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Anti-patterns when running the OKR cycle - Part 1

This article discusses anti-patterns that can occur when running the OKR (Objectives and Key Results) cycle. It examines the following common mistakes made in the process. It also suggests best practices for avoiding these mistakes and for making the OKR cycle as effective as possible.

  1. Lack of transparency across the organisation

  2. Reporting instead of reflecting

  3. Parallel cadence of follow up

  4. Asking the wrong questions

Lack of transparency across the organisation. A lack of transparency across the organisation may create isolated areas which risk creating delays, double work, unnecessary dependencies and sub optimisations. Teams don’t get relevant information to make good decisions that align with the direction of the company.

Example of sub optimisation

Imagine the Marketing department running a campaign with free trials for an unfinished product feature. Time and money is spent only to give customers a bad experience and bad PR for the product.

“The OKR framework is not a reporting tool for activities”.

Reporting instead of reflecting

Running things in the same way as before and reporting activities but using new words from the OKR framework is not going to make a significant difference to performance. The OKR framework is meant to support alignment, increase collaboration and for making decisions, all of which precedes the actual activities. Going through activities are means for discussions and reflections that triggers changes and actions.

Example of different between reporting and reflecting

Compare the following starting statements for a team:

  • "I'm working on this activity and have no impediments"

  • "We all see that our Key Result is going in the wrong direction. Based on this assumption I'm focusing on this activity"

“We don’t have time for OKRs.

Parallel cadence of follow up

A common objection to OKRs is that “we don’t have time to do OKRs”. Having the OKRs as a parallel process along with the already existing process of planning and following up on activities is both time consuming and defeats the purpose of creating more focus.

OKRs are not another thing to do, the OKR is the language of the reason behind what you do. It is important to keep the OKRs integrated with the daily work, making them the start of the regular follow-up. First talk OKR, then talk about initiatives and activities.

Example of different between reporting and reflecting

A sales person that is measured by how many calls they make on a daily basis by their manager and at the same time is part of a cross-functional team that is measured by improved customer experience is very likely to prioritise calling more customers.

“Don’t you agree? vs “What’s your reflection?”.

Asking the wrong questions. Questions need to be nurturing reflection, discussion and decision making. Many times a good decision coming out of the OKR framework is the decision to not do something. Decisions to not do something is unlikely to happen when the OKR framework is being confused with reporting activities. The OKR follow up needs to be done before so that overarching decisions can be done before going into detail.

Good questions for follow up meetings while running OKRs are:

  1. How are we trending towards our quarterly KR targets?

    1. Progress (including introduced risk and debt)

    2. Plans

    3. Problems

  2. What are we learning?

  3. Are the hypotheses we are currently working on proving to be true? False?

    1. How do we know?

  4. Is there a better way of solving the underlying issue?

  5. What will we keep doing?

  6. What should we change?

  7. What shall we stop?

  8. What will we add to the backlog?

  9. Do we need some type of support?

Hope this article was valuable for you and it sparked relevant questions.

For more insights, please see the recording from our sebinar on OKR anti patterns:

In part 2 we include topics like the importance of context, a unified language and making new habits stick.

Gustav Nygren

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