Are OKRs Working for Your Agile Team?

Office team looking at progress together

After you’ve chosen OKRs as the goal-setting system for your agile team, how can you evaluate whether the system is working? You’ll want to conduct regular reviews to see whether your agile team performance is improving.

Improvement is often not immediately obvious with OKRs; be patient as you monitor and evaluate them through the initial cycles. As you go through sprint reviews and retrospectives, consider how the issues connect to OKRs. It’s easier to measure progress when you can see how the issues in each sprint are linked to OKRs.

It’s common for teams to run into difficulties as they adapt to OKRs in the beginning, but if you can identify problems early, there are some measures you can take to move things back in the right direction. We’ll show you how to evaluate if OKRs are working for your agile teams and how to improve them in Jira.

Evaluating Your OKR Performance

When you evaluate whether OKRs are improving your team performance, look at overall progress toward objectives, how key results brought you closer to the objectives, and whether the initiatives connected to the key results are helping you achieve the results you aimed for. This will help you identify what’s on track and what needs to be addressed.

Checking Your Objectives

Are there too many?

Remember that objectives are big goals, closely linked to your company mission, not a task list. According to John Doerr, who first popularized OKRs, a company shouldn’t have more than seven objectives. These are the company’s main priorities. If you have too many, you’ll lose focus.

As objectives tend to be longer term, don’t expect to see these achieved quickly. However, make sure that every team member is aware of them as a guide. Transparency is key so that everyone recognizes the priorities and can see how their work contributes to the progress, for example, through connected Jira issues. Having a clear aim boosts motivation and brings teams together.

Are they clear?

Objectives act as a uniting mission for teams. If the objectives are too vague, team members won’t understand how to reach them.

For example, “Become a better company” without any additional clarification is a vague objective. Does “better” mean more profitable, greater customer satisfaction, more ethical, a better work environment?

Depending on how the objective is interpreted, the key results to reach it would be very different. If you discover problems with key results, this may be because of vague objectives. Ideally, you should clarify the objectives before setting key results. Check with each team to confirm whether they have the same understanding of the objective.

Achieving Your Key Results

Can they be measured?

While objectives should be the overarching goals of your company, key results are the measurable actions teams take to get there. As Marissa Mayer, one of Google’s first adopters of OKRs, said, “It’s not a key result unless it has a number.” You can’t update progress if you can’t measure it.

If you find that your key results aren’t measurable, teams will be confused about what to achieve. For example, if their key results are simply “increase sales” and “increase engagement,” do they need to increase it by 1 percent? 25 percent? 200 percent? Depending on the targets, their tasks and priorities would vary greatly.

Are they aligned?

For agile teams, it’s best to set OKRs with a bi-directional alignment, where top management sets the objectives and teams set key results and initiatives based on these. This is where you’ll run into problems if you set vague objectives. If the teams have different interpretations of the objectives, they’ll have clashing priorities, which will impede progress.

Tracking Your Initiatives

Are they confused with key results?

Remember not to make every individual task a key result. If you do this, you’ll have too many key results and lose focus of what’s really important. Break up the key results into manageable initiatives. Initiatives are steps that help teams reach the key result; these steps may be straightforward tasks or they may be more complex, including an entire project or Jira epic.

Are they diligently tracked?

If your teams are working in Jira, it’s helpful to set initiatives as issues, then connect them to key results. That way, you should see some measurable progress each sprint.

For quarterly OKRs, you’d aim to reach the key results by the end of the quarter, but the initiatives to reach those may be taken as sprint goals. As each initiative is completed, you’ll see how far you’ve come towards a key result.

Improving How OKRs Work for Your Team

If you’re using Jira, the easiest way to evaluate and make OKRs work for your team is with a Jira app. With OKR for Jira, you can manage all your OKRs transparently.

When tracking OKRs in Jira, you can monitor and update the status of the progress, based on your teams’ completion of Jira issues. If everything is on track, that’s great! But if the chance of reaching your objectives is at risk or completely off track, you need to figure out what went wrong and adapt to solve the problem. Several features help you get your teams working together in the right direction.

Set Clear, Transparent Priorities Using Nested Objectives

In the app, you can set nested objectives to show teams what to prioritize. The main company mission is the top objective; then you can set sub-objectives and key results under that. When team members look at the chart, they can clearly see priorities and how each OKR is related.

Screengrab of Nested OKRs in Jira App
Here, you can see the nested OKRs, who’s collaborating on them, the progress, the period, and the status.

Consider Custom OKR Periods

OKRs are often set quarterly, but if a different schedule works best with your goals, you can set custom periods in the app. For example, if you have a large project that lasts five months and want to set OKRs, you can set that period. Company-wide objectives may be set yearly while sub-OKRs might be quarterly. The system is flexible and can be adapted to your teams.

To check alignment and find out which issues are impeding progress, it’s helpful to link Jira issues to OKRs. This doesn’t mean that every issue should be a KR. You can link several issues to a key result so that each team member understands their contribution.

Connecting Key Results to Jira Issues in Jira App
View the status of the KRs and the issues that are linked to each one.

If there’s collaboration, more than one team could link their issues to one key result. Then they’ll understand the dependencies and can better align their priorities.

5 Ways to Improve Your OKR Performance Using OKR for Jira

When your agile teams are working in Jira, the best way to track whether OKRs are improving performance is in Jira itself, with an app. Here are just a few ways you can use OKR for Jira to improve your OKR performance.

  1. Set custom OKR periods to meet your yearly, quarterly, and project goals. When you’re starting out, you may need to experiment with different time periods to see which works best for your teams.
  2. Use OKR for Jira to set nested OKRs to emphasize priority and make sure your teams stay aligned. Nested OKRs clearly show the hierarchy of the objectives and key results so teams understand the main focus.
  3. Link Jira issues to objectives and key results. These issues may be individual tasks or more involved epics. When team members look at an issue, they see which key result it’s connected to.
  4. Create a focused team view so everyone on the team can see the OKRs they’re contributing to. This gives them a clear view of their targets.
  5. Set KRs to automatically update. With automatic updates, when a team member completes a linked issue, the percentage complete automatically changes. This helps ensure you’re setting measurable key results as this only works if there are numbers involved. You can also choose to manually update progress, looking at the linked issues and evaluating team improvements yourself, but remember to set a clear standard for measurement.

OKR for Jira is free to try for 30 days so you can see if it’s right for your agile teams.

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