Four common OKR problems and how to fix them

OKRs are great for agile teams. But there’s a lot of fine-tuning and adjusting needed to make sure the system works for your team. 

If you’re having trouble seeing results or feel that the system doesn’t seem to be working for your team, take a step back and look closely at your OKR set-up. Are there practices that could be simplified or steps that can be removed? Are you reviewing your progress regularly?

Here are the top four most common OKR problems faced by teams and how you can fix them.

1. Our OKRs are too complicated.

One of the biggest OKR problems and a common reason why people stop using OKRs is because they feel that they have too many OKRs or are confused as to what they mean. If you’re one of them, you might want to take a good look at how you’re setting your goals. 

The best OKRs are clear, simple, and achievable. While objectives can be aspirational, or moonshot goals, key results should be quantifiable.

Try this:

  • Stick to a limited number of OKRs. Aim for three to five objectives, with up to five key results each. This will help focus your team’s efforts on the goals that matter the most.
  • When you set your OKRs, make sure they fit in one line and use numbers where possible. This will simplify and quantify your OKRs. Here are more tips on how to write great OKRs.

2. Progress always stalls midway through the cycle.

Another one of the most common OKR problems is that the team starts off making good progress on their OKR goals but either slows down or forgets about the OKRs towards the end.

A lack of consistent progress can be fixed by reviewing both your goals and progress regularly. How often do you check them? Every week? Or only at the end of the cycle?

Try this:

  • Set regular reviews. If you’re just starting off, consider a weekly 15-to-30-minute review with the team. These short reviews will encourage accountability among team members and allow managers to actively monitor for any blockers that may occur.
  • Put a progress chart somewhere visible. You could go old-school with a whiteboard, but we recommend a cloud-based app with a shared dashboard so the team can input progress updates and track the OKRs themselves.
Get a clear overview of all the OKRs for the cycle and their status all on one page using our OKR for Jira app.

3. The team seems confused about OKRs.

If you keep hearing team members say, “Wait, why are we doing this again?” It may be a sign that OKRs are being set in silos.

Who sets OKRs? Is it just the senior management team and managers? Or is the team involved? If not, you might want to consider bringing them in during the planning stage of the OKR cycle as it encourages transparency and ownership.

Try this:

  • While it’s good to have the more high-level, organisational goals set by senior management, discuss the ‘how’ with the team. The team will feel more comfortable setting goals that they can achieve and that are more relevant to them.
  • To cut down on silos and encourage team cohesion, work with all stakeholders to align OKRs across the company – through a workshop, for example. Make sure the OKRs tie back to your company’s vision and mission.
  • Create a shared dashboard that lists all the OKRs and the key person responsible to ensure that they remain fresh in everyone’s minds.
Chart which key results belong to what objective, and who is responsible for seeing them through.
  • If you use Jira, an app like OKR for Jira can link OKRs to Jira issues, helping your team understand how their tasks contribute to progress, and helping you identify blockers. In addition, you can also set your key results to automatically update based on the completion of linked Jira issues to help save time and cut down additional steps.
See the issues that relate to each key result and their progress so far.

4. We followed Google’s methodology – why isn’t it working for us?

One of the strengths of the OKR system is its flexibility. But what works for one company – Google, for example – may not work for another.

Do you have an agile or waterfall team structure? Is the work fast-paced and prone to disruption? Whichever it is, customize your OKR process so that it fits into your team culture. 

Try this:

  • Take inspiration from other companies, but don’t feel compelled to keep things that don’t fit your company. If something doesn’t work or isn’t relevant, change it – whether it’s the length of a cycle or an outdated objective.
  • Get good feedback from your team during the periodic review meetings. If something isn’t working or progressing as it should, ask why. Then ask how they think it could be done better. Don’t be afraid to change things up and implement solutions now if it means a blocker can be removed.
  • If this is your first time implementing OKRs, consider doing a pilot project first and try out different methods. This will help you tailor the OKRs to suit your style of working before it gets rolled out to everyone. Here are some tips on how to run a pilot OKR implementation.

Implement Your Solutions Today

Keep at it. The OKR system can be challenging to get started but take the time to customize it so that it works for you (and not the other way around).

If you need a little more help overcoming OKR problems, consider bringing in an OKR consultant. Or if you prefer to use something that can be integrated into your existing system, look for OKR apps or plugins for project management software. 

If you use Jira, consider the OKR for Jira app. Give it a try and see if it’s right for your team.

Last updated: 2023-07-31

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