OKR for
Agile Teams in Jira

The Definitive Guide

Everything you need to know about using Objectives and Key Results (OKR) as a goal tracking system for your agile teams in Jira.

OKR for Agile Team in Jira

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Everything you need to know about agile OKR.

Chapter 1 An introduction to OKR

OKR is a scalable goal tracking system that aligns company, team, and personal goals to measurable results. It guides everyone to work together in the right direction and drives constant progress.

OKR is sometimes known as a performance management framework. But using OKR solely to manage your agile team performance and compensation is not advisable. More on this in Chapter 4.

What is the history of OKR?

Though it can be traced back to Peter Drucker’s Management by Objectives, the OKR framework that we know today was developed by Andy Grove and first rolled out at Intel.

This goal-setting system gained popularity after it was implemented at Google in 1999 by John Doerr. Now, many successful agile companies like Atlassian and Amazon have followed suit.

OKRs have helped lead us to 10× growth, many times over.

Larry Page, co-founder of Google.
Foreword in Doerr’s book “Measure What Matters.

What are the components of OKR?

OKR has two main components, which are Objectives and Key Results.

1. Objectives

These are qualitative descriptions of what you want to achieve. Objectives are high-level statements that can motivate (or challenge) your agile teams to deliver their best.

Best practices when setting Objectives:
    • Each team should have five objectives at most.
    • Objectives are qualitative and aspirational, not granular outcomes.
    • If you’re just starting your OKR practice, start with “roofshot objectives,” AKA goals that are hard but achievable. Success means achieving 100% of those goals.
    • As your OKR practice matures, graduate to “moonshot objectives,” AKA stretch goals that are beyond what’s deemed possible. Success means achieving 60% – 70% of the OKRs.

2. Key results

These are the quantitative metrics used to measure if you’ve achieved your Objectives.

Best practices when setting Key Results:
    • Key results are quantitative and measurable, not to-do lists.
    • Each objective should have five key results at most.

Here’s an example of an OKR for a SaaS vendor:

Objectives Key Results
Build a software that customers love.
  • Increase NPS score from 7.5 to 8.
  • Obtain 1,000 new subscriptions.
  • Reduce customer response time < 24 hours.

Besides Objectives and Key Results, other components of an OKR are Initiative, Grade (or Score), Period (or Cadence), and Owner.

1. Initiatives

The projects or activities that can help you deliver Key Results.

Best practices when setting Initiatives:
    • You may regard your team’s daily tasks as initiatives. For example, if you manage projects in Jira, then Jira issues are the initiatives.
    • If the initiatives aren’t helpful in delivering key results, modify them.

2. Period or Cadence

Period is how often you evaluate and grade OKRs during a cycle and create new ones.

Best practices when setting Periods:
    • OKR may have dual planning periods: an annual cadence for company goals and a quarterly cadence for team and individual goals.
    • Conduct weekly check-in sessions to track goal progress.
    • Within less mature organizations, a custom shorter period (e.g., two months) is highly recommended.

3. Grade or Score

OKRs are usually graded on a scale of 0.0 to 1.0, with 1.0 being that an Objective is fully achieved.

Best practices when setting Grades:
    • The ideal OKR grade is 60% – 70% (or 0.6 to 0.7).
    • Consistently scoring lower or higher than the ideal grade means that the objectives are either unclear or not ambitious enough, respectively.

4. Owner

Assign an Owner to every Key Result to foster accountability, transparency, and proper alignment.

Best practices when assigning an Owner:
    • Every OKR must have an owner.
    • Though employees can collaborate on OKRs, there’s just one person responsible for reaching the goal.
    • Your company’s OKR framework must be owned by someone. This person (AKA the Ambassador) is responsible for its ongoing maintenance and management.
    • The Ambassador can be one of the department managers, HR personnel, or even external consultants as long as they’re the OKR Subject Matter Experts.

Why is OKR perfect for agile teams in Jira

Though there are other methods to measure progress (i.e., KPI, SMART, MBO), OKR could be the right goal tracking system for your agile teams in Jira if these issues happen frequently:

  • Difficult to prioritize projects because teams have different priorities and there’s no streamlined business goal setting.
  • Frustrating risks and blockers pop up even when retrospective and sprint planning are done.
  • Lack of transparency to monitor progress even with features like Jira Roadmap and issue status. These features are great for monitoring the progress of projects or tasks, not objectives.
  • No one knows who’s in charge of what. Jira assignee is only good for knowing the one responsible for an issue, not an overall goal.
  • Poor cross-team collaboration.
  • Staff don’t know how completing their Jira issues contribute to overall company goals.
  • Staff are demotivated and it shows when checked against Jira metrics (e.g. decrease in average velocity).
  • Lack of visibility into how project and team goals affect company growth. Even if there are organizational goals, they’re monitored in a different system like Confluence or Excel.

When implemented properly, the OKR framework can deliver 5 key benefits: focus, alignment, commitment, tracking, and stretching (F.A.C.T.S.). Now let’s see what F.A.C.T.S. means for individuals, teams, managers, and the company.

Benefits of OKR for Individuals Benefits of OKR for Teams
  • Give staff a sense of purpose
  • Drive them to do their best
  • Make them feel connected to the company
  • Encourage stronger cross-team collaboration
  • Minimize project blockers
  • Ensure timely completion of deliverables
Benefits of OKR for Managers Benefits of OKR for Company
  • Allow managers to track goal progress clearly
  • Help them mitigate risks and improve operations
  • Empower managers to make strategic decisions for the company
  • Boost employee engagement
  • Improve productivity, which means higher ROI
  • Retain and nurture top talent to achieve greater goals

By following best practices when setting OKRs for your agile teams in Jira, you and your organization can enjoy the benefits listed above.

Chapter 2 Implementing OKR for
agile teams in Jira

Next, we’ll dive deep into the best ways to implement OKRs for your agile teams in Jira. Remember that you’re implementing two things here: the OKR framework in your organization and the right OKR plugin in Jira. We’ve simplified the overall OKR implementation process into a 5-step guide.

Step 1

Assess the Need for OKR

Determine if OKR is needed in your teams and organization. If the issues stated in Chapter 1 are rampant, perhaps OKR is key.

Step 2

Get OKR Buy-In

Since the OKR program involves everyone in the organization, earning their collective buy-in is important. So, make them understand why OKR was chosen and how it’ll be implemented.

Step 3

Create an OKR Rollout Plan

Consider an incremental rollout where a pilot team tests out the OKR system first. You should also include key OKR artifacts like the alignment style, review period, and grading criteria in the plan.

Step 4

Choose the Right OKR App for Jira

With the right app, implementing OKR for agile teams in Jira can be easy. A good Jira OKR management app should have these features:

  • Enables transparent OKR alignment throughout the company.
  • Clearly maps employees’ Jira issues with OKRs for easier goal tracking.
  • Allows clear status updates without the need for external tools like spreadsheets.
  • Separates the OKRs from employee compensation.

A Jira OKR plugin is better than a standalone OKR platform like Perdoo or Weekdone because you can treat employees’ daily work or Jira issues as the Initiatives for each OKR. So, you get to track task and objective progress within a single place.

Step 5

Evaluate OKR Efficacy

As someone working in an agile environment, you’re no stranger to continuous improvement and iteration. Apply this same principle to OKR implementation. Collect and analyze feedback from your staff and check if corrective actions (e.g., more training or tweaking OKR grading criteria) are required to improve your OKR system.

Chapter 3 Aligning OKR for
agile teams in Jira

Aligning OKR means unifying your company at every level and tying daily activities with the company’s vision. Everyone can then work together on the same business objectives, consistently.

There are three ways to align OKR: top-down, bottom-up, and bi-directional.

1. Top-Down OKR Alignment

This is a traditional approach where high-level OKRs cascade downwards to departments, teams, and individuals. This style is suitable in certain situations: newly established company, large company, team members are unclear about company goals, crisis management.

Pros of Top-Down OKR Alignment Cons of Top-Down OKR Alignment
  • Goals are properly aligned with the company’s vision and mission
  • Most employees are familiar with this style
  • Can be authoritative
  • Employees feel disconnected

2. Bottom-Up OKR Alignment

This is when employees come up with goals to steer the organization. It’s perfect in a small company or when employees are absolutely clear about the company’s growth direction.

Pros of Bottom-Up OKR Alignment Cons of Bottom-Up OKR Alignment
  • Encourage employees’ commitment
  • Goals set are realistic
  • Goals set may not be challenging and ambitious
  • Goals set may not be aligned with company vision and mission

3. Bi-Directional OKR Alignment

But the best way to align your company and teams using OKRs is through a mixture of both top-down and bottom-up OKR alignment. This means that management comes up with strategic OKRs. Teams then define tactical OKRs that can contribute to those company objectives.

When teams – who are the experts in their respective domains – understand the company’s strategic direction, they’ll be empowered to support them with realistic goals and action plans.

Afterward, link the objectives from different teams and levels for strategic goal coordination.

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?
Dev Department Manager Great! Our tactical OKR is to increase the NPS score from 7.5 to 8 by:

  • developing 10 new features
Customer Success Department Manager Awesome! My team can help to reduce customer response time < 24 hours by:

  • deploying a self-serving product knowledge base
These managers will then collaborate with their team members to create action plans that can successfully accomplish those goals.

The key to proper OKR alignment is transparency, where everyone can see how they contribute to the company goals. Simple yet comprehensive Jira OKR management tools like OKR for Jira allow employees to clearly see how company objectives break down into team objectives and the status of each action plan or Jira issue.

OKR overview

To further align goals into daily tasks, the Jira OKR plugin shows how each Jira issue affects the Key Results and Objectives.

Connect key results to Jira issues

Chapter 4 Monitoring and evaluating
OKR for agile teams in Jira

To know if the newly established OKR system helps to improve your agile team performance, you must do monitoring and evaluation. Below are the key aspects that you should pay attention to.

Measure OKR Adoption

First, is the OKR system even accepted and used throughout the company? The easiest way to determine the adoption rate is by checking the frequency of OKR updates. Regular updates mean that your staff find it useful in steering their daily tasks towards set objectives.

If you’re using a Jira OKR plugin like OKR for Jira, you can check the latest status updates for all OKRs on the main board that’s visible to everyone. You can also view the detailed updates of each Objective or Key Result on its dedicated page.

Objectives status change with progress line

Also, check if the issues that you were facing before this (e.g., poor cross-team collaboration) are still happening. Fewer issues mean that the OKR system is adopted well and is helping to solve them.

Track OKR Progress

Once you know that the OKR program is widely used in the company and by your team members, it’ll be easier to track OKR progress. Here, you can again rely on the same Jira OKR app stated above to clearly monitor the progress of each Objective and Key Result. As for the Initiative, you can track its status (e.g., To Do, In Progress, and Done) just like you would with a Jira issue.

OKR progress

If an OKR period is the frequency you review OKRs, check-in means tracking goal progress as well as analyzing and mitigating risks. You should have a regular (i.e., weekly) 1:1 check-in session with your team members. Once that’s done, update the OKR dashboard.

Review and Grade OKRs

As you’re nearing the end of your OKR period, you should review and grade the goals. To establish grading criteria for your OKRs, you must first grade your individual Key Results. Then use the average score to determine your overall OKR grade. From there, you can decide if you’ve achieved the goals and can proceed to create new ones.

Remember that using the grade of your first OKR period as a benchmark is an inaccurate practice. This is because a newly-set OKR system needs a few cycles to stabilize and perform according to your team and company needs. So, always take the time to carefully review and modify the OKRs in a way that can best motivate your team members to achieve shared company goals.

Here’s an example of OKR grading criteria:

  • 0.0 to 0.3 = Nothing done at all or achieved something small.
  • 0.4 to 0.6 = Made progress but didn’t complete the goal.
  • 0.7 to 1.0 = Completed the goal.
If your OKRs can be answered with basic “Yes/No,” then the grading scale is much simpler:

  • 0.0 = Didn’t complete the goal.
  • 1.0 = Completed the goal.
The scale above is only a suggestion. Discuss with your team to define the right one for your team.

Using OKRs for Employee Appraisal

Using OKRs for employee performance appraisal alone is not advisable because OKR is mainly intended to be a goal alignment tool. The last thing you want is your team members setting low objectives (and obviously achieving them) to reap the benefits of good performance.

That said, you should use OKRs together with other evaluation factors like Jira metrics and overall workplace behaviors when managing team performance.

Conclusion

Congrats on making it to the end of our definitive guide!

OKRs can be a great goal tracking system for your agile teams in Jira. The key is to always align OKRs throughout your organization. And then, continuously monitor and evaluate them so that you can keep what’s working and change what’s not working.

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OKR for Agile Team in Jira

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Everything you need to know about agile OKR.

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