Implementing
OKRs
for Agile Teams in Jira

THE COMPLETE GUIDE

Everything you need to know to successfully set up and evaluate your agile OKRs in Jira.

Part 1 Assess Whether OKR Is Right for Your Company

OKR (Objectives and Key Results) is a scalable goal setting and performance management framework that aligns company, teams and individuals to make constant, measurable progress. While it has proven benefits, it’s more effective in certain types of companies, departments, and cultures than in others. In this section, we’ll look at how to tell if OKR is right for your business.

Consider Company Culture

Your company culture is a key aspect to consider when implementing a new goal-setting system. You’ll want to make sure OKR is a good fit for your teams and won’t be blocked by internal bureaucracy.

Team Autonomy

OKR is ideal for uniting teams around a sense of purpose. Objectives give overall focus, and key results usually include input from teams. This empowers teams as it gives them a say in the goal setting process, and they can directly see how they’re contributing to the overall objectives. When teams are already highly motivated and appreciate autonomy, they tend to adapt to OKRs more easily. However, if team members are lacking in initiative and are accustomed to simply following orders, implementing OKRs may be more of a challenge.

Collaborative or Siloed

OKR improves collaboration among teams because all teams have one united, overarching objective to work towards, even though the targeted key results will be different for each team. Companies that already have a collaborative environment have an advantage.

Companies that work in silos will face more difficulties, but that doesn’t mean OKRs won’t work. If you’re aiming to break down silos, implementing OKRs is a great first step. It enables teams and departments to get a clear picture of how their work is connected. However, if there’s resistance to change, that may be a greater obstacle.

Internal Bureaucracy

Since you’ll need to get buy-in for OKRs from everyone involved, consider any internal bureaucracy to be overcome. In more siloed companies, individual departments may be reluctant to adopt OKRs.

Some top management may also need more convincing if traditional systems have been in place for many years. In this case, it may be better to start with OKRs in a single department, and then get buy-in from other departments once positive results begin to show.

Agile vs. Waterfall Structure

If your organization follows agile principles, OKR is a great fit. Some companies do implement OKR in a waterfall approach but this often leads to difficulty. Let’s take a quick look at how OKRs work in the different structures.

Waterfall Agile
  • Top-down structure
  • Goals are set by management
  • Teams follow orders with little input
  • Teams often lack understanding of the higher level objectives
  • Bi-directional structure
  • Higher objectives set by management; key results are set by teams
  • Teams are invested in progress
  • Teams understand goals and strive towards them

Do You Need OKRs?

Another key consideration is whether your company really needs OKRs. Since you’re considering a new goal setting system, you’ve probably noticed problems with your current one. Do the following problems sound familiar? OKR can help you solve them.

  • Teams lack focus
  • Lack of alignment between management and teams
  • Lack of alignment among different teams
  • Difficulty measuring progress

OKRs unite teams behind common goals and help keep management and teams aligned. They also provide a clear way to measure progress when done correctly.

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Part 2 Getting Buy-In for OKR

Once you’ve decided OKR is compatible with your company culture and structure, it’s time to get buy-in from everyone involved, convincing them of the benefits.

Challenges to Getting Buy-In

Of course, not everyone is going to be eager to get on board with a new system. There are bound to be some tough questions to answer.

How OKR Works with Existing Systems

As we’ve discussed in Part 1, OKR works best for highly motivated agile teams. If you’re working in a strict, hierarchical structure with a traditional project management system, it will be difficult to get buy-in. OKR is not very compatible with this structure; however, if your company is aiming to change the structure to a more agile one, starting with OKRs from the beginning may be beneficial.

If your agile teams are working in sprints, you’ll want to know how OKRs integrate with this. Remember that OKRs are not a task list; for example, each individual task in a sprint would not be a key result, but it can contribute towards a key result.

Example KR “Bring in 1000 new customers”
Supporting tasks Email campaign, webinar, social media campaign, etc.

While there is a way to manually map OKRs in Jira, teams working in Jira may want to consider an OKR app to make implementation go more smoothly. An app allows you to track OKRs in Jira and link epics and issues to OKRs.

Training Involved

Another common concern is how difficult it is to train everyone to set and follow OKRs. While the main concept is easy to grasp, implementing OKRs does require some trial and error. It will take time to get them right, so make sure everyone is aware of this from the beginning.

Be prepared to run into a few obstacles when you get started. Don’t give up on OKR too easily. Allow a few cycles before deciding whether to continue using the system.

How Easy it is to Measure Success

One of the selling points of OKR is how it helps measure progress, but how can you tell if the system is really working? Are your teams more aligned, focused, and productive than they were before you started implementing OKRs?

Determining OKR success takes time. But although you can’t expect to see major changes right away, you will be able to measure the success of your results in the long run. KRs are numbers based, so if they’re set correctly, you should see progress.

Five Benefits of OKR

These benefits will help answer some questions and convince decision makers of why you need OKR.

Clarifies Focus

OKRs direct focus to what’s most important. Setting out a plan for OKRs requires you to define clear objectives. These objectives are made available to everyone in the company, so priorities are obvious.

Aligns Company, Teams, and Individuals

Since the overall objectives in OKRs apply to the entire company, and key results are connected to these, it’s easier to keep everyone in the company aligned. Teams and individuals see how their own and others’ work contributes to the objectives so they can cooperate rather than blocking each other.

Encourages Commitment

Having measurable key results encourages teams to make and follow through on commitments to attain those results. Agile teams are typically used to making sprint commitments; they should see the goal of reaching the key results as a similar commitment.

Encourages Stretch Goals

OKRs are also beneficial when you want to challenge your teams to rise above the status quo. While some key results should be absolutely achievable, there’s also room for setting “moonshot” goals.

Measures Progress Clearly

With OKR, you have a transparent way to measure progress. Key results are usually set on a quarterly basis, so you can regularly assess whether they’ve been met.

Part 3 Rolling Out OKRs Across Your Business

Once you’ve gotten buy-in to try OKRs, decide how to roll them out. The best way to do it will vary depending on the size and type of your business.

Considering a Gradual Rollout

For large companies, especially if not everyone is completely sold on the idea, a gradual rollout may be the best option. Start with a pilot project, for example, just one department would start with the OKRs.

OKRs can be adapted to scale. While ultimately you may want to have company-wide objectives, if you’re starting with one department, just set overall objectives to suit it. However, the OKRs should still be in line with the overall company vision.

When planning your rollout, be prepared to answer the following:

  • How long will the pilot project last?
  • How will we measure success?
  • How many departments will ultimately be involved?
  • How will we share our success with other departments? (e.g., choose an OKR ambassador, host a townhall meeting)
  • How will we transition from the previous goal-setting system if we had one?
  • How will we track OKRs transparently?

Writing Meaningful OKRs

Successful OKRs must be meaningful. One of the main causes of OKR failure is poorly written OKRs that are either too vague or more like a task list. Writing good OKRs takes practice.

It’s not the sum total of tasks. It’s not the work order for the enterprise. It’s whatever we as a team agree deserves special attention, and it really matters.

Here a few do’s and don’ts:

Do Don’t
  • Decide on your priorities
  • Be realistic
  • Be specific
  • Use numbers in your key results
  • Write too many OKRS
  • Set goals that are too easy
  • Make your OKRs into a task list
  • Use vague terms like “become a better company”

Here’s an example of a good OKR for a company where many team members are working remotely.

Objective Keep the team connected
This is a high-level objective that states the overall goal.
Key results KR1: Launch coffee dates app in our virtual communication channel.
KR2: Create three new channels in our communication app to connect people with similar hobbies.
KR3: Host three virtual events this quarter.
Three to five KRs is a good number. The key results are easily measurable and fit within a quarter cycle.

To see more good OKRs for different teams and industries, visit our OKR example page.

Measuring OKRs

There are a few ways to measure OKRs, and you’ll have to decide what works best for your business.

Grading Scale

The original method set out by Andy Grove is to simply answer yes or no about whether the goal was achieved. However, this may make it harder to see progress. Not completely achieving a goal isn’t necessarily failure.

The most common way to measure OKRs now is on the scale of 0-1. That means if you’ve completely achieved an OKR, it would get a score of 1. If you’re 70% of the way there, that’s a 0.7.

Moonshot and Roofshot Goals

Since OKRs are meant to help your company and teams grow, don’t set goals that are too easy to achieve. A combination of moonshot and roofshot goals usually works best. Roofshot goals are those that you can definitely hit (although they still shouldn’t be too easy).

Example: Get 100 evaluations this quarter (when you got 80-90 in the past quarter).

Moonshot goals, on the other hand, may seem impossible. They’re designed to stretch teams to think beyond their comfort zone. Reaching even 70% of a moonshot goal is a positive outcome.

Example: Become the number one, top-rated app in our field (even getting into the top five or top ten would be a good outcome).

Review Meetings to Check Progress

While OKRs are often set on a quarterly basis, this doesn’t mean you should only check the progress every quarter. Regular check-ins are important, especially when you’re first implementing OKRs.

Consider holding weekly or bi-weekly review meetings to make sure that everyone is on track. If you’re starting out with a pilot project, this could involve everyone on the pilot project team, but if the whole company is involved, just a representative or two from each team might attend.

Ensure that everyone understands the OKRs and discuss any impediments to progress. Figure out what’s working and what isn’t early on so there are no surprises at the end of the cycle.

Tracking OKRs in Jira

For agile teams working in Jira, an OKR app like OKR for Jira makes it easy to track progress and keep teams aligned. Everyone in Jira can check and update the OKRs they’re working on.

In the app, individual Jira issues can also be linked to key results. For example, if one of the KRs is to get 100 positive reviews, issues linked to that may include an email campaign to request reviews, setting up incentives for reviews, and making a request for reviews on social media. When issues are completed, progress can be updated manually or automatically.

It’s easy to link Jira issues to key results to measure progress.

Since your team is already trained to use Jira, adopting the OKR tracking app doesn’t require much additional effort. Since they can see if an issue is attached to a KR, they’re more likely to remember to update than if they’re using a separate tracking system.

 

Part 4 Conclusion

You’ve come to the end of our guide. Are you ready to start implementing OKRs in your organization?

As a quick recap, OKRs are perfect for agile companies, both large and small. The bi-directional nature of OKRs helps keep teams engaged, motivated, and focused on company goals. Like agile projects, OKRs are frequently evaluated and can be adapted as needed to get everyone into alignment.

Getting buy-in for OKRs may be a challenge, but clearly presenting the benefits of increased focus, alignment, commitment, and progress will bring management and team members on board. A gradual rollout with a pilot project also demonstrates how OKRs could work without requiring the whole company to commit at once.

Measuring OKRs is crucial to ensuring you’re on the right track. If you’re working in Jira, the best way to track and measure OKR success is with an app. Starting with the app from the beginning gets all team members accustomed to working with and updating OKRS.

 

OKR for Jira is free to try, so you can start using it with your agile teams today.

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