Team Strategy

Write Your OKRs in 45 Minutes: Q&A

November 13, 2023
Michiko Quinones, Principal Consultant

Recently, we hosted a webinar on the importance of OKRs and how to write impactful objectives for your organization. Here are some of the questions asked during the webinar, and those we didn't get to in the live session. Our host, Michiko Quinones, weighs in.

If you have additional questions or want to connect with one of our experts, reach out!

Could you create a Jira ticket to track an OKR?

Yes, you absolutely could create an object in Jira – that’s good thinking. I get it. A lot of you are using Jira. You could absolutely create an issue object in Jira, and that could be the thing that connects. And maybe you’d link the objective to that. There is also a new tool available from Atlassian called Atlas. It has that same type of idea where an issue connects to goals. 

Also, in Cloud versions [of Jira], you have Plans, which is part of Advanced Planning (formerly Advanced Roadmaps), and that allows you to layer on some things on top of your projects so you could, for example, use that to create higher-level objectives that work is connected to.

In Jira Align, would it be better to connect Objectives to work?

Jira Align allows you to do objectives under nested objectives, under nested objectives, all the way down. But, what we’re reading in the literature is limit the objectives. So, say, for example, you’re a three-tier organization – so you’ve got a CIO, Directors, and then teams of teams. You might want to have the objectives at those three levels, and they could definitely connect in a hierarchy. In Jira Align, we can also connect the execution hierarchy to Objectives. This provides us both ways of understanding our business: the progress and status of work that is tied to our aspirations. Again, what we’re hearing from the literature is it’s best to stop OKRs at the team of teams layer. Don’t go crazy. Don’t make the teams have to do too much both within the platforms as well as in the context of goal setting. 

It really depends on the size of your organization. Also, I’ve seen people get stuck when they’re at, say, the middle Director level, and they’re trying to have their objective match exactly what’s above them. Remember – the objective is to motivate the team. So, part of the work of that director level is to understand what’s happening above and interpret that. And that means what gets written might sound different from what was written above. So, what’s happening is people are getting concerned about having those nested objectives sound just right. But the focus should be, “Okay, I’m the team's boss. I understand what my boss is asking me for, and I will create an objective for my team that will get it done.” The important part is to get it done, not to have these objectives sound correct as they come down the chain.

In Advanced Planning, would you use the Initiative object for the Objective?

So, for the initiative object in Advanced Planning, you should specify that this initiative object is now going to become an objective object. Usually, the Initiative object is the Initiative, then there’s an Epic, then the Stories. So, the Initiative object is part of the work tier. You might want to create a different object that is an Objective object that everything could then connect into. 

So it’s important to remember – there are two tiers here. There’s your strategy tier, which is where your OKRs live, and then there’s the work tier. People get confused with nesting. I’ve seen that happen to so many teams – they’re nesting, and nesting, and nesting, and it’s like – well, I guess nobody’s getting anything done because I don’t really understand what all these objectives are.

How do I run my team using OKRs if my organization doesn't use them?

The beauty of OKRs is their simplicity. You are probably already using them as a team without realizing it. Do you have a Sprint Goal? Do you have an outcome you’re trying to hit this month? Those are your Objectives as a team. Now all you need to do is figure out how to measure the success of the outcome. In other words the Key Result. 

Tracking OKRs, however, may be a little more difficult if you don’t have control over your technology stack. Consider what you do have control over: Confluence Pages, your team-level ceremonies, and the like. Embed working with OKRs in your team’s rhythms and outcomes will follow. 

What companies have good OKRs to reference when writing them?

In addition to Gitlab, which has been publicizing their OKRs for years, below is a list of 27 companies that use OKRs. There are a few examples from each of these companies available via internet search as well. If you’re looking for help creating OKRs, Praecipio will be launching additional content over the next few quarters around OKRs. However, if you need help sooner, we can provide lightweight advisory services with one of our OKR experts to guide you and your peers as well. 

Companies include: Adobe, Amazon, Atlassian, Dell, Deloitte, Dropbox, Eventbrite, Facebook, GE, Google, GoPro, Intel, LG, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Netflix, Panasonic, Samsung, Slack, Spotify, Trello, Twitter, Uber, Yahoo.

Could you explain the difference between an OKR and a KPI?

Objectives and Key Results focus on the business outcome you want to achieve. The Objective is the goal you want to achieve. The Key Results are the measurable success criteria used to track progress. Key Performance Indicators are metrics-driven and output-oriented based on past performance. 

OKRs are aspirational: Sha’Carri Richardson will be the fastest woman in the world. Her Key Results may be something like, “Improve 100m times by 0.2 seconds by Worlds” 

KPIs, or Key Performance Indicators monitor steady state and benchmarks and pull triggers once they’re off track. If we measured Sha’Carri Richardson by KPIs, we would look at her past performance and set a very specific goal. Her KPIs may be something like, “Improve race win rate by 10% over 2022.” If she won 20 races in 2022, she would be measured on winning 22 races in 2023. 

And maybe Sha’Carri reduces her 100m times by 0.2 seconds and maybe she doesn’t. 

Both are important in organizations. KPIs help us do things like normalize team velocity or understand flow through the value stream. OKRs help us think aspirationally about the impact of our work. 

Enterprise Agility with Jira Align

Implementing SAFe® Lean Budgets with Jira Align

Read Whitepaper
Project Managers