4 Reasons Why OKRs Aren’t Working In Your Organization And How To Fix Them

OKRs represent a fundamental change in reframing work

As part of a major Agile transformation, our teams have been tasked with delivering more than just outputs — they’re being asked to provide meaningful customer and business outcomes. But both teams and leadership will need to make a few small shifts in order to adjust to OKRs, and get the most from the goal-setting framework.

These are the four biggest challenges I’m seeing, and how I’m working to approach them:

#1. Gantt-chart project plans stated as OKRs

OKRs expose factory models of efficiency applied to software development.

The efficiency models that underpin industry-focused legacy project management are poorly-suited to agility, knowledge work, new software development, and emergent system design. Instead of thinking about the Activities and the Output, OKRs require teams to re-focus on who their customer really is, and how they’ll be making those customers’ lives better once they start interacting with the work delivered.

OKRs re-emphasize the criticality of driving Outcomes and Impact.

#2. Teams never review OKRs after they set them.

Despite the effort setting them, many teams never look at them again. Ever.

Goal-setting research confirms the importance of keeping goals continuously front & center. OKRs have been designed to be simple, inspirational, and drive Radical Focus. Fortunately, Scrum and Agile cadences have 3 built-in events that lend themselves brilliantly to tracking the current sprint’s work against the OKRs – Daily Scrum, the Sprint Review, and the Retrospective.

Refocusing the team on the OKRs is a crucial part of the product role.

#3. The Objective isn’t inspirational

Objectives can be considered the team’s “mini-mission for the quarter.”

It’s clearly the best way to think about them — and moves them from low-level activities and output to the higher-level aspirational outcome-focus they’re meant to drive. Yet many teams still have Objectives like “Deliver the payment platform upgrade in the third quarter.”

Objectives need to inspire teams to jump out of bed on cold, dark mornings.

#4. The Key Results aren’t set right

Key Results let you know how the team is progressing towards the goal.

Typical mistakes around Key Results are they either lack a number (see #1 above), the team has no way to measure the number they need to, or the number they have to move is something outside the team’s control. Part of this might have to do with the fact that these teams shouldn’t be setting OKRs in the first place.

Unlearning legacy ways of planning and delivering work and being more outcome- and client-centric are just a couple of the benefits OKRs can provide teams moving to better ways of working.


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