Learnings from implementing OKR's

October 05, 20205 minutesBlogs

At Itsavirus we use the Objective Key Results (OKR’s) framework to prioritize and focus. Moreover, it helps us a lot in defining what not to do. In this article, I will share some of my learnings from the past years. Please note, I definitely do not consider myself an expert in this field. I still have a lot to learn and improve on. Nevertheless. I had had some experiences that I think can be valuable for others who aim to use OKR's.

Too much, too fast

The fact that the concept of OKR's is simple does not imply that OKR's are easy to implement. One of the most common mistakes I have seen (I made this mistake as well) is to try to fully implement OKR's straight away. Teams get together enthusiastically, define their objectives and key results, and get to work.

However, after the days and weeks progress, there is a realization that defining the OKR's alone is not enough. The challenge is not just to set objectives, but to consistently work towards achieving these objectives. It’s the same reason why people have difficulty losing weight. You can set goals and write down plans, but without a proper strategy for execution, nothing will happen. Achieving your objectives means you need to have great execution power and a predictable flow of information through your company. If you want to use OKR's to improve your execution strength, you already need to have the basics in place. Otherwise, you will fail.

When setting up our team in Asia, I used a step-by-step approach to implement OKR's. You could even claim, I used OKR's to implement OKR's. Some highlights of our approach:

  • During our first quarter, it was just the management team using a simple set of company-related OKR's. The goal was to make sure the MT is getting used to working with OKR's. During our weekly Management meeting, we start by checking our OKR's and see if we are still on track.
  • In our second quarter, we still only had company OKR's, but we shared them with the team and we announced that we would start working with personal OKR's. We shared some learning materials and did a presentation.
  • In our third quarter, we introduced personal OKR's. We assigned an OKR promoter and we improved on our Key Results by making them more SMART. Etc etc..

A Red flag

In the past years, I have learned (the hard way) that the failure to implement OKR's might also mean something is seriously wrong in your company/team. When I was managing a team that had a very hard time achieving any results, I used to think that we had a hard time implementing OKR's, because of the nature of OKR's. I thought: "clearly we all have been working very hard and achieved many other things".

However, looking back, I now know that I should have taken this much more seriously. When a team lacks the ability to achieve the objectives it sets for itself, it's not just the framework. It also points at; poor execution power, a management team that has to deal with distracting events (raising capital), developers that work without any clear direction, etc. Using OKR's therefore is also a framework to detect other, fundamentally wrong elements in an organization.

Focus is great, but you need to get creative as well

One of the most frequently mentioned downsides of working with OKR's is that it can kill creativity. Indeed, when a team is hyper-focused, you can achieve many objectives and great results. However, as a team, you need to get creative as well and not working on just achieving objectives.

To stimulate collaboration and creativity we have an experiment day every first Friday of the month. We form teams that have to design and develop a certain challenge in just 1 day. The cool thing is, we actually use some of the tools that we developed during the experiment days!

Thank's for reading! If you want to know more about working with OKR's you can always reach out to us!

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