Objective and Key Results are in the OKR acronym, the T is missing but it is as important as the others.
There are quite a few good resources on how to create great OKRs, but what I see many companies failing at, is the hidden parameters in OKR, timing.
T stands for Time.
When the OKR framework is used in companies, then different teams or the whole company has to work on them, but as important as is to clearly define the Key Results, we should also declare by When we want to achieve them.
Some of the companies I have helped so far made a mistake in finding a good balance between having Objectives lasting enough to be fully achieved (especially if highly strategic), but not too much as they are diluted in other activities (especially if tactically oriented).
Some people struggle to be consistent and having a long term Objective put too much stress on them, some others like more time to work on unconventional ways to achieve an objective.
How to find the right time?
This is the question I would like to be asked for, because most of the people I worked with did not figure out they had a timing problem. There are more than just 1 duration to take care of. Here is a short list
- Time for achieving the entire Objective (few weeks, a quarter, a year, etc.).
- The interval of time to make OKR reviews (every week, every two weeks, once a month, etc.).
- The time people could dedicate to focus on the OKR (I have seen companies declaring high level OKRs and saying they are "the most important thing" for the company, and then not allowing people to effectively work on them due to daily routine tasks).
The whole point of OKRs is indeed to align the whole company (and a team or department) to work on a specific objective, because that IS the most important thing for the company, if that is not the case, then why are you setting an OKR at all?
There are a few conclusion I observed after helping companies to achieve their goals, and then I created a simple framework to find the right timing.
Start with short timings
To have long lasting OKRs is hard, and requires that every people in the process know how to work with them, how to dedicate all their effort and how to split the work to move ahead every single Key Result.
Most of the companies who just started working with OKR are not ready for it, and it is best to start with some small Objectives, still important, but that span a short period of time, so people get used with the dynamics. In addition, having very short review periods for the Key Results progress, is a good way to remind the team working on them that they are important, and part of their weekly business. They are going to be embedded into their routine, in a good way, they have to dedicate time into checking the progress. By having frequent reviews you can adjust the trajectory quite often and make small adjustment, and eventually, you are able to quickly find blockers or to understand if you are going to fail an Objective with enough time to avoid being a disaster.
Increase the timings until it gets uncomfortable, or no more valuable.
Based on how much visibility you have in your company strategy, you could be able to set really long term Objective, finding the right Key Results will them be quite challenging but if you can do that, it is going to be amazing to see moving the entire company in that direction in the long term.
The fact is, this is hard, there is a risk that your objectives become outdated and you figure that out after investing way too much time into them.
What I observed is that OKR duration is in some way proportional to the size of the group involved to achieve them, small companies work well with quarterly based OKRs with weekly check-ins, while big companies with annual OKRs with monthly check-ins. Of course there are exceptions in both directions but still this is an empirical evidence (and look, also Scrum is empirical, so do not understimate it).
Having a long-span Objecive can be good, but reviews should always be much smaller than the whole duration, as said as small to adjust quickly the duration
What are the cons of having too frequent reviews of the KR?
Stress, and time spent.
When checking a KR that is blocked for multiple reviews, and the team is already working hard to unblock it, having yet another review will only put more stress on them, and not everyone performs better under stress. You even risk people will lose motivation if they are not seeing any progress too often (let's imagine you want to lose weight and you check your weight 3 times a day, it is totally useless and does only add more stress to you).
Reviewing Key Results has to be done very meticulously, by checking all the numbers you have into them, and measuring not just the progress, but also the probability you are going to reach the Key Result before the deadline of your Objective. Measuring everything and checking require times, and all the time you invest in this process, is time your team is not actively working on the Key Results, so there is extra effort into the process, be sure you optimize productivity, not measurement.
Finding the right time for an OKR depends from multiple factors
- Size of the group and their interactions
- Visibility of the future
- Adaptation to changes
If you read them again, you could notice they are quite related to the Agile Manifesto, and no, I do not think it is a coincidence.