Quarterly Planning — An OKR-based team workshop

We plan quarterly. We use OKRs. It sounds easy, and it is not. There are so many things to keep in mind to create good and valuable objectives. They need to be outcome-focused, on that exactly right level, measurable, make sense to the team, align with business goals and strategy, keep the customer in mind, make employees happy and…

Here’s my recipe 👩‍🍳

  1. Make sure everyone is on the same page what OKRs are.
  2. Align everyone to the business.
  3. Decide on objectives and key results on a team level.

You can do these three things easily with my quarterly planning workshop using this helpful Mural template and yes, it is also very pretty!

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Click on the link, create a Mural from the template, export that still empty Mural as a template into your workspace to reuse it regularly or just use it once.

Start the workshop off by going through the agenda, this sets expectations and people will know what’s about to happen.

📃 Make sure everyone is on the same page what OKRs are

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OKR definition

[tweet link]

The next slide is an overview of what OKRs are and what qualities your objectives, as well as your key results, should have.

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To learn more check out this blog post by Tim Herbig: How to Combine Objectives and Key Results (OKR) and Agile Product Management?

Objectives from MARS

I cannot find the resource anymore, just articles about NASA’s strategic planning which are fun, too. At the time, when I heard it, I scribbled it down in my notebook, it kinda stuck with me ever since.

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The idea is the same as SMART though, what has been added is “strategic” which reminds us to look at the big picture, the company strategy, desired business impact. I find this more specific than “relevant” which is part of the SMART acronym.

Feel free to change this to SMART if you’re more comfortable with it.

Besides making sure your objectives are from MARS, you should focus on outcomes instead of output.

This one is kind of a big deal. If you don’t set objectives on an outcome level you’re being too prescriptive and you might end up in a feature factory.

So what is an outcome?

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An outcome is a change in human behaviour that drives business results. The business result you are going for is the impact, something big like revenue goals. These are kind of intangible, so you want to find customer behaviours that (might) impact these.

Outcomes can be achieved by building the right thing or implementing features that are valuable to customers. Make sure you allow for experimentation when working on those OKRs with your team and measure everything you do.

Resources to learn more and go deeper:

Vision, Mission, Strategic Intent

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Your team objectives need to align with the company vision, mission and strategic intent. Maybe these things have different names where you work, alignment is extremely important either way.

The vision, mission and strategic intent describe the overarching company goals, the big picture if you will — Why are we here? Where do we want to be in the future? How do we get there?

These answers will usually be provided be C-level people and or senior management. Startups might not have all of these explicitly set, but there is a vision for sure. So just ask.

It should be clear why your team’s objective should pay into these.

Feel free to rename these if you use different terminology.

Resources:

My most helpful recommendations to understand these are two books that were both very easy and fast to read and tremendously valuable.

📈 Align everyone to the business

As mentioned above, there might be different terminology in your organization, that’s ok. We call our strategic intent ambition level, e.g.

Review the last quarter

We have been using OKRs in the last quarter already but on a department and chapter level rather than team level. We went through the objectives, checked them against our new knowledge about outcomes (definitely room for improvement) and the numbers.

We also reflected on how department and chapter objectives did not always go well together and caused some confusion when it came to priorities. Having team level OKRs based on company OKRs should help with that.

I would recommend, to have other people prepare the OKRs review if possible, to change it up a bit in a team meeting.

Now you’re armed with all the knowledge it’s time to workshop it out!

🎯 Decide on objectives and key results on a team level

On a team level, I would opt for 1–2 objectives and 3–4 key results each. Anything else will be too much and not give you more focus.

This workshop is based on the concept of working “together alone” — Everyone comes up with ideas individually, then we vote. There is not a lot of room for discussion. This can feel unusual, a little unnatural or even uncomfortable. That is ok, explain and acknowledge this at the beginning of the workshop.

⏱ Set a timer for all steps! Explain that you’re the timekeeper and will have an eye on the clock at all times, get an ok from the team to stop discussions and postpone the topics to later. Sometimes, a parking lot area is helpful.

🗳 We will be using dot-voting throughout the session. People can vote on their own sticky notes and place multiple votes on the same sticky note if they think it is very important.

The number of votes per person depends on the number of participants and stickies on the board. You can either calculate this using this formula: (# of stickies on the wall / # of voters) / 2 or you just use 6 as a rule of thumb.

Here’s a post by the Sandy Lam about the mechanics in detail: How to use dot voting efficiently in your next workshop.

Step 1: What is important to us as a team?

  1. Cluster similar things together & remove duplicates. This will give everyone a chance to read all stickies and voting will be a lot easier. If stickies are unclear, ask about them and whoever wrote it can give a quick (!) answer ⏱ 7–10 mins
  2. Vote on the sticky notes: What should we focus on for the next quarter? ⏱ 3 mins

You did it, step 1 is done 🎉

Step 2: Create outcome-focused objectives

  1. Read the objectives out loud and remove duplicates. ⏱ 3 mins
  2. Vote on the objectives. Which ones best represent what’s important to us? Do they connect to our strategic intent? ⏱ 3 mins

You did it, again, step 2 is done 🎉

Step 3: Create key results

  1. You have 1–2 broad ambitious goals there, now you need to define the finish line! Write down all the ways to measure success. Which numbers need to change for you to see your progress towards the objectives? Write down as many as you can. ⏱ 3 mins
    Try to write down actual numbers, at least % of change. If you cannot at all use an “x” and figure it out later with the team. Make sure the key results are underneath the correct objective otherwise they might not make sense and it gets confusing.
  2. Look through them, ask clarifying questions if needed and remove duplicates. The facilitator needs to mind the time here. ⏱ 3–5 mins
  3. Vote on the key results. Which ones are clear, measurable and will show if you’re making progress. ⏱ 3 mins

You’re almost done 👏 Now just make it look nice 😉

Copy everything over here, so you have a nice (and shareable view) of your OKRs for the next quarter.

Congratulations you got some kick-ass OKRs for your team for the next quarter. 💪

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You can run this in person using sticky notes, sharpies, dot stickers, a time timer and lost of room on some walls. Or get my Mural template to run this workshop remotely. Let me know how it goes!

Written by

Product strategist, decision facilitator, team enabler, problem solver, design sprinter, agile enthusiast, intersectional feminist.

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