Signs You’re Doing OKRs Wrong

Happy OKR season to you all. There comes a time when we hear about a methodology or process so much with any management trend, yet it seems like no one is clear on the right way to do it. If you’re going through the motions without grokking the reason behind them, you will likely get bad results. Need I remind you of that company you worked at that thought Scrum or agile merely meant making the team commit to tickets being closed every two weeks? I’ll share some real-life examples I often see that get my Spidey sense tingling in this article. How many of these hit too close to home?

The Giant-Atomic-Objective

I’m willing to bet that you have at least one objective right now that’s needlessly big and atomic. The problem with an objective that is not split into smaller parts—it’s completely binary, you either win or lose—is that you get almost no clarity for advancement as the quarter or year progresses. This basically guarantees that you’ll end up making a last-minute attempt at hitting it in the last two weeks, trying to scrape a victory somehow.

Allowing the OKR Drift

Things change, especially at startups. It is perfectly fine to realize that what you and the rest of the leadership team came up with earlier no longer makes a lot of sense. Hey, we’re still on a pandemic rollercoaster as I’m writing this. However, teams often start working on other things without addressing their objectives.

Then, the end of the quarter rolls over, and they realize that they’ve drifted completely apart from what they set out to do a few months ago. Now they have no real way to measure their success and progress, as they never refreshed their goals. The tendency to forget about OKRs until the last minute erodes the trust the team has in the importance of the tool and will make subsequent quarters even harder to manage with objectives.

Constantly Hitting 100% of Objectives

One of my favorite telltale signs that a company has issues is inquiring how often they fail to deliver on something. The companies that proudly present an incredible track record with perfect quarter after perfect quarter worry me the most. If you’re always getting everything done, it means you are setting your sights way too low.

The habit of getting used to stale velocity means that the team slowly learns how to commit only to things that they are certain they can achieve. That means that novel or “risky” projects either get shut down completely or are padded with so many buffers that they never fail. Ostensibly, that might sound like a good thing, but it means that the team is becoming so risk-averse that you’re missing out on tons of velocity. You should always have some stretch goals in place and expect that the team doesn’t always hit a perfect score.

Using Objectives That Are the Wrong Altitude

This happens at all levels, but the higher up that you let it get, the bigger the negative impact. Objectives should always be tied to material business improvements. Having an objective of “creating a roadmap” or “hiring X people” is cognitive dissonance. Those might be key results that help enable something, but they shouldn’t be the objective you’re striving for. This isn’t nit-picking. It is about the team always having its sights on the right thing, so they spot when the key results might have drifted and no longer align with the result we are after.

It also guarantees that objectives will not be full of jargon that senior leadership cannot grok. Objectives should serve business needs which are then communicated and translated to technical work, not the other way around.

Not Realizing How to Measure Yourself

Lastly, you should learn how to measure yourself, your managers, and your entire team’s success. Are you putting in place the right personal OKRs? Using KPIs for team health and management performance?

These, and many other pitfalls, are all part of my new workshop, which is just a few days away. We already have a great group with tech executives from all over Europe. Check it out, and let’s make 2022 ridiculously successful together.