Here, we turn our attention to Objectives and Key Results, (OKR) a mechanism synchronizing the social/technical behaviors keeping your company on time and on track to your critical outcomes, ensuring all teams can deliver benefits to your customers during this period of disruption or in an Agile environment.
Seeking solace in «how we’ve always done it» is simply withstanding reality to avoid finding
ourselves in new and uncertain conditions. Now is a beginning. How you lead yourself and others now shapes what is next for your Agile organization. There has never been a better time to reimagine and renovate your operating system, more effectively setting and accomplishing goals.
There are four aspects to the goal framework of OKR. These words may have different meanings to you, let’s redefine them together:
While we’re defining things, let’s clarify the difference between an output and an outcome. An output is a means to the desired outcome, or end. You need to be clear about the means and the end. Focusing on the means without clarity and line of sight to the end is a fruitless and futile exercise. Similar to the relationship between efficiency and efficacy, one is only actually helpful in service to the other.
Countless organizations fix their gaze on KPIs without relationship to the end goal, or objective. It’s akin to looking AT the windshield instead of THROUGH it. Goals are not threats. Individuals and teams need to own their efforts, knowing that they are safe to move forward in a disciplined way. When conditions change, you can have perfect execution on an output, and still miss the mark. Pan out; focus on the outcome not the output. Redefine “done.”
“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.”Lewis Carroll
Clear outcomes serve the aspirational destiny (strategic goals, if you prefer) for the Agile organization. When we specify ‘aspirational’ the imperative focus is on outcomes that impactfully win with users and customers.
Clarity and radical transparency about the desired outcome is the purist way to create the conditions and cultivate the growth of what is needed; If you want corn, plant corn.
So what’s the problem? Today, typical teams are incentivized to focus on outputs not outcomes; focused on execution to a deliverable without panning out to the larger objective. Leading people to work in this way pressures and conditions individuals and teams NOT to learn through a strong discovery process making decisions using data, RATHER they are incentivized to urgently proceed with a kind of intuitive, assumptive, check-the-box push to completion: prioritizing time over all else.
Not to mention another bad habit of:
Using story points in Scrum to estimate “the delivery capability of teams.” This is thinly veiled Taylorism with an Agile veneer. In reality, it’s the same old way of thinking and acting Taylor described in scientific management.
Many companies flirting with ‘alternate’ approaches like Lean and Agile only have their toes in the water. Harnessing agility solely in delivery with the rest of the organization traditionally oriented in a linear waterfall mindset creates dissonance. We find that in these cases, if collaboration happens, it only happens within and not across the silos.
Traditionally, work is mainly analog and humans/users are rarely at the heart of the endeavor; it is almost always about blindly driving to output completion.
Properly engaging via OKR (contrary to the common misportrayal of OKR in much of the literature and articles online) introduces a discovery process; discovery of value yoked with the delivery process. Discovery is most relevant when done within the contextual environment of application Discovery and delivery is a cycle of work handled by a properly balanced and equipped team who synthesize the learnings from discovery, to materialize the delivery.
We’re called to figure out how to knit discovery and delivery more closely together, which can be problematic when there are legacy processes and systems that take months and years to change. We emphasize the need to decentralize from these monoliths – these aggregated citadels and move toward nimble experiments that facilitate real time organizational learning and adaptation.
In these times of disruption, discovery and delivery need to be hyper-connected. Not phase by phase. Not sequential. Discovery has to become part of the delivery process. Use OKR to intertwine discovery and delivery.
Experimentation is foundational to discovery. People who are ambitious, conscious, responsible and brave conduct experiments. An important orientation in experimentation: knowing (concretely) where you are in the current situation, and where you want to get, objectively.
You don’t walk into an experiment with an answer, but with a question that brings us to a place we’ve never been.
What do ‘safe to fail’ experiments look like when the results affect customers? For this, that longer term, higher-order perspective that comes from principles and a clear objective to support our decision making. The learning we anticipate needs to be worth any disruption, and the feedback cycle needs to be short, specially in an Agile environment. Another way to conduct safe-to-fail experiments is by actually involving the customer, with transparency.
As we learned from TPS at Toyota, experiments tune the organizational tension between quality and delivery.
Find the creativity in that tension to ask the needed questions, then advocate for sprints, or simply cycles of discovery & delivery with fixed-time, fixed-quality, flexible scope to allow for the inherent iteration from the experiment learnings.
We invite you in this global climate of exponential disruption to transition the way you lead away from the static, disconnected silos of traditional management. Dare to break the isolation of dogmatic methodologies.
Encourage and incentivize your teams to transition from blindly driving outputs to making conscious choices based on learning from data and experimentation, furthering initiatives in the direction of the needed outcomes.
As you shift into working with OKRs, we offer a decade of lessons learned:
Predominantly OKR fails when you are defining outputs instead of outcomes. A great difficulty with striving to learn from books and articles is that one can only assimilate knowledge in relationship to their existing framework of understanding. That is to say, you don’t know what you don’t know. While we can provide some exposure and create awareness through a medium like this, it is our experience gained through practical application that allows us to lead you into capability with guided practice.
As we conclude the introduction to this important key, let’s address the most common question our clients ask: “How do we implement OKRs correctly?”…
Paradoxically, if you try to “implement” OKRs, you’ve already failed. You don’t implement behavior; You shape it. You experiment, you make it your way to (in)validate knowledge, learn from the outcomes and your delivery, and adjust to that new learning.
Yes, OKR requires a high level of commitment and consciousness.
OKR is not a magic recipe. It is neither a deployment nor implementation. It is a highly effective, multi-dimensional, impactful learning system safely leading a synchronized expedition with aligned autonomy to new organizational heights.
Within this guide you’ll find the groundwork for 5 keys to a successful digital remote culture. We advocate clarifying and living the principles that shape needed behaviors. Putting that work into practice with OKR shifts teams FROM (managing activities and outputs) TO experimental discovery synchronizing outcomes, forming a cornerstone that enables a network of self-organized teams to work autonomously progressing toward the objective.