What Traditional goal-setting is to the Performance Management System, Waterfall methodology is to the SDLC (Software Development Life Cycle). Well, these are passé! Today all IT professionals swear by the Agile methodology because it highlights the most important phenomenon of life i.e. ADAPTABILITY TO CHANGE.

Agile & Agile Goal Setting 🔁

Agile software development is the oxygen to disciplined product development & project management, it revolves around the idea of ‘Iterative development’. Where the focus is on People over Process, Cross-functional team over Specialists, Priority over Plan, Collaboration over Centralization. Ever thought about grabbing the components of Agile and placing it in the Performance Management gamut? Well think no more - an answer to that is the revolutionary framework called OKR (Objectives and Key results).

OKR takes the agile approach. Aspirational Objectives, quantifiable Key results linked to actionable Initiatives, driven by short cycles in a nutshell that is OKR for you! The CEO sets the optimistic and realistic goals (including BHAGs i.e. Big hairy audacious goals) and the team members have the complete autonomy to pick and contribute to the big picture, just like the Development team in a SCRUM environment have the freedom to pull the stories created by the Product Owner from the Backlog and decide its story points, during Sprint Planning.

Let’s take a Test Drive 🚗

As an organization, we have been exploring and contemplating the OKR process for quite some time now i.e. since early 2017. With immense curiosity about the process as an OKR Ambassador since mid-2019, I started intensive research and figured out the intent, ideology, and strategic plan for this process. There are multiple blogs, reference, study material easily available online on OKR. I have shared the most beneficial ones at the end of this article (in the References section). We treated OKR as a project and created a definitive plan for the same. This included:

  1. Pilot plan
  2. Project milestone
  3. Defining the Roles and Responsibilities of the stakeholders:
    • CEO
    • Leadership Team
    • Project Manager
    • Team Lead
    • Team Member
    • HR
    • OKR Ambassador
  4. Preparing a Communication Strategy
  5. Setting up a review process
Pilot Plan
Project Milestone

Why PILOT? 📃

A pilot exercise has multiple benefits, the primary ones are as follows -

1. Team buy-in - OKR was an absolutely new concept that we were about to witness, we wanted to gauge the acceptability of the idea among the smaller sample size. Just because it worked for Google it is not necessary it is a perfect fit for your organization, simply because there are Team (structure, dynamics, maturity) Organization (culture, policies, procedures) and Environmental (competitors trend, project availability) factors that play a crucial role.

2. Manage risk - With the pilot, the team gets the opportunity to undergo a Trial period with minimal damage. During this time we are able to evaluate potential risk and find ways to mitigate the same.

3. Learn from mistakes - Every new implementation has teething issues, with Pilot we manage to anticipate the same and ensure we do not repeat them.

4. Simulation - It is treated as a Dry run, where the team has the scope to review its execution and improvise on the same. The idea is to - Do a little better than the practice game on the day of the final match.

Two peas in a pod! Scrum & OKR 🎯

SCRUM! I’m swiftly shifting gears from Agile> OKR> Scrum, remember we spoke earlier about change! Wearing a dual hat of Scrum Master + OKR Ambassador, during the course of OKR deployment, I happened to realize the striking similarities between Scrum & OKR.

1. Hierarchy and Planning -

OKR
SCRUM

Split Big task into small bite-size chunks. In Scrum just like the Theme gets split into Epic> Feature> User story> Task, similarly in OKR’s The company Vision, Mission gets rolled out in to Annual company goals> Quarterly company OKR> Department OKR> Team OKR> Individual OKR. During the planning phase OKR we draft> calibrate> redraft> review, it goes through rounds of Iterations.

2. Status Update -

In a Scrum environment we conduct Daily Standup call to seek and share status update on the advancement of the task, in OKR we conduct Weekly Check-in’s to track the progress of the Key results.

3. Review - During a Sprint Review, the team gets together to review/demonstrate the results of the work done during the Sprint. In OKR, Quarterly Review is conducted to evaluate/showcase the progress of the Objectives and Key Results.

4. Retrospective - A Sprint Retrospective is nothing but lessons learned / post mortem analysis of the previous Sprint. This way we introspect on Celebrating wins, What could be done better and Discontinue unworthy practices, likewise in OKR we conduct a retrospective for the previous quarter OKR’s which helps us inspect and adapt for the upcoming Objective setting challenge.

5. Representative - Just like a Scrum Master is the facilitator of the Scrum methodology in an Agile project, an OKR Ambassador plays that role in driving the OKR framework. This role includes the responsibilities of coaching, mentoring, reviewing, removing impediments and enabling successful implementation of the process.

6. Timeboxed - Sprint is a fixed timebound duration in which the Scrum team completes the set amount of tasks. This could be 1-4 weeks depending upon the nature of the project. Similarly, OKR’s are timebound for 3 months i.e. A quarter. The stretched goals are expected to be completed within the mentioned duration.

Summary

Organizations today need to be nimble to sustain the ever-increasing competition and market trends. Awareness and ongoing research on Process Improvement techniques is the need of the hour. What I like about Agile is that it is a Framework and not a set in stone process, hence it gives room to the user to accommodate it as per their needs. Adopting a methodology and creatively applying its rules to single or multiple disciplines of the organization gives the opportunity to the company to enhance the efficiency and productivity of the team.

References

What do you think about OKRs? Please share your thoughts, experiences, and learning in the comments below 📝We would love to hear from you. Thanks! 😊