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 👩🍳
- Make sure everyone is on the same page what OKRs are.
- Align everyone to the business.
- Decide on objectives and key results on a team level.
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
The first part of the workshop is a quick intro to OKRs, it shouldn’t take longer than 10 minutes. Familiarize yourself with the little slides at the top, each of them has an entry in the outline in Mural. When you click on the part in the outline that slide will be in focus, so you can either present your screen or have all the participants follow you on the screen using facilitator superpowers.
The very short definition:
The next slide is an overview of what OKRs are and what qualities your objectives, as well as your key results, should have.
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
We have all heard about SMART goals — here are some objectives from MARS. It’s new, it’s fun and easy to understand!
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.
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?
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:
- 📘 Outcomes Over Output by Josh Seiden
- 📰 Intercom on Product: Why Teams Should Focus on Outcome vs Output also by Josh Seiden
- 📹 Output vs Outcome & Impact by Jeff Patton
- 📰 If we’re Managing to Outcomes, How Do We Know we’re Doing a Good Job? by Jeff Gothelf
- 📰 What Does an Agile Product Roadmap Look Like? by Jeff Gothelf
Vision, Mission, Strategic Intent
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.
My most helpful recommendations to understand these are two books that were both very easy and fast to read and tremendously valuable.
- 📗 Radical Focus: Achieving Your Most Important Goals with Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) by Christina Wodtke
- 📙 Escaping the Build Trap: How Effective Product Management Creates Real Value by Melissa Perri
📈 Align everyone to the business
The theory is all well and good, but what’s happening? It is finally time to look at your company’s actual vision, mission and strategic intent. There’s an extra slide where you can map them. Highlight the parts that align with your team’s mission or domain the most.
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
Why is this so important? To get a better understanding of what was possible in the past and then apply that knowledge to the new OKRs.
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
The workshop consists of three easy steps: Establish what’s important to the team, transform that into outcome-focused objectives, add key results that let you measure progress/success and voilá, you got yourself some OKRs.
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?
- Write down everything connected to customer value, business success, team health, technology, processes and whatever else you can think of that you find important. I am assuming you’re in a cross-functional team, so there will be diverse answers to this. ⏱ 7 mins
- 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
- 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
- Look at what is important to your team and write down different versions of objectives that capture those things while also being an outcome — remember an outcome is a user behaviour you would like to change to create a business impact. ⏱ 7 mins
- Read the objectives out loud and remove duplicates. ⏱ 3 mins
- 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
- Facilitator: Copy over the top 1–2 objectives. If you have more than 1 or 2 objectives you won’t be able to focus the way you want to. If there are no clear winners after the voting, you might want to add another round of voting. Copy all highest voted objectives to their own area and repeat the vote. Give people fewer votes.
- 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.
- Look through them, ask clarifying questions if needed and remove duplicates. The facilitator needs to mind the time here. ⏱ 3–5 mins
- 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. 💪