Framework Summary
You may be a leader looking to adopt the OKR methodology in your organisation, or even someone who offers expertise in the OKR method, but in either circumstance, there is a lack of well-defined approaches for OKR implementation.
The importance of an OKR framework, in the setting of and meeting strategic OKR, has been noticeably neglected across the organisational landscape, and the cracks are starting to show. Although the OKR approach has grown in popularity, we are still seeing unnecessary problems in OKR implementation, and it is important we understand why.
What is an OKR Framework?
If you search on Wikipedia, you will find OKRs defined as a ‘ for defining and tracking objectives and their outcomes’. (who could be said to have made OKRs famous in his book ), defined an as “a protocol for companies, teams and individuals”.
These, like many of the common definitions you will find, simply do not provide enough substance as to what an really consists of. They lack the breadth and depth to cover what is required to truly understand and succeed with OKRs and . Furthermore, the basic definitions do not adequately demonstrate the impact OKRs can have on an organisation and .
In order to support our OKRs training and implementation services we’ve had to delve into what really defines an .
For 1ovmany, OKRs are a for creating, communicating, constantly validating and adapting corporate strategy. Admittedly, this does sound formal and overly complicated, so we’ve laid out the following bullet-points for what we feel an should help to accomplish:
Facilitate the creation of good corporate strategy
- The creation of plans to achieve our purpose using clearly defined objectives to outline that plan. Not just at the C-suite level, but at every level within the organisation, all aligned and engaged. In short, clearly define what we are trying to achieve.
Clearly communicated using a common structure & language
- This includes the measures by which it can be established unambiguously whether each within the plan has been achieved. To summarise, what is every other in the organisation trying to achieve and how will they measure themselves?
Constantly validated with fast feedback loops
- Allow the work being done to achieve our strategy or , to be constantly validated with fast feedback loops. This is seen in the , and answers the question: are we achieving our strategic or OKR ?
Clear process through which we adapt constantly to the feedback
- This stage is about nurturing a process through which we can constantly adapt to the feedback we get from the and modify our strategy (plans and objectives, ) accordingly. We carry out this through , OKR review and OKR retrospective, each quarter, half year, or whatever the length of your OKR cycle.
Unfortunately, in most implementations of the I have encountered as an OKR coach, we do not see these features or well-defined and laid out in easy to follow steps.
What do we see in the wild?
It is abundantly clear that the concept of an is generally not well understood or applied throughout the organisational landscape.
In , Doerr alludes to the adaptability of OKRs, talking of them as potentially both a survival kit in a start-up through to being able to demolish silos and enable frontline autonomy in large enterprises. Unfortunately, this is just not what is being seen on the ground.
It would seem there’s somehow been a belief established that by structuring and communicating your strategy into a particular format (OKRs), your organisation is going to magically adopt a new culture. It is obvious when you put it in these terms that this just is not going to be true.
Adopting is often talked about in the same conversation as that of Agile transformations, which makes for an interesting comparison in this case.
According to a recent report, the highest-ranking challenges to adopting and scaling Agile frameworks continues to be related to organisational culture, resistance to change, inadequate management support and having organisational culture at odds with Agile principles. Most organisations that have adopted Agile software delivery have seen benefits, but it isn’t always an easy path.
It would appear though that OKRs are at the opposite end of the funding spectrum and very much lack the maturity of Agile.
The true challenge for organisations adopting or is the recognition of this reality and sometimes a lack of willingness to invest in success. This is not helped by the numerous organisations telling people how simple OKRs are to implement and use, typically through the means of an platform.
Benefits of a well thought-out
As I will discuss further, OKRs do work and they do deliver, but they need to be treated for what they are – something designed to guide and control the work of your whole organisation whilst also measuring and demonstrating its success and failure.
How you want to do this is ultimately decided by the you implement, which in turn guides the type of results your organisation will experience. With a scope and impact like that, would you want to short-change the implementation or underplay its importance and complexity?
Don’t short-change it!
We’ve heard first-hand experiences of teams being shown a few of slides on OKRs, told to google it and then present their OKRs later that week. At another well known organisation, we heard three completely different OKRs experiences from within a small single unit, from the apathetic to the blatant ignoring of them altogether.
These are not the only example we’ve heard where OKRs are not treated as a strategy management , but instead a side-of-desk activity that is not genuinely expected to have an impact on the organisation. These types of leadership vanity exercises, reduce the organisation’s effectiveness and damages the reputation of OKRs as a successful strategy management .
Don’t overcomplicate it!
Of course, things can also go terribly off course at the opposite end of the spectrum! In one organisation we saw a huge investment in creating an overly complex and fundamentally flawed , which exhibited poor engagement from front-line members and operational management. The effectively drained all creativity out of the OKR setting process, while simultaneously creating a huge quarterly burden, the of which was communicating the same directives, projects and initiatives that were in place previously. To improve engagement, you need to have a system that allows those involved to contribute without being overly onerous.
A commonality in these issues is the lack of a simple effective structure to build the implementation, a lack of understanding of the inherent effort required to make them work, and a lack of a simple and straightforward way to implement and manage them on an ongoing basis. This ultimately means you don’t drive towards the desired cultural outcomes or formulate a workable . This is what an should provide and what is necessary if OKRs are to be successful in an organisational context.
Part of the challenge facing OKRs, if they are to live up to the hyperbole and become the future language of strategy in organisations, is to mature in a similar way to Agile. The trend of treating OKRs as easy to adopt, simple to create and requiring only trivial investment to revolutionise your company culture must give way to defined, effective, tested and robust frameworks that deliver.
Is an OKR framework being sold?
We are seeing OKRs sold as semi-magical solutions, as eluded to above, simple and easy to do without the need for complexity like a . Without experience and a solid , it is very unlikely an is going to land effectively and lend towards the .
Many organisations are looking to Agile coaches to fill the void, and some, perhaps armed with ‘s book, are all too happy to oblige, despite exhibiting a lack of OKR expertise. Many Agile coaches are open about the lengths they need to go in order to be ready to fill that gap, but without the sort of frameworks you commonly find in Agile, it’s difficult for them to step-up and structure an effectively. (If you are an agile coach looking to explore moving into this space get in touch, we can train and support this ambition) or have a look at our OKR Training.
Our experiences appear to be reasserted by others’ industry insight. A recently published OKR report available on Mind the product, was aimed at understanding how companies are using OKRs in the wild. The results indicated that their use is still relatively undeveloped, coupled with many challenges in their implementation, demonstrating a lack of maturity. 57% of participants considered their company’s OKR skill level to be relatively low; a serious issue when this is the system for managing and communicating your strategy organisation-wide.
These stats would suggest that a majority of organisations displaying an interest in or even investing in , are in the juvenile stages of their
Marty Cagan (Partner at Silicon Valley Partner Group, SVPG) recently highlighted on the SVPG blog :
“companies are not set up to effectively apply this technique [OKRs]”.
For this reason, Cagan has actually stopped recommending the use of OKRs for many companies. He goes on to say that “In so many companies, even though conceptually the technique is simple and sound, it ends up proving a waste of time and effort and yields little if any results”.
This further drives the point that in order to achieve success with OKRs, they need to be implemented as part of a structured , which should be designed in with the desired organisational outcomes, as well as considering culture and make-up within the business.
Where does this leave us with OKRs?
There is real evidence mounting up that suggests organisations are not demonstrating an appreciation for the investment required to implement OKRs, or the ongoing time-cost to operate them. We are also seeing a lack of awareness that organisations will need to transform how their business operates and the mindset and culture of its people to be successful with OKRs. We have written about this extensively here.
This is where frameworks create huge value. They provide a clear understanding of the rules of the game, as well as the expectations and investment required. Scrum is a fantastic example of a lightweight used in software delivery.
For those not familiar with it, Scrum is one of several frameworks under the umbrella discipline of Agile software delivery. It sets out:
- the theory;
- the values;
- the roles;
- the events; and
- the artefacts
needed to implement and run the to deliver software in an Agile fashion.
Scrum describes itself as a lightweight that helps people, teams and organisations generate value through adaptive solutions for complex problems. It includes all of the items above and is documented in a 14-page guide. It also has accreditation for each role and books galore.
Now with OKRs, we are not at that level of maturity, but as I stated earlier, it is the direction that the OKR ‘industry’, such as it is, needs to move in.
Without this maturity, we will continue to see misunderstandings, false-hopes, dodgy sales promises and ultimately ineffectiveness, which could be the death of a system that is inherently quite brilliant in its conception.
What do you do if you want to adopt OKRs?
You need to be realistic about what you can do on your own and when it will become necessary to bring in support.
If you are not a very small organisation and/or you have no experience with OKRs, then we strongly recommend that you reach out for experienced assistance.
You should go with an organisation or individual that can develop a simple but solid , and that can handle how to implement OKRs and then manage-ongoing the use of OKRs within the organisation.
Ideally those with experience implementing an in an organisational context, and has faced similar challenges to those that you are to combat in own company.
Note that a is not the tool, nor the people you use for your implementation, it is the formalised roles, processes, communication channels/forums, planning methods and methodologies that come together to create a system, following standardised principles, that can be correctly tailored to your and organisational needs. Be sure you are receiving the support that you really need to make a success of adopting an .