You imagine teams with objectives contrary to the strategic objectives of their own organization. Unfortunately, I have encountered this situation on several occasions, and sometimes the teams do not know what the objectives of the organization are. Can you actually imagine this situation? It seems unrealistic, but at the same time it happens.
In my last client, we had a difficult situation around the objectives that the teams had. Firstly, the organization had common strategic objectives that anyone should know about. Especially all product owners, since it concerns directly the Sprint’s objectives of each team. So far, everything seemed fine to me. However, one day in a meeting we were talking about the portfolio upstream that was concerning several teams and we asked the following: What are the objectives of the organization? We didn’t expect that answer, but surprisingly any of the product owners was able to answer the question. Simply, they didn’t know.
This made me, and many of them too, think about it. As we didn’t know the organization’s objectives, then the question was which were the objectives of the teams. The answer was very tough, because each team had its own objectives and many of them had no relation whatsoever with those of the organization.
Moreover, a large part of the objectives set by the PO’s were not very ambitious and they were aware of it. Very often these objectives were fixed without a previous conversation with the team. When I asked them about the reason of the lack of ambition on their objectives the answer was devastating. These objectives were linked to their bonuses, so if they do not reach xx% of them they won’t get their annual bonuses of xx-K €. Let me give you an example: an objective was to have releases frequently. This one was the worst of all, because they were raising PBIs (Product Backlog Items) without meeting the Definition of Done. It was very dangerous!
Besides this and asking several questions about the objectives, we realized that they were more metrics than objectives, there was a confusion about what is a vision, mission, purpose, objectives and metrics.
At the end of the session I proposed to do a Metrics and OKRs session of Management 3.0 so that people within the organisation will be able to understand what is it about. What’s more, this encouraged them to investigate tools that they could use as an artifact to give transparency. Bear in mind that later on it would be needed to inspect and adapt the OKRs more frequently. In this case we just were using a Google spreadsheet. In addition to this, we also explained the 12 rules about Management 3.0 metrics.
- Measure for a purpose
- Shrink the unknown
- Seek to improve
- Delight all stakeholders
- Distrust all numbers
- Set imprecise targets
- Own your metrics
- Don’t connect metrics to rewards
- Promote values and transparency
- Visualize and humanize
- Measure early and often
- Try something else
After several months people from the development team had a different conversation. They started talking about business goals, such as finding the way to improve the time to market by improving test coverage.
Nevertheless, to get to this point there were many difficulties such as implementing clear objectives, ambitious and linked to the objectives of the organization. Besides that, establishing metrics to know if we were achieving it or not.
Let me quickly tell you what the OKRs are. Later on I will tell you what problems I detected and how the OKRs were helped them to mitigate this issue.
What is an OKR?
OKR is the acronym for objective and key results. Objective refers to where we want to go, and the key results is the element that helps us to identify if we are reaching this objective or not.
The OKRs were used by Intel many years ago and were brought to fame thanks to Google. Google usually sets quarterly goals and tries to accommodate the following:
- That the objective is ambitious
- The objective must be clear and precise
- That the objective is attainable to some extent
- Identify the purpose behind this objective
- How it relates to the objectives of the organization
Once a goal is set, it is time to find out how we will know that we are reaching that goal or not. For this it is important that we set metrics (key results) for this purpose. Therefore, we have to consider the following elements:
- The metric is not the objective, it is not a desire. Many people take the metric as an objective, and this is a very serious error because we lose sight of the purpose.
- The metric must be to measurable, Google uses the range from 0 to 10 with a desired range between 60% and 70%.
Possible problems when implementing OKRs
Every time I tried using the OKRs I have encountered several barriers:
- The organization needs to somehow set targets to employees as a way to distribute the annual bonuses.
- Employees stop being ambitious and set vague goals.
- Many of the employees started misrepresenting information because they would otherwise lose their annual bonus or a large part of it.
- Set goals that are not related to the organization’s goals.
- The objectives were set by the senior managers of the organisation and often did not motivate people, but simply generated stress and tension.
- People were asked to set goals but nobody knew what an okr meant.
- Employees didn’t know how to set metrics, and sometimes metrics were objectives.
- In a great majority the purpose of what we do this was lost.
- There was no inspection and adaptation of the okrs.
- The okrs are not transparent to the rest of the people.
OKRs can help organizations to align teams in an organization, help them in the development of people’s competencies, motivate individuals, as well as boost self-organization. But this is not an easy task, it implies a cultural and structural change of the organization. In addition to looking for other approaches to how we can reward people for their behaviors and not for the results, in addition to avoiding using okrs to measure people’s performance.