How OKRs & Agile methodologies work together

Being aligned and making sure your team is moving forward in the same direction is not an easy task. The numbers speak for themselves – only 41% of employees know what their organization stands for and just 38% of workers feel engaged by their jobs. And if the people don’t understand and connect with the organization’s mission and vision, they can’t contribute to the completion of company goals effectively. 

To avoid such misalignment, many companies started adopting the OKR methodology to improve alignment and transparency. OKRs only started gaining popularity in the 1990s once Google adopted them. Around the same time, companies began to feel the need for a new, more iterative and incremental development method, thus Agile methodologies began capturing the headlines.

OKRs are a powerful way for companies to create clarity, culture of transparency and focus on what matters most. This ensures that employees are engaged and excited to deliver their best work in pursuit of a shared purpose. Usually, objectives and key results are organized on a quarterly basis. On the other hand, agile methodologies use shorter iterations of few weeks to deliver value. It may not be evident at first sight, but something both OKRs and Agile methodologies have in common is the goal to bridge the gap between strategy and execution and improve adaptability. 

With that in mind, there are ways you can leverage best practices from both methodologies to accelerate progress. In this post we will talk about the two approaches you can try out.

Agile techniques for building OKRs 

One thing you can do is utilize Agile techniques to build OKRs. Many of you may already be familiar with the Agile sprint diagram: Plan, Design, Develop, Test, Deploy, Review and Launch. The same principles can be applied in developing your OKRs. Agile sprints are well-defined, and you can leverage the main idea behind each stage to assist you in the process of creating company objectives and key results. Basically, you can treat the process as you would treat a sprint – the duration should also be relatively the same. Let’s break this down:

1. The planning stage is when the scope must be identified – some companies begin by setting objectives on a company level, whereas others may choose to start with only one department and further develop in the following quarters. In the planning stage, the OKR Product Owner, Scrum Master, Champion and Stakeholders must be appointed. The logistics and timing framework should be figured out as well.

2. Next step is to design your OKRs – figure out what the strategic objectives are and weigh their priority. 

3. Then, develop that further by cascading the strategic objectives to the different areas and identify critical performance nodes that must be addressed. This will help you create alignment and will give you an overview of the overall strategy achievement. At this stage, the Key Results must be identified as well – this can be done by everyone in the organization. 

As part of the systematization process, make sure you determine how often the Key Results must be updated – that could be weekly, bi-weekly or monthly, depending on your business needs. 

Integrate OKRs in your work routine with Agile 

You should consider incorporating the OKRs into your meetings and day-to-day activities. Agile methodologies can assist you in there as well. Here are our top 3 tips we recommend trying out: 

1. For instance, you can try setting up weekly and monthly discussions to close-off sprints, update the OKR progress and refine tactics. Quarterly meetings can be used to refresh your strategic priorities and set-up new objectives and key results. Once a year, re-evaluate the priorities, overall strategy and update the strategic objectives.

2. Consider dividing each sprint into 2 parts – one half of the time the teams should work towards achieving an OKR and the other half – towards delivering what stakeholders brought up on the go and requires your attention (e.g. client requests, bugs etc.) This way you get agile responsiveness without losing track of the long-term plan.

3. Nonetheless, challenges may arise. Using sprints, you’re always moving, and things happen so quickly, it can be difficult to have visibility across the company and communicate with all departments what’s been shipped. If you’re experiencing similar problems, try incorporating this into your OKRs and discuss progress and communication improvement to sustain long-term vision. 

Looking at the bigger picture, the benefits outweigh the drawbacks of diving into the world of OKRs and Agile methodologies – over time you’ll start noticing that it disciplines thinking, improves communication, focuses effort and enables employee engagement.  

There isn’t a company out there that can’t benefit from better alignment and boosted employee satisfaction. Each company is different, and you can implement whatever methodologies and processes work for yours. Start with small steps, soon you will be well ahead in the game. 

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