OKR Best Practices – 10 Tips for Successful Goal-Setting for Agile Teams

“The academic research is really clear that when corporations launch transformations, roughly 70 percent fail.”

– McKinsey & Company (source).

If you’ve recently rolled out the OKR goal-setting framework at your workplace, surely you’d want it to succeed. 

When implemented correctly, the OKR framework aligns company, team, and personal goals to measurable results.

In the long-run, just like what Larry Page—the co-founder of Google—said, OKRs can lead companies to “10× growth, many times over.”

But the key to getting the goal tracking system right lies in its best practices. Techniques that have been experimented and optimized by other organizations, which should bring effective results to you too.

Continue reading to learn the best practices for setting OKRs for your agile teams!

OKR Best Practices for Agile Teams

Many large agile companies like Atlassian and Amazon have implemented OKR as their goal management system and are now reaping its benefits. From employees feeling satisfied with their individual contributions to teams nailing ambitious goals, OKR success metrics are aplenty.

Here are our top 10 best practices that you should follow when planning OKRs for your agile teams. 

1. Keep the OKRs simple

Keep the OKR quantity and format simple. Too many goals can complicate prioritization and execution. Start with team and company goals first. Each team should have a maximum of 5 objectives, with up to 5 key results for each objective. As for the format, follow this rule: “I will (objective) as measured by (key results).” 

2. Set ambitious goals

Without contradicting the point above, ambitious refers to difficult goals that will challenge your team to go out of their comfort zone to deliver value. Especially if you’re an OKR newbie, start with roofshot goals (i.e., hard but achievable) before progressing to moonshot goals (i.e., almost impossible). When you and your team members nail those roofshot goals, you’ll be more motivated to aim higher.

3. Be transparent with your OKRs

We all know how transparency takes center stage in the world of agile. Scrum teams have ceremonies like sprint planning and daily stand-ups while Kanban teams have highly visual Kanban boards. 

Follow this best practice and be transparent when setting OKRs. For example, your team members must know what the team and company goals are. While you’re at it, get their feedback and make them understand why they’re important. 

4. Align goals bi-directionally 

To make sure that everyone is working together in a unified direction, goal alignment is crucial. Align your goals bi-directionally. This means that the higher ups come up with strategic OKRs while you and your teams define tactical OKRs that can contribute to those company objectives. It encourages ownership that will result in effective goal accomplishment. 

Here’s an example of a bi-directional OKR alignment for a SaaS vendor:

CEO: Our strategic OKR is to build a software that customers love. How can each department help?
Marketing Department Manager: Our tactical OKR is to obtain 1,000 new subscribers by launching a blog with twice-weekly content posting.

5. Be flexible with your goals

Agile is all about being flexible. Your team may deliver an MVP so that it can be further experimented and optimized as they get more feedback. Do the same thing with your OKRs. Set those goals but adjust them during the evaluation cycle to better match business direction or team needs. 

6. Let different types of objectives have different periods

When planning your OKRs, you must also consider the review cycle. Period or cadence is the evaluation cycle for your OKRs. Depending on the type of objectives, the cadence will be different too. 

For example, tactical team OKRs should have a quarterly cadence while strategic company-wide OKRs should be reviewed annually. What if your agile team participated in a spike that takes 2 months to complete? That’s when a custom, shorter period is recommended. 

7. Conduct regular OKR check-ins

OKR check-ins are not the same as OKR period. The former is to track OKR progress regularly while the latter is to grade the overall OKR at the end of a cycle. You should have many, regular check-ins within a single OKR cycle.

If you manage an agile scrum team, it’s best to schedule check-ins at the end of sprints. If not, it’s recommended to check-in on your goals weekly or bi-weekly.

8. All OKRs must be measurable

Make your OKR system effective by ensuring that the goals set are measurable. In fact, Bersin by Deloitte research confirms that ongoing measurement and management of goals has a positive effect on business outcomes. If the objectives are qualitative statements, the key results are quantitative and measurable. Achieving those targets means that the set OKRs are a success. 

9. Reward your team when OKRs are met

Recognition is positive reinforcement. So, reward your team when they’ve successfully achieved their OKRs at the end of a period. But remember that OKRs cannot be used solely for employee performance appraisal because it’s only a goal alignment tool. Instead, use OKRs together with other evaluation factors like agile metrics and workplace conduct when assessing team performance. 

10. Modernize your OKR goal-setting practice

Gone are the days when you plan and manage OKRs (or goals) using legacy, externally-hosted documents like Google or Excel spreadsheets. Such methods only make your OKRs obscure, leaving very minimal room for goal collaboration (check point no. 4). 

A good practice is to modernize the entire process. Let’s say your agile team is working in Jira. All you need to do is to choose and install an OKR app to your Jira. From there, you can create a public dashboard that shows how company objectives break down into team objectives, as well as the corresponding key results. 

Bonus point if you can map Jira issues or daily tasks as the initiatives to these OKRs. So, now your team not only has goals to reach, but they also know how to reach them.  

Connecting OKRs to Jira Issues in Jira App
An example of a Jira OKR plugin—OKR for Jira—that allows you to update the OKR goal-setting process for your agile teams.

Setting Good OKRs for Agile Teams

Just rolling out the OKR framework isn’t enough. It’s all about optimizing it to ensure that everyone is aligned on shared goals and is working together in the right direction. 

Want more best practices and tips to make your established OKR system successful? Download our OKR for Agile Teams in Jira: The Definitive Guide.

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