Implementing OKRs Beyond 'Measure What Matters'

John Doerr's 'Measure What Matters' brilliantly introduces the concept of Objectives and Key Results (OKRs), detailing their transformative potential for businesses. However, while the book excels in explaining the what and why of OKRs, it leaves many readers searching for the who and how. This gap often results in companies struggling to translate theory into practice.

20 May 2024

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Our goal is to bridge this implementation gap. We will provide actionable insights for companies looking to effectively implement OKRs, moving from understanding their value to realising their full potential within their organisational structure.

The Implementation Gap

Despite the comprehensive framework laid out in 'Measure What Matters', companies frequently find themselves grappling with the practical aspects of OKR implementation. Often companies or individuals are unsure of when and how to start, along with who and what needs to be involved.

Who is Responsible for OKRs?

Successful OKR implementation begins with identifying the right individuals to lead the charge. Here’s a breakdown of the key roles you’ll need, based on our experience in the field:

Executives and Senior Leaders: It’s crucial that those setting the company strategy are bought into and advocate for the use of OKRs. Like any changes being integrated into an organisation, it is paramount that there is strong sponsorship. Setting the tone and leading by example signals to the rest of the organisation that this isn’t just another management fad but a core part of how the business operates.

OKR Creators: With OKRs, strategy is set at every level of the organisation and in doing so each level derives their strategy from the levels above. OKR Creators are those that are involved in the day-to-day activities of that department or team. It is a collective and collaborative exercise that increases participation and understanding of the company's wider strategic goals and how they align to the team or department's vision. Simply put, OKR Creators can be nearly everyone in your organisation rather than a few individuals setting OKRs for the whole.

OKR Coaches: Also known as OKR Champions, these are the go-to people for all things OKRs. They help guide the process, provide training, and support the team to make sure everyone’s on the same page. Think of them as your in-house OKR gurus who can answer questions, troubleshoot problems, and keep the momentum going. Their role is to ensure the OKR framework is understood and applied consistently across the organisation.

OKR System Coaches: These individuals oversee the overall OKR process across the organisation. They are responsible for maintaining the integrity of the OKR system, ensuring that it scales effectively, and that best practices are followed. OKR System Coaches monitor the process and provide strategic guidance, making adjustments as needed to keep everything running smoothly. We typically recommend that people who hold the role as OKR System Coaches are those that have political sway. Being able to keep executives in check or ensuring departments follow the process of implementing change is crucial.

Contributors: These are the team members who roll up their sleeves and get the work done. They focus on driving the initiatives and activities that help achieve the objectives Their efforts may or may not directly move the key results, but their work is essential for progress. Contributors keep everyone updated on progress, ensuring transparency and accountability. It’s really important that, as with the Executives and Senior Leaders, these team members are bought into the idea of working with OKRs as well, that they understand how and why their involvement contributes to the success of the change.

Integration of Events into Daily Workflows

Embed OKRs into your regular business operations. The key to making OKRs effective is to integrate them seamlessly into your daily routines. Use existing meetings and check-ins to review OKR progress, ensuring they are not treated as a side activity but integrated into the core of your work.

Here’s the practical advice that 'Measure What Matters' doesn’t cover, focusing on essential events that form the heartbeat of successful OKRs:

Ideation & Alignment

Design, Refine, and Align (DRA) Sessions: The first phase is all about setting the stage for success. During the Ideation and Alignment phase, teams come together to create and align their OKRs. This process should be thorough and deliberate, typically spanning one to two weeks.

DRA Sessions are dedicated times for teams to brainstorm, fine-tune, and align their OKRs. Plan for at least four two-hour sessions to allow for deep discussions and alignment, both vertically and horizontally. This collaboration ensures everyone is engaged and moving in the same direction.

The OKR Marketplace: This event wraps up the Ideation and Alignment phase and kicks off the Learning and Insight phase.

OKR Marketplace works as a gathering where every team member within an OKR Cycle Group shares their proposed OKRs through short presentations followed by a quick-fire Q&A.

The goals here are to:

  • Mark the transition from the Ideation and Alignment phase to the Learning and Insight phase.
  • Ensure transparency and engagement by allowing all members to see and understand each other's OKRs.

Learning & Insights

Key Results Review (KRR): The Learning & Insights phase is where the magic happens regularly. It’s about keeping OKRs alive and relevant through continuous updates and reviews.

Regular KRR Sessions every two weeks help assess progress on key results. During these meetings, teams review their progress, discuss any changes, report on initiative progress, and identify any roadblocks or lessons learned. This regular cadence ensures a quick feedback loop and keeps everyone aligned and informed.

Reflection & Action

End of Cycle Review (ECR): At the end of an OKR cycle, the Reflection & Action phase provides an opportunity to look back, learn, and plan forward.

ECR Sessions are for reflecting on the entire OKR cycle, analysing data, engaging with other teams and stakeholders, and generating suggestions for continuous improvement. This phase is crucial for gathering comprehensive insights and making informed recommendations for the next cycle.

How to Implement OKRs Effectively

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you start or refine your OKR journey:

Setting Objectives

Define clear, actionable, and impactful objectives. Ensure they are ambitious yet achievable, aligning with your overall strategy. Ask yourself the question “what is the change in state I am looking to achieve that will drive business value?” Here’s how we train companies and teams to start thinking in terms of OKRs:

Define Your Purpose: Start by identifying your company’s common purpose. This is your higher-order reason for existence that goes beyond making money and adds value to society. Understanding this purpose helps align your OKRs with the positive impact you aim to have on the world.

Develop Your Strategy: Next, formulate a higher-level plan of how your team intends to achieve this purpose. Your strategy should outline the broad approach you will take to drive progress and fulfil your purpose.

Identify Strategic Priorities: With your purpose and strategy in mind, pinpoint the key areas where you want to see progress. These are your strategic priorities, which your objectives should directly support. Ensure that each objective aligns with these priorities and contributes to achieving your overarching goals.

Craft Objectives: Write objectives that are clear, inspiring, and action-oriented. Each objective should give a sense of direction and purpose. Follow our syntax as a guide:

how to write an objective

Example: "Implement a scalable digital transformation strategy to enhance operational efficiency and drive long-term growth."

Ensure Alignment: Make sure your objectives align with your overall business strategy. They should drive your company forward and be significant enough to make an impact.

Developing Key Results

Craft measurable results that genuinely indicate progress toward your objectives. Key results should be specific, time-bound, and quantifiable. Here’s how to develop them:

How to write a key result

Identify Metrics: Using our syntax, determine the specific metrics that will indicate progress towards your objective. These should be quantifiable and meaningful.

Clearly state the expected outcome, ensuring it is specific, time-bound, and measurable. For example: "Increase automation of key processes from 30% to 60%".

Set Timelines: Define clear timelines for achieving these key results. This helps in maintaining focus and urgency.

Balance Ambition and Realism: While it’s important to be ambitious, your key results should also be realistically achievable within the given timeframe.

Overcoming Common OKR Implementation Challenges

Drawing from our experience, here are some common challenges you might come across while rolling out OKRs in your organisation and how to overcome them:

Lack of Dedicated Responsibility: One of the biggest hurdles is when no one is specifically responsible for OKRs. This often leads to OKRs being sidelined as just another task. To avoid this, make sure you have a dedicated individual or team solely focused on OKR implementation, typically the OKR System Coach. This ensures that OKRs get the attention they need to drive real results.

Alignment and Collaboration: Silos within the organisation can hamper the success of OKRs. Foster a culture of collaboration to break down these barriers. Regular cross-team OKR events can help align efforts and create shared objectives. When everyone is on the same page and working towards common goals, the entire organisation moves forward together.

Scaling Issues: As your company grows, your OKR framework needs to evolve too. What worked for a smaller team might not be effective as you scale. Regularly review and adjust your OKRs to ensure they remain relevant and impactful. Design your OKR system with scalability in mind, so it can grow along with your business.

Poor Quality OKRs: Crafting high-quality OKRs is essential for success. Invest in training to help your team write effective OKRs. Use a data-driven approach to ensure they align with your strategic goals and deliver real value. Poorly defined OKRs can lead to confusion and lacklustre results, so it’s worth taking the time to get them right.

Integration with Existing Processes: OKRs should fit seamlessly into your existing workflows. They shouldn’t feel like an additional burden. Align OKRs with your current operating patterns to reduce friction. An overlay framework like The OKR Method can help integrate OKRs seamlessly, making them a natural part of your business operations.

Change Fatigue: Implementing OKRs is a significant change, and change fatigue can be a real issue. To manage this, consider outsourcing the implementation to external experts when needed. This can help maintain focus and momentum without overwhelming your teams. Experts can provide the necessary guidance and support to keep your OKR process on track.

The Next Steps for Implementing OKRs

While 'Measure What Matters' does an excellent job of laying the foundations for understanding OKRs, we’ve found that it leaves readers without a practical roadmap for implementation.

The practical tips and real-world examples we’ve shared here derive from our own experiences of helping companies roll out OKRs, which you can use to bridge the gap between theory and practice, ensuring that your OKRs drive clarity, alignment, and measurable progress within your organisation.

If you have any questions or need a bit more guidance? Download our Full Guide to OKR Implementation for all the nitty-gritty details, or simply get in touch with one of our dedicated OKR Client Partners.

We're here to help you navigate the OKR journey and make sure you're set up for success. Let's chat and see how we can make OKRs work for you!

Mike Horwath

About the author

Mike Horwath

Mike is the Co-Founder and Co-CEO of 1ovmany. He is also the Co-Author of The OKR Method a Strategy & OKR Expert and at times an Executive Business Transformation Coach.

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