Say "No" to OKR's

OKR Jul 14, 2021

Before implementing any technique it is imperative to address what outcome that technique is going to provide in terms of payback.  There is no point in doing something just for the sake of doing it. And OKR's are one of them and are a goal management technique focusing on aligning objectives with key results.  Pioneered at Intel and used by Google, it has spread its wings to other companies like Microsoft, LinkedIn and others.

I suggest that you do away with OKR's or do not implement them.  And propose simpler alternatives. That would do this and more. Nothing wrong with OKR's per se, but the challenge is around how it is practiced.

Yes, tracking goals has its values. Each part of an organization has a myriad of goals and it is valuable to be aligned to each of them and track the progress. But there is a simpler and effective technique - it is called Product Management. And you say, we already have Product Management. So then why a redundant additional approach with OKR's. Good product management is a goal management system by itself. If that is the way your product is managed, then the problem is in how you manage your product, not in goals alignment.

To succeed on goals, one needs action on it. And converting the goals in backlog of actions and then prioritizing and ordering such actions means that the most valuable work that needs to be done against the goals actually gets done. That is more important than tracking the status of the goal.  What does one want in reality? Progress or tracking? If you are serious about your objectives, you want action on them.

Such an approach brings the objectives into the backlog and the measurable "key results" are incrementally achieved until there is sufficient against that goal. Again many times goals are arbitrary. The key results might be a factor of times more than what was envisaged, or alternatively over-ambitious and might need adjustment downwards to reality based on the interaction with the market. And the only way to validate the key results is such interaction with the market. Therefore, the suggestion to use a Product Management approach of Objectives in Action.  By doing the work required to be done, in order to validate whether the results stand up in the market place.

It you still want to use the OKR's as a technique, use it only at the Executive Management and Product Management level. Identify the goals and the key results that are being targeted and then include them in a prioritized backlog for action.  Do not waste time aligning these goals to the individual teams or to individuals who do the work as it does not add any value in all of them tracking the progress. Such progress is now tracked by the overall work done by the teams and the effectiveness of what they are delivering to the market and whether such deliveries help meet the progress towards the key results that are being envisaged. What you need is more robust Product Management practices and reporting, not more alignment and paper work tools and techniques.

This article is part of the "Power of NO" series.  Organizations which are most successful have the simplest set of values, principles and tools in use. The more the techniques an organization uses, the complex it becomes. And such complexity bogs it down.  The use of multiple techniques that do not coherently work with each other leads to just a focus on perfecting techniques rather than the simplification and perfection of outcomes an organization would like to achieve.


re:Work - Guide: Set goals with OKRs
Goal setting has been shown to boost performance. Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) are a way to set goals and measure progress.


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