Comparing Agile and OKRs

“There's a way to do it better- find it.

- Thomas Edison

Agile may be new, but the ideas behind it are very old. Controversies aside, no one characterized the Agile ideal more than Thomas Edison.

Inventor, businessman, and all-around polymath, in his 84 years of life he acquired a staggering 1,093 single and joint patents: that’s 13 per year from the point of birth till his death in 1931. That’s pretty agile.

He learned early on in his career after the failure of his automatic vote tally system to build only things that there was a market for. His process was one of constant improvement, customer satisfaction, and delivery to changing requirements.

But it’s not always easy to find what to do better or to become better at finding. That’s why we’ve put together this guide, combining Edison’s foresight, Agile methodology and OKRs, to help you do and find better.


What are OKRs?


For those already in the know about OKRs, scroll down to see how they fit seamlessly into Agile methods. For those who don’t, Objectives and Key Results, or OKRs, is a goal-setting methodology for organizations to set ambitious goals with measurable results. The objective is the thing you set out to do, and the key result is the way you measure the outcome of your actions, in order to attain the objective.

For a more in-depth explanation, we’ve also put together this free guide to show you how they work.


What is Agile?


Agile is a project management methodology that utilizes adaptation and lightweight continuous delivery in order to deploy a given project.

It was originally conceived in the software development scene in the 1990s as a response to the perceived failings of traditional methods, such as Waterfall, which lacked iteration, flexibility, and relied on heavy planning.

While the seeds of Agile were sewn early on, it wasn’t until 10 years later, in 2001, when this methodology was formerly codified in the publication of the Manifesto for Agile Software Development.

The Manifesto contained a guiding set of principles to drive software development. However, enterprises soon realized that this ‘mindset’ could be applied to a multitude of other business areas and industries.

From Lonely Planet’s legal team using Agile to prioritize tasks in a points-based system to the National Art Museum of the Netherlands, engaging small cross-specialism teams to develop historical narratives, the below principles are pivotal in the fast and efficient increase in productivity across a variety of verticals.

These principles are:

  1. Customer satisfaction by early and continuous delivery of valuable software
  2. Welcome changing requirements, even in late development
  3. Deliver working software frequently (weeks rather than months)
  4. Close, daily cooperation between business people and developers
  5. Projects are built around motivated individuals, who should be trusted
  6. Face-to-face conversation is the best form of communication (co-location)
  7. Working software is the primary measure of progress
  8. Sustainable development, able to maintain a constant pace
  9. Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design
  10. Simplicity—the art of maximizing the amount of work not done—is essential
  11. Best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams
  12. Regularly, the team reflects on how to become more effective, and adjusts accordingly


The potential pitfalls of Agile


Agile is not synonymous with easy.

One of the biggest potential pitfalls in Agile methods is the heavy focus on output. Whether it is writing code, creating historical narratives, or launching a new kanban board for legal requests, employees can get bogged down in the minutiae of completion.

If the focus is delivery and delivery alone, a company will soon be overrun with outputs, not profit. Technical excellence and streamlined process only go so far in reaching company goals: for Agile to be successful, it needs to tie back to clear business objectives.

Another challenge is that you can’t spontaneously decide to do Agile. There is a wealth of planning, processes, and people to transplant from the existing system to a new one. Without the right technology and framework to capture this process, then the endeavor (no matter how lightweight) is doomed to fail.

This is where OKRs come in.

OKRs give employees a laser focus on what matters, business outcomes, and foster an environment of cross-team collaboration and alignment.


How OKRs can support Agile?


Customer satisfaction


The first tenet of Agile is answering whether a customer is satisfied or not: which is not always as simple as asking them directly. On the customer end, they may not answer due to a lack of time, missing value or they may already be looking at one of your competitors. On your end, continuous delivery through hitting customers with feature updates every week isn’t a measure of success, unless it is measurably contributing to a customer’s usage or acquisition of a product.

However, with OKRs, you set the metric of success early on and actively track engagement with or without explicit customer feedback. KRs such as…

  • Increase the daily active users by 30%
  • Implement the top 3 requested features
  • 30% of the live chat conversations end with ‘Very Helpful’ rating

…are all engineered to capture satisfaction. Agile is enhanced through an OKR process without impeding delivery. To get you started, here are 13 free examples of winning customer satisfaction KRs.


Changing requirements


Changing requirements shouldn’t mean the changing of the ultimate goal: delivery and profitability. To deliver the most effective deployment, a mechanism is needed to capture the reasons why, how, and by who a requirement has been added, removed, or improved.

Agility should not come at the expense of accountability, so a robust framework is needed to track each step of development. The overarching goal needs to account for these changes and be clear as to what is and isn’t within the remit of the project.

OKRs enforce strict adherence to a given Objective but leave it up to the individual or team to decide the exact methods or initiatives for attainment. In the example of a new feature release, the Objective would be something like users love our product.

It’s clear from the title that the new feature would need to be avidly used, indicating what should be measured in the Key Result:

  • A percentage of positive customer reviews
  • A number of unsolicited thank you emails
  • Award nominations from happy customers
  • And more

What it doesn’t do, is state how many iterations, stages, or amendments a product must go through before launch, leaving the activities up to the respective Agile team members.

Objectives provide inspiration and clarity, as well as ownership, but without restricting the methods.


Close daily cooperation


Agile necessitates, but does not provide, the apparatus for close daily cooperation between business units. Some businesses might make do with Jira comments as their source of communication, others with Slack conversations, and some with a hybrid between the above and a communication platform like Zoom.

With decentralized spaces for updates and communication, errors can occur: details lost, deadlines missed, and focus blurred as each unit or individual focuses on their particular aspect of a launch.

With an OKR platform, there is a centralized location for progress, confidence, and updates. Ownership, whether individual, shared, or by a team, means you know who to talk to about what. For additional agility, you can also automate updates from Jira, view or update OKRs directly through Slack or utilize any number of integrations to dig deeper into the data and update progress.


Projects are built around motivated individuals


Agile teams are typically comprised of three roles; a team lead, an owner, and the extended team.

The team lead is responsible for instilling the Agile principles and enforcing the processes agreed upon to be used. The owner is the one ultimately responsible for the direction of the new product/project, defining the vision and driving the purpose of the team. The last element is the extended team itself, made up of a number of disciplines who will be responsible for the work.

This setup is perfectly complementary to the OKR methodology.

Your OKR champion designs the cadence, acceptance criteria and is an expert on all things OKR. The product/project owner is the equivalent of an Objective owner; the person who sets the overarching focus and target of the team as well as being the go-to person for other teams with questions. The extended team are the KR owners who will manage the actions and progress of specific initiatives and tasks.

By setting up a parallel OKR process with your Agile team, there is a clear chain of ownership, collaboration is fostered and cross-functional success is supported through a transparent and centralized place for your teams to update.


The art of maximizing the amount of work not done


Waste is anathema to Agile.

Needless documentation, redundant process, and endless meetings all have a cumulative ‘holding cost’ that kill productivity. The goal of Agile, therefore, is to pull back on the excess and maximize success. Going lean is a delicate process and can come with an unexpected cost.

Lack of documentation can bottleneck information and create siloes. Process topiary can sideline teams as scope creep edges in. Infrequent meetings can lead to loss of focus and missed critical feedback. How then do you ensure that the essentials are covered, albeit on a diet?

First, nesting KPIs within OKRs will ensure that key milestones are tracked, going in the right direction, and reached. Second, by aligning OKRs to company or other team Objectives, vision is enshrined within the hierarchy and transparent for all to see — with scope and resources clearly committed. Lastly, teams can set how often OKRs need to be updated so that when meetings do happen, they are more informed and the chance for needless gathering is mitigated.


The team reflects on how to become more effective and adjusts


Feedback occurs at all levels of Agile, from planning to deploying, and in gathering data post-launch for the next iteration. Key facets for the usefulness of the above are timeliness, clarity, and consistency. There’s a gulf of difference between ad-hoc, conjectural input, and meaningful, measurable assessment.

To make the most out of Agile development, a systematic feedback loop is instrumental.

A dashboard of key metrics and insights that can be queried down to a daily, monthly, and quarterly granularity is perfect for calibrating performance and identifying the next steps required.

How Gtmhub can support Agile and OKRs


Gtmhub’s OKRs solution supports you in executing your Agile strategy in the most effective, time-sensitive manner possible. Our configurable platform enables you to match the right OKR methodology to your project management style, measuring progress and performance at all times.

If you’re looking to deploy faster, align closer, and execute better on your projects, speak to one of our free Agile coaching partners or arrange a short chat with one of our OKR specialists today.