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OKR software refers to dedicated tools for setting, communicating, tracking, and measuring Objectives and Key Results within businesses.

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Using OKR software can eliminate the technical bottlenecks caused by managing OKRs with spreadsheets or general-purpose HR tools.
Using OKR software can eliminate the technical bottlenecks caused by managing OKRs with spreadsheets or general-purpose HR tools.

If you’ve been around the Lean-Agile or tech space for a while, it’s likely that you’ve heard of (or even actively use) OKRs to set and measure your goals. OKRs, which stands for Objectives and Key Results, is a widely popular process that companies use to link organizational and team goals to measurable outcomes. OKRs help to answer these two questions:

  • Where do we want to go?
  • How will we measure our efforts to get there?

After its introduction at Intel in the 1970s, the OKR framework rose in popularity among tech startups in the early 2000s, including the fledgling Google. More recently, OKRs have seen a resurgence as Agile methodologies and practices have become more mainstream.

OKRs can be instrumental in making strategy more Agile and in supporting companies as they face the challenges of scaling Agile across an enterprise. In fact, the release of SAFe® 5 included a formal endorsement of the OKRs technique to Strategic Themes.

One major challenge for many organizations is that while the OKRs framework is incredibly helpful for brainstorming and defining goals, it can be difficult to keep those goals top of mind without a way to track them.

When key objectives are not easily understood, visible, or accessible, it can lead to delivery chaos that results in time-to-market delays, re-work, missed opportunities, and revenue loss.

Many organizations will use their regular word processing or document management tool to store their OKRs. Teams will align around these documents during planning sessions, and then it’s up to individuals to regularly review their OKRs, assess their progress, and ensure that their efforts continue to align with the goals they set for themselves.

OKR software can eliminate a lot of the headaches and technical bottlenecks caused by planning, tracking, and measuring OKRs with spreadsheets or general-purpose HR tools.

OKRs in Practice

Connecting and aligning goals at every level of the organization is one of key benefits of the OKRs framework. Everyone wins when they understand how their work fits into the bigger picture strategy of the organization.

More specifically, many Lean-Agile organizations use OKRs to align goals at all levels of an organization. While not every objective will align neatly with another objective at the two other levels, the overall goal is to ensure that the work that is being prioritized does fit into some broader organizational strategy.

Here is an example of an objective hierarchy: How a portfolio-level objective might inform objectives at the program and team levels. Or, put another way, how a team-level objective might be understood in the larger context of the portfolio strategy.

Portfolio Level

Objective: Create an awesome mobile banking experience

Key Result: Increase mobile banking customer base by 50%

Key Result: Improve NPS score from 80% to 90%

Program Level

Objective: Improve user experience around authentication

Key Result: Launch biometric authentication for iOS and Android devices

Key Result: Maintain customer satisfaction score of 95%

Team Level

Objective: Delight customers with Face ID authentication

Key Result: Increase Face ID usage by 20%

Key Result: Reduce authentication incidents by 10%

You can see more OKR examples at the company level, as well as OKR examples for IT and product teams, in this article.

An important thing to note is that OKRs aren’t meant to be dictated from the top down. Leaders can use OKRs to set direction and focus, but program- and team-level objectives should be created and owned by their group. Increasing visibility into OKRs at every level of the hierarchy with OKR software should serve to only further enhance autonomy.

OKR Software Criteria

OKR software is a category of tools that has emerged as the framework has grown in popularity. If you’re looking to choose OKR software to use within your organization, here are five criteria you should consider.

1. Enables visibility of OKRs

The primary reason for using any OKR software is to have greater visibility into OKRs. What does this mean exactly? Visibility, for the modern knowledge worker, means not having to dig information out of various tools: A centralized place to create, visualize, store, and track OKRs.

Between email, Slack, execution tools, and documentation tools, your teams already have enough tools to check on a daily basis in order to stay in the know. Adding a separate OKR software to the stack, if it’s useful, might be worth the effort, but if it’s just another place where information goes to die, it might not be.

The ideal solution will either work well alongside the tools your teams already use, or will be a feature included in your team’s primary execution tools. For example, if your teams already uses Kanban boards to plan, track, and measure their work, then the ideal solution would be able to integrate with their Kanban boards.

2. Supports bi-directional goal setting

Agile thinker Stephen Bungay is quoted as saying, “The more alignment you have, the more autonomy you can grant.” Alignment from the top-down, as well as across the organization, is one of the primary benefits of the OKRs framework.

This type of alignment occurs when goal setting is bi-directional: When leaders can set goals for teams, and teams can share their goals with leaders. Bi-directional goal setting fosters autonomy across the business. Leaders can show teams where to go, but let them determine how to get there by allowing them to best balance short-term objectives with long-term strategy.

The ideal OKR software solution will allow for bi-directional goal setting.

3. Provides a clear line of sight into all connected work

Aligning goals during a planning session is one thing, but staying aligned during a PI is another thing entirely. Without the right tool to manage the entire objective hierarchy, it can feel nearly impossible to maintain alignment between long-term portfolio objectives, mid-term program objectives, and short-term team objectives.

Good OKR software will show how objectives are connected across the objective hierarchy to provide a line of sight across, up and down the organization. An ideal solution will also show how the work items related to each objective are connected, so that teams and their leaders have a clear line of sight into all connected work.

If your organization is already using an enterprise Kanban solution to plan, track, and execute work across the organization, then adding the ability to visualize and track OKRs within the same solution would be ideal. An enterprise Kanban solution with OKR capabilities will maximize top to bottom visibility and provide a clear line side end-to-end across the value stream.

The ability to use the capabilities of OKR software within an enterprise Kanban solution is ideal for Agile organizations.
The ability to use the capabilities of OKR software within an enterprise Kanban solution is ideal for Agile organizations.

4. Shows shared objectives and interdependencies

Bi-directional visibility (top-down and bottom-up) is important for aligning teams with long-term strategic goals. But horizontal synchronization is just as important, especially for teams that work closely together, share resources, or who have shared objectives.

When setting OKRs, teams are often advised to focus on goals that they can control alone. Lean-Agile teams are structured to be cross-functional and therefore self-sufficient, and typically aim to set OKRs that they can achieve without external dependencies (where possible).

While limiting interdependencies is an important aspect of scaling, there’s a fine line between limiting dependencies and creating silos. In every organization, there is ‘white space’ between teams that needs to be addressed in order to achieve true organizational agility.

Enabling visibility into shared objectives and interdependencies is how companies can manage that white space. The ideal OKR software will allow teams to see what other teams are doing, especially those that require vertical and horizontal synchronization.

5. Is easy to use

Finally, like with any software, it’s critical that any tool you introduce to your teams is not only useful, but easy to use. The right OKR software will make it easy to create, connect, score, and modify Objectives and Key Results. Introducing a new tool specifically for OKRs can work well for your organization, as long as it is user-friendly and plays nicely with your existing tech stack.

OKR Capabilities with Planview

The Objectives and Key Results capabilities within Planview LeanKit™ provide a scalable goal and alignment framework built to unite goals and value delivery inside a single solution. With the addition of OKR capabilities, Planview LeanKit is even better equipped to help your organization achieve agility at scale.

Develop outcome-driven planning by defining objectives

Traditional work planning methods tend to incentivize the creation of outputs instead of the achievement of outcomes. Leveraging Objectives and Key Results can help to facilitate a shift toward outcome-driven planning, by helping to connect the dots between long-term strategy and short-term goals.

The OKRs framework encourages teams to think critically about not only what they hope to achieve, but how their work contributes to larger program and organizational strategy. Fostering a culture that leverages OKRs, and investing in software that keeps them top of mind, will help keep the organization aligned from top to bottom and side to side.

Define and track success with leading and lagging key results

Traditional measures of success (KPIs) are often lagging indicators. They tend to encourage a focus on outputs (a quantified measure of what happened), rather than outcomes (the desired result). Measuring both OKRs and KPIs can provide a more complete picture of your organization’s progress, while helping to guide decision-making sooner than by measuring KPIs alone.

Drive work based on the desired outcomes

If your teams define Objectives and Key Results in one tool, but manage and execute their work in another, it can be difficult to maintain focus on the desired outcomes.

By keeping Objectives and Key Results front and center, Planview LeanKit’s OKR capabilities help organizations prioritize work and achieve results that reflect the business and customer success criteria they seek to achieve.

Align strategic priorities from the enterprise to the team

Maintaining alignment throughout the objective hierarchy is critical to achieving strategic goals. Planview LeanKit allows leaders to guide the direction of their teams according to strategic priorities, while letting the teams determine how to get there.

Track key results over time

The OKR capabilities in Planview LeanKit allow you to keep an eye on objectives while actively tracking and managing the corresponding key results inside a single solution.

Toggle between hierarchies and organizational levels to understand how objectives are pursued, connected, and shared, as well as how teams are managing their work to achieve the outcomes that matter most.

Stay Aligned with OKR Software

When delivery teams aren’t aligned to a common goal or purpose, it can lead to delivery chaos, time-to-market delays, and missed opportunities. The OKRs framework provides the structure needed to align teams across the organization and maintain alignment from top to bottom as well. However, if OKRs are carefully defined and then quickly forgotten, they won’t do much good.

Having the right OKR software in your arsenal can help to keep Objectives and Key Results front and center. There are a handful of solutions to consider when choosing the right OKR software for your organization. The ideal OKR solution will enable:

  • Visibility into Objectives and Key Results at every level of the organizational hierarchy
  • Bi-directonal goal setting to promote autonomy of teams
  • A clear line of sight into all connected work
  • Visibility into shared objectives and interdependencies

And, ideally, it will be easy to use. If you’re already using Planview LeanKit or the Planview Agile Program Management solution, then you don’t have to go looking for the perfect OKR solution: It already exists inside the tool your teams know and love!

Learn more about the OKR capabilities within Planview LeanKit – watch the on-demand demo.