How to Align Your Company and Teams Using OKRs in Jira

Your top management may have set OKRs in line with your company’s mission and goals. But what happens if the teams don’t know about or understand these goals?

A lack of clarity about objectives leads to misalignment, confusion and poor performance. Do the goals of your company and teams have similar priorities or are they aiming in different directions?

If you’re experiencing the following problems, you may need to check your OKR alignment.

Signs of Goal Misalignment

Most Employees Are Uncertain of the Company Goals

If you asked everyone at your company what the organization’s main objective is, would you get the same answer? A recent study by Chris Zook of Bain and Company shows that only 40% of employees can explain their company’s goals. The majority of team members don’t know exactly what success looks like for their company. If most people don’t know where they’re supposed to be going, it’s nearly impossible to get there.

Every Team Has Its Own Interpretation of the Objectives

Even if teams have a general idea of the company objectives, they might not know how to implement them. For example, if the objective is “to become a more successful company,” interpretations of results that lead to success could vary widely among teams. One team might think that means developing a completely new product; another might think it’s improving customer service; yet another might think it’s fixing an existing product. Any of these ideas might lead to success, but if each team’s objectives aren’t clearly articulated, there will be confusion and a lack of progress.

Teams Have Conflicting Priorities

This confusion often leads to conflicts in priorities among different teams. When teams are aiming at different targets, they may get in each other’s way rather than complementing one another. Each team should understand not only its own priorities but also the main priorities of other teams so that they can synchronize and mutually benefit each other.

Aligning Company and Teams with Bi-Directional OKRs

How can you synchronize company and team objectives for maximum improvement? It’s important to make the objectives transparent and get teams to focus their priorities on these.

The best way to do this is with a bi-directional approach, that is, with the strategic objectives set by top management and the tactical objectives set by teams. For example, a strategic objective might be “Create an outstanding experience for our customers,” and a related tactical objective would be “Add five new features based on customer feedback.”

Take an Agile Approach

Bi-directional OKRs are agile in that they’re based around transparency and collaboration. Rather than a cascading method where all the objectives come from the top, bi-directional OKRs accept input from each team and encourage teams to collaborate with other teams to make sure everyone is heading in the same direction. They should all check in on the progress frequently to see where adaptation is necessary.

Emphasize the Strategic Objective

In the bi-directional approach, the main strategic objective should come from the top. That’s the overall company goal. It’s key that all team leaders and individual team members understand this goal and make it a priority. Sub-objectives and key results throughout the company should ultimately relate to this one. Teams can also initiate their own OKRs to allow space for creativity and innovation. For example, a team might be allowed to allocate 10-20% of their time to passion projects. They could set their own OKRs for these projects while still remaining in line with company values.

Use Nested Objectives

A good way to show how all the OKRs are related and keep them aligned is to use nested objectives. For example, a team may take one of the key results of the strategic objective and make that their tactical objective, then set their own key results for that. While management sets the company direction, teams often have a better idea of the specifics they can contribute, which is why the bi-directional approach works so well.

Understand How Contributions Matter

Teams and individuals stay more motivated when they recognize how their contributions make a difference toward achieving objectives. They can also see how their work and that of other teams is interrelated. This helps avoid conflict and promotes communication among different teams. When they’re aligned towards the same goal, they can discuss how to coordinate their contributions to best reach it.

The Easiest Way to Align Your OKRs in Jira

If you’re using Jira, it’s easy to align the OKRs for everyone in your organization.

Adding a simple plugin to Jira allows you to add and track OKRs at every level so each team member can see progress and remain focused in the same direction. For example, you can set nested, bi-directional OKRs like this. The objective at the very top comes from top management. Smaller, sub-objectives can be set by teams.

Screengrab of Nested OKRs in Jira App

Specific issues can also be linked to the key results. The connected issues provide transparency and give team members a clear picture of how their projects directly impact the company objectives, as well as which tasks to prioritize on a daily basis.

Connecting Key Results to Jira Issues in Jira App

With numbers-based issues, you can even use the automated tracking option, linking issues to key results. With this option, when someone marks an issue as ‘done,’ the progress toward the key result will automatically be updated. This allows team members to instantly see the impact of their tasks and aligns them on the latest goal status.

Automatically Tracking Key Results in Jira App Screengrab

Keep Your Agile Teams on Track with Bi-Directional OKR Alignment

If your agile teams’ performance is suffering from misalignment, setting bi-directional OKRs is the best way to keep everyone on track.

The company sets the strategic goals and teams can set their tactical goals and track them in Jira. Tracking company-wide and team goals in Jira with a simple yet powerful app like OKR for Jira provides transparency and makes it easy to set priorities and observe progress.

Check out our OKR for Agile Teams in Jira: The Definitive Guide for more expert tips and insights.

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