Objectives and key results (OKRs) can be a powerful framework for organizations seeking to achieve their goals. However, successful OKR implementation requires a careful assessment of organizational maturity, agility, industry, market trends, company size, and the problems you're looking to solve with OKRs.
In this article, we'll explore a real-world case study of an international e-commerce corporation that leveraged OKRs to reduce complexity, align teams, and improve their understanding of organizational priorities.
By examining the challenges and successes of this implementation, you’ll discover practical ways of improving OKR program roll-out and adoption in your own organization.
This e-commerce business unit was two years old and inherited the culture of its parent company. The organization was characterized by high complexity, with approximately 600 employees globally and operations in ten countries. The company operated in a competitive industry heavily influenced by technology trends and rapidly changing consumer preferences.
The goals of implementing OKRs for the e-commerce corporation were clear: achieve transparency in strategy, reduce organizational complexity, facilitate alignment between teams, enable teams to focus on the most critical value drivers, and enhance their understanding of current organizational priorities.
Since these objectives are common drivers for many companies seeking to adopt OKRs, the recommendations that follow can be applied to plenty of business cases.
OKR recommendations for reducing organizational complexity
Simplify OKR levels
To reduce complexity and enable faster value delivery, I recommend adopting three levels of OKRs: Company, value streams, and teams. Individuals working on the same product but in different teams can be integrated into virtual teams based on value streams, reducing team silos. Individual OKRs should not be implemented to avoid replicating the organizational structure.
Adjust check-in frequency
I recommend taking a pragmatic approach to OKR check-ins — one that minimizes unnecessary meetings and team frustrations. Depending on measurable progress, release frequency, and user engagement, teams can conduct check-ins monthly, weekly, or biweekly.
Determine OKR cycle length
The ideal length of an OKR cycle varies across companies, ranging from one to 12 months. I recommend choosing a traditional three-month cycle, which strikes a balance between minimizing overhead and allowing flexibility during the rollout period.
OKR recommendations for achieving more focus
Start with simplicity
Starting with simplicity is crucial to ensure teams can understand and embrace OKRs. If OKRs are initially challenging for teams to understand, I recommend starting with one objective and 1-3 key results per team. Although this approach won't cover all the team's work, it allows the gradual adoption and learning of OKR mechanics.
Optimal objective count
I recommend having three objectives per team per cycle, allowing 4-5 cycles for teams to learn how to focus effectively.
Teams can skip a cycle if their focus remains on maintaining current operations rather than driving change. For products in the discovery phase, I recommend focusing on OKRs in the background rather than running them explicitly.
OKR recommendations for improving alignment
Utilize OKRs as a communication tool
I recommend leveraging OKRs as a means of communication with top management and business stakeholders at the initial stages of the process. This helps align OKRs with strategic goals and enables the organization to reject misaligned demands unless a change in strategic direction is warranted.
Split the OKR drafting workshop
I believe splitting the OKR drafting workshop into two parts can be helpful. The first should be focused on writing OKRs, where teams consolidate and aggregate the opportunities they find by themselves or using stakeholders' support. For the second part, teams would work together to clarify open questions and align goals, resulting in a final drafting process.
Ultimately, the successful implementation of an OKR program can lead to improved performance, increased transparency, and a better understanding of organizational priorities. However, it's essential to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all approach — organizations must tailor their OKR program to their specific context, culture, and goals.
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About the author:
Certified OKR Coach, ICF Coach, Product Coach and Transformation Consultant
Victoria is an experienced product leader who specializes in helping organizations drive growth and achieve their goals through effective goal setting and alignment. With a background in energy, FMCG industries, and retail, Victoria brings over 9 years of experience as a product owner, establishing new products and development processes from scratch. Combining her professional business expertise and international coaching approach in OKR implementation, she makes a valuable impact as a trainer, mentor, and consultant for product transformation and OKRs. Victoria believes that OKRs serve as a critical thinking framework to help organizations become more agile, grow, and create better work environments.