How to use The OKR Method for Implementing OKRs

Team of businesspeople working on strategy creation

What’s the challenge when implementing strategy?

Business strategy frameworks are a funny concept really, no matter how simplistic and actionable they can be made to look on paper, they are and will always be far more complex to operationalise and implement in-practice.

As a business strategy framework OKRs are no different; in themselves, OKRs are quite simple and straightforward, but the challenge is that no one really details how to set up an operating model for the use of OKRs, so how do you get OKRs to work in your context?

You may be in a situation where you’re having difficulty realising the value of using OKRs.

Teams unsure of when to create them, how to share them, and does anyone else look at them? We’re here to tell you, you’re not alone!

You’d be amazed how many times we’ve gone into a business using – or trying to use – OKRs, but they aren’t getting the benefits they expected or hoped for.

What’s worse, is this often leads to unrest across the organisation, strategic regression and ultimately abandonment of the use of OKRs, which renders any initial investment moot. 

I was at a meet-up before the pandemic to discuss OKRs and the host company abandoned OKRs in the 3rd Quarter as the CEO had lost patience, but many in the company still wanted to use the system, as they saw the value, it was the implementation that was at fault. 

In this article I will share with you The OKR Method that we’ve created to solve these challenges.

I will provide a brief overview of the Method phases and how we aligned this approach to Scrum. 

This will be the first in a series I’m writing aimed at helping support organisations to use OKRs better and realise the full value of this great Strategy Management System.  

The OKR Method

The challenges I described in the opening paragraphs are what inspired myself and my co-creator to develop The OKR Method, as a blueprint for implementing and incorporating OKRs into any business operating model successfully.

Similar to many operating models, The OKR Method is broken into a set of components that provide structure and guidance to any of its users.

These components consist of a set of Phases, Events and Roles, that help you implement OKRs with speed and certainty by reducing complexity.

In addition we set out to design the Method as an ‘Overlay Framework’ so that it could work alongside and complement your existing operating model.

In doing so, you will reduce any requirements for widespread change during its implementation.

This also allows for the cultural rather than operational aspect of OKRs to remain the focus of the change initiative. 

As previously alluded to, The Method is built upon three phases – Ideation & Alignment, Learning & Insights and Reflection & Action – each of which we’ll address in more detail below.

But it’s important to stress that the reason we’ve designed it this way is because OKRs are a way of creating, communicating and validating organisational strategy, and each of the phases is designed to support the business in achieving that goal. 

Ideation & Alignment

Ideation and Alignment is the first phase and it’s during this period in which OKRs are created and teams collaborate together to foster alignment and engagement to the holistic company strategy. 

We are trying to answer the questions, what can generate the biggest impact for the organisation and how we do support each other in that process.

In order to achieve the above, in this phase we focus on defining our OKRs, continuously refining them as we ideate and learn, and then align across the organisation. 

We employ simple facilitated processes called DRA sessions, which typically take place over a two week period and help us achieve our goal.

Image depicting the suggested format of a DRA Calendar
Design, Refine and Align (DRA) Calendar | 1ovmany

A key aspect of this phase is the coming together of fundamental stakeholders across the business to create OKRs based on the wider company goals, and to ensure vertical and horizontal alignment throughout. 

We conclude the Ideation & Alignment phase with an OKR Marketplace, where every team member gathers to share and agree upon their proposed OKRs, driving transparency and engagement.

Learning & Insights

The fundamental ingredient to winning with OKRs is the fast feedback loops it enables.

That ability to learn and orientate rapidly is achieved throughout the Learning & Insights phase, during which Key Results are tracked and updated on a regular cadence. 

If you can realistically update your Key Results on a bi-weekly basis, then you are creating a company-wide measurement of success that is being updated every two weeks; how valuable is that data in creating competitive advantage and reducing waste?

Using that rapid data loop to support learning and customer insight during the delivery of initiatives and experiments is critical to planning your future investments and perhaps curtailing failing initiatives.

This phase is centralised around the Key Results Review, which in a similar manner to that of a Sprint Review, is an opportunity for the team working on a set of OKRs to review the progress towards achieving those OKRs, observing, analysing and validating the changes that have taken place in the Key Results.

During the Learning & Insights phase, teams easily share data and insights amongst peers and leadership with an improved level of transparency and clarity of information, progression of outcomes, impacts are clear to understand and impediments can be easily understood.

A valuable and useful business benefit of this process is the continuous output of data towards the achievement or nonachievement of Objectives. “Without understanding what brings success and what brings chaos, it’s hard to actually improve.” (Weekdone)

Reflection & Action

To wrap up the OKR Cycle, we arrive at the Reflection & Action phase, where teams at all levels within the organisation have an opportunity to review the progress made, document any impediments and lessons learned that supported both positive and negative outcomes.

This phase is incremental to the OKR process as it’s where you’ll validate the business value generated, and subsequently develop learning and insight to carry into the next cycle of OKR creation. 

Central to the Reflection & Action phase is the End of Cycle Review, where we inspect the Objectives chosen at the beginning of the cycle and validate the hypotheses through Key Result achievements.

The gathered insights from this review highlight the Key Results that were most significant in delivering value towards the Objectives and where the notable impact was made, so we can prioritise for the next quarter. 

Once we’ve established where to prioritise in order to yield maximum productivity, we can then focus on our most profitable outcomes going forward.   

Final Considerations

The real advantage of OKRs is their ability to help teams articulate strategy in a manner that is clear and easily understood throughout the organisation.

We’ve purposely designed this overlay framework to exhibit the principles of Empirical Control Theory, with the three-phased approach having been engineered to inspect, adapt and make everything we’re doing transparent.

As long-term advocates and patrons of the Scrum methodology, we observed how the fundamentals of OKRs can benefit teams already utilising Scrum and other Agile frameworks, which is why The OKR Method naturally exhibits familiar features.

This makes it a fantastic option for Scrum Teams, as it can overlay and append your existing method of working, allowing for a smoother and more successful adoption and implementation of OKRs.

In our next article from this series covering The OKR Method, we’ll talk about the individual Events that comprise the Method, and how each of them compliment a successful OKR implementation.

If you’d like to learn more about OKRs and/or how OKRs can be used effectively alongside Scrum, take a look at our dedicated OKRs insight page here.

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