Five steps to plan an effective OKR rollout

You’ve made up your mind. OKRs, with their flexibility and customization, will be the perfect complement for your agile team. You’ve done your research and already have ideas for possible objectives and key results.
Creating OKRs is one thing, but implementing them, especially for the first time, can be a challenge. So start small.

Why you should consider a gradual OKR rollout

One of the biggest traps people fall into during implementation is that they take on too much too quickly. It’s easy to get overwhelmed.

Consider starting out small. While it may mean a longer implementation period, a pilot rollout will allow you to:

  • Test out different options and methods
  •  Figure out what works (and what doesn’t)
  •  Spot blockers and discover solutions
  •  Build a playbook for the rest of the organization to follow

That way, when the time comes to roll out OKRs to the entire company, you’ll be more prepared and have a little extra help from the pilot team.

Here are five simple steps to gradually rollout OKRs

Step one: Create an OKR framework

As with any project, the key to success is having a solid framework. Start by asking yourself what you want to achieve during the pilot cycle, who will be involved, and how progress will be measured.

  1. Set a time frame for the pilot. Some companies adopt a six-week cycle, and others prefer to set quarterly OKRs. For the pilot, you could try a 6-week cycle. If it feels too rushed, extend it next cycle.
  2.  Decide on how you will track and grade your progress throughout the cycle. Many companies use a simple scale of 0.0 to 1.0, with 1.0 signaling that an objective has been fully achieved. Ensure that the entire team is aware of this scale and is using it to note their progress.
  3.  Consider using an OKR management app or tool. While you can use Jira to map your OKRs, it’s more convenient to use an app. Such tools also build good practices and encourage cross-functional collaboration. If you already use a project management platform, look for compatible plugins – for example, Jira users can consider the OKR for Jira app.

Step two: Pick your pilot team (and future OKR champions)

This team will be your allies for the pilot and, in the future, a group of OKR champions who can teach others. Depending on the size of your company, you’ll have a few options to pick from.

Here are some of the pros and cons:

Leadership teamDepartment teamProject team
ProsCan be the best champions of a new systemCreates a more realistic simulation of a company-wide OKR rolloutProvides a clearer view of OKR progress and efficiency
ConsMay not face the same roadblocks as a team with different levels of contributorsCan encourage silos; members may be less well positioned to teach other departmentsCan be difficult to get a large group introduced to OKRs at the same time especially if timelines are tight

Step three: Get alignment

Now that you have a plan and picked your team, it’s time to bring them in. OKRs are a collective commitment and work best when the whole team is actively involved. If your pilot team does not include the senior management, this is a good time to invite them in.

Talk about the benefits of OKR, and how it will meet the team’s current needs, demands, and challenges. You can also show how other companies like Google and Amazon use OKRs.

Tip: Ask questions like: 

  1. What does everyone think is our number one priority in the next few months?
  2.  Are there any objectives that need to be prioritized?
  3.  What blockers have caused under-performance in the past?
  4.  How often is performance monitored? 

Step four: Pick your OKRs

Once the team understands why OKRs are necessary, present the proposed framework and open it up to discussion. Effective OKRs are bi-directional. While you or senior management may have ideas for strategic objectives, work with the team to set key results and tactical objectives.

Tip: Differentiate between outputs – tasks that need to be done – and outcomes – the results you want to see. Set outcomes but leave the how up to the team.

Aim for between one to three OKRs for the pilot. The pilot should be more about getting everyone familiar with a new system, rather than which objective is chosen. Ideally, you want everyone to finish the cycle encouraged and eager to start another. Once the team is accustomed to OKRs, you can increase to a max of five objectives with up to five key results each.

Step five: Set regular review meetings

Don’t set and forget OKRs. Schedule regular, 15-to-30-minute review meetings during the cycle so everyone on the team is aware of their progress. Then you’ll be able to spot blockers and implement solutions quickly. 

Generally, reviews should be held a day after the OKR updates are due, as this allows everyone to come prepared with updates, issues, and questions. During the pilot project, consider meeting more regularly and holding a large wrap-up at the end of the cycle.

Start implementing OKRs today

OKRs are one of the best tools in any manager’s kit. But they do require a careful rollout plan. Here’s a cheat sheet to get you started.

A handy cheat sheet checklist for planning a gradual OKR rollout.

Remember: it’s a marathon, not a sprint. The key to a smooth OKR rollout isn’t to get everyone in the company churning out OKRs from Day 1; the goal is to build the best foundation for your team to succeed.

Last updated: 2023-06-05

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