On Agile and OKRs: Publishing in a Standardized Format


Allan Kelly headshot
Allan Kelly

Agile coach, guide, author, and keynote speaker

Episode notes

In this episode of "Agile and OKRs: Publishing your API in a Standardized Format," host Jenny Herald welcomes Allan Kelly, a former software developer turned digital agility consultant, and author of several books, including “Succeeding with OKRs in Agile.”

What you will learn

  • Allan’s insights on the interplay between agile methodologies and OKRs
  • How they can be used to create a standardized format for publishing APIs.
  • The importance of making the benefits of OKRs blindingly obvious to all stakeholders.
  • The challenges of integrating OKRs into existing management systems.

Show notes

  • [00:02:06] Introduction to Allan Kelly's experience incorporating OKRs. Allan talks about his journey in the tech industry, starting from his teenage years with microcomputers to his current work as a consultant and advisor for companies using agile methodology.
  • [00:03:54] Challenges incorporating OKRs and experimenting with team dynamics. Allan shares his story on how he first started using OKRs as recommended by a client, which led to a learning experience for him and other agile coaches. They experimented with teams who were uncertain about the setting process, emphasizing the need for clear communication and leadership from the organization.
  • [00:08:33] Deleting backlogs and focusing on outcomes with OKRs. Allan recommends the best way to use OKRs: by wiping the slate clean every three months and focusing on outcomes, not past backlogs, for better results and benefits. Success should be measured by the benefits delivered, not by how much backlog is cleared.
  • [00:14:58] OKRs and Backlog: When to Derive and When to Focus on Outcomes. Allan suggests that if an organization measures success based on the quantity delivered, deriving OKRs from the backlog may make sense. However, he believes that this approach may not be fulfilling in the long term. He advises teams to inspect and adapt and find what works best for them.
  • [00:16:51] Different Strains of Agile: Mild vs Corporate Agile. Allan Kelly differentiates between Radical and Corporate Agile.
    • Radical Agile is the dream of Agile, where motivated teams deliver regularly.
    • Corporate Agile is a watered-down version of Agile lacking passion, with risk-averse corporations keeping traditional methods in place.
    • Teams lack spending authority and feedback cycles, and are remote from customers. However, any adherence to Agile improves things over what went before.
  • [00:21:14] Empowering Agile Practices with OKRs. Allan believes OKRs should be set from the bottom up rather than top down. Leaders should set the vision and purpose, then leave whitespace for teams to decide how to further the organization's mission. Teams propose their own OKRs, which are reviewed and negotiated, and feedback is obtained from stakeholders. OKRs are like an API that defines the team's space, allowing them to do what they need to meet objectives and add benefits.
  • [00:27:17] Using OKRs with Agile: How to Blend Them Together. Allan suggests removing the backlog and instead using OKRs every time you need to decide what to do next. In sprint planning meetings, teams can decide which OKRs to focus on for the sprint, write the stories or tickets, and get on with the work. At the end of the quarter, a retrospective meeting can be held to reflect on the OKRs, what was done right or wrong, and come up with improvements for the next cycle. Allan emphasizes the importance of working with product owners, who are key people tasked with understanding what customers and stakeholders need, value, and want.
  • [00:32:45] Delivering Benefit Matters More Than Hitting OKRs. OKRs are about delivering benefits, not just achieving key results. Allan believes that it's more important to add value than to hit all your OKRs. He argues that every OKR is a type of hypothesis and that if it's not adding value, there's no point in continuing. Additionally, he emphasizes the importance of reflecting on whether the team added benefit in the right way and not just focusing on whether they hit their targets.
  • [00:37:52] OKRs are not everything: a real example. Allan Kelly shares an example where a team missed their OKRs due to an unforeseen issue, but they still delivered a critical benefit to the business by fixing a major security issue. He emphasizes the importance of making the benefit of OKRs clear to everyone, especially those higher up the chain who may not understand the details.
  • [00:41:03] Quick-Fire Questions for Allan:
    • What's your dream with a deadline: For COVID to be over. However, he hopes there is no deadline for it because he wants it to be done right.
    • What have you appreciated about Agile on the Beach event and the people that get to come and experience it? It allows for great conversations and serious learning. He believes that people learn best when they're relaxed.
    • What advice do you have for those starting or retrying OKRs implementation based on your experiences with clients and teams who have gone through this? It's important to also take something away and unlearn some of the things that brought success in the past. 

Relevant links

About our guest:

Allan Kelly headshot
Allan Kelly

Agile coach, guide, author, and keynote speaker

Allan Kelly consults on digital agility to enhance productivity and give businesses a competitive edge. He is an agile enthusiast who authored seven books, including "Succeeding with OKRs in Agile." Allan has also developed innovative techniques such as Value Poker and Time-Value Profiles.

Additional resources