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Anti-patterns in setting up OKRs - Part 1

This article discusses anti-patterns when setting up Objectives and Key Results. It examines common mistakes and also suggests best practices for avoiding these mistakes.

Part 1 - Establishing a frame for valuable OKRs

  1. Lack of vision or congruence for the Objectives

  2. Lack of customer focus

  3. OKRs set from the top

  4. OKR islands

  5. No internal prioritisation between the Objectives and the Key Results

  6. Lack of knowledge and understanding of our current situation

  7. Starting too wide

  8. No time for teams to plan the work

Photo by Kaleidico on Unsplash

Part 1 - Establishing a frame for valuable OKRs

1. Lack of vision or congruence for the OKRs

When setting OKRs, it's important to align them with the company's vision and current focus areas. Otherwise, there is a risk of not achieving significant progress. For instance, it can be challenging to prioritise adding new features while simultaneously reducing bugs.

To provide a better understanding of the OKRs, it may be valuable to showcase the alternative OKRs that were considered but not selected. This perspective can help stakeholders appreciate the rationale behind the chosen OKRs.

Focus on creating new features or on reducing bugs, but not on both at the same time

2. Lack of customer focus

Neglecting the customer's needs can result in sub-optimal outcomes and wasteful efforts. Organisational alignment should begin with a customer-focused approach, where OKRs are based on validated customer requirements. By prioritising customer needs, organisations can ensure that their resources are being utilised effectively and efficiently.

3. OKRs set from the top

Effective decision-making requires access to relevant information. Executive-level leaders should not be expected to have the detailed knowledge that teams possess. Therefore, setting OKRs should be both top-down and bottom-up.

In larger organisations, the executive level usually sets focus areas that connect the vision to the OKRs, which typically remain stable. In contrast, in smaller organisations, the executive level may set objectives.

In all cases, Key Results should be established collaboratively with lower-level teams.

Activities to achieve the Key Results should be planned, executed, and monitored by operational teams.

OKRs should be set both top-down and bottom-up

4. OKRs Islands

Setting OKRs in isolation for each area can lead to a lack of connection between goals, poor timing, and conflicting objectives. To avoid these issues, it's crucial to align with all parties who can impact or be impacted by the work being done. This ensures that everyone is working together effectively and not inadvertently creating obstacles for one another.

5. No internal prioritisation between the Objectives and the Key Results

Making informed decisions requires identifying the most critical goal. Failing to prioritise goals increases the risk of poor decision-making. When everything is considered equally important, it may lead to starting more initiatives than can be realistically completed within available resources. Unfinished work can be distracting and is a waste of time and effort.

6. Lack of knowledge and understanding of our current situation

Lack of clarity on our current status can lead to setting Key Results blindly. Therefore, we need to have a clear understanding of the current state of the Key Result dimension to set an inspiring target.

If the Key Result is set too high, it can create a disconnect between the teams and the management level, leading to alienation. Teams may feel that the goal is unrealistic and unattainable, leading to decreased motivation.

On the other hand, if the Key Result is set too low, it may fail to challenge skilled individuals, leading to demoralisation and boredom.

7. Starting too wide

Implementing an OKR framework involves a lot of learning, especially for the executive layer. To manage these new challenges, it's best to start with a smaller-scale implementation.

sI recommend starting with a thin connection stream from the executive layer to one team. This approach will enable you to handle any initial obstacles and gain positive momentum. Once this is achieved, the framework can be widened to incorporate more areas

8. No time for teams to plan the work

The OKR framework provides direction but is not intended for planning activities. Teams must still plan their activities in detail, which requires time to align on context and plan activities.

To ensure successful outcome achievement, the detailed planning should be completed before the start of the OKR quarter, in parallel to the work within the previous quarter. This approach allows teams to identify dependencies and make informed decisions. Setting OKRs well in advance and providing ample time for planning reduces stress and increases the probability of achieving outcomes.

Early identification of dependencies saves time and helps teams to allocate resources more efficiently.


Stay tuned: In Part 2 we talk about details on how to write great OKRs. This part will include the importance of valuable metrics and distinguishing OKRs from normal day to day tasks.

Hope this article was valuable for you and it sparked relevant questions. For more insights, make sure to tune into our upcoming webinar:

Gustav Nygren

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