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Scrumming your OKRs

OKRs SCRUM

Designing a scrum wall for the big picture

This is a short story on OKRs and how we are implementing it with Agile Management at Connovo to build and launch social ventures.

1. What are OKRs

OKR stands for Objectives and Key Results. It’s a contemporary goal tracking tool that has been popularized by John Doerr at intel and now adopted by tech giants such as Google and LinkedIn.

I prefer OKRs over S.M.A.R.T. (smart, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound) or D.A.R.C.I. (Decider, Accountable, Responsible, Consulted, Informed).

Let’s face it, SMART is simply outdated by about 20 years, just stop using it, like Now!

DARCI in the other hand is quite solid and provides a more agile approach. Some amazing teams like Unreasonable Institute Mexico uses it with great results.

Yet, I find it simply over-complicated and sometimes overwhelming. When you take a look at DARCI’s dashboards it’s filled with repetitive information and I firmly oppose to the separation of roles of the Decider, Accountable, and Responsible.

Without going into details, it’s a rule of thumb that the person responsible for completing a task must be the one who assesses the complexity and defines how it should get done. Mix this three elements up and get yourself into a mess. This is especially true for small organizations and agile projects.

DARCI might be OK for board level follow-ups, and even then it’s over complicated.

I love simplicity, especially when it comes to business.

I love simplicity, that is why I chose to use OKRs for our next company. It’s quite adaptable for any level of follow up. From board-level reporting up to weekly sprints.

I highly recommend you to download better works’ introduction to OKRs. As the sub-title says, it will give you the “Best Practices for Implementing OKRs in Your Business”.

With OKRs your objective always supports your teams Key Result. It’s clear how you matter to your organizations success. 
Here is a super quick guide to define your OKRs according to Kris Duggan, Betterworks’ CEO:
  1. Each employee sets five or fewer objectives and four or fewer key results for each objective per quarter
  2. Employees and managers gain mutual agreement on set OKRs
  3. Employees evaluate goals (score them) at the end of each quarter — target set by company is typically between 60–70% success
  4. Employees and managers decide whether employees should continue incomplete KRs (which only occurs if they are still important to the business)

I would only add a clarification: make sure every employees Objective is directly aligned to his/her team’s Key Result. Notice how in this example Larry’s and Jacks Objective are the same as John’s Key result?


My favourite aspect of OKRs is that they make sure that everyone is aligned and accountable. If you see your organizational structure with OKRs you can trace and align every action from anywhere in the organization and see how it builds up and supports the bottom-line. That is a great tool to keep teams engaged and motivated.

There is no doubt that every team member’s work matters. And it will even help you see what projects, tasks are not aligned and therefore must be eliminated.


2. OKRs & Agile Management

After falling in love with OKRs we needed to find a way to combine it with our Agile Culture and practices at Connovo. The main challenge was how to adapt our project management process (venture building) to make sure that everything was aligned to our strategic goals.

The answer was simple and elegant:
Adapt the scrum wall for high level project management.

Since we started to work building social businesses we’ve been using different adaptations of the scrum wall. It’s a natural fit. While we are not a team of developers, we do design companies and need to do so in a veryAgile way.

This time adapting the SCRUM wall was really easy. We just re-assigned the columns to our Objectives and Key-results, and use one wall per project — which in our case is a wall per new company.

At first it was a bit tricky. Since you can track OKRs at any level, I wasn’t sure what level of detail should I translate into the wall. Board? Company? Key Result?

Big Picture vs Micromanagement

After three iterations tracking the company’s development as an objective felt just right. It provides the right about if “zoom” for everyone. It doesn’t end up micro-managing everyone’s tasks and it also provides a big picture per company/project.

Here is our current layout:

1. Objective

It’s this sprint’s Objective. In our case, it’s a single company the team is building. This Objective will usually take any where from three to 8 months to complete.

Quite a long time when you compare it with a development sprint which lasts only a day. But don’t worry. Just remember, this is a big-picture wall, not your weekly high-detail management tool.

2. Key Results

These are the big milestones in our unique venture building process. They are placed in vertical order (columns) and usually take anywhere from two weeks to a month to complete.

3. Tasks

This is a collection of identifying activities we know we need to complete. They are organized horizontally by Key Results. That is, each row of tasks belong to the single Key Result on the left. They can take anywhere from 1 day to 1 week to complete.

4. On Going Tasks

Like a traditional scrum wall, every time we start a task we place it here. That way we can know what are we working on and what is left for us to complete. Focus !

5. Blocked

This is a small column dedicated to tasks that are “blocked” by a third party. This are usually things like waiting for a provider, waiting for the board to make a decision.

6. Done

This is where all completed tasks are placed. This way we know how far in the road we are.

7. Notes

Sometimes we need to share extra information for everyone to use. Like, important contacts, or events. This is where all the extra information goes.

Final Notes

I like to keep SCRUM walls physical. It provides a visual reminder of our objectives, improves dialog and allows teams to be informed of the big picture with a simple glance.

If you have remote collaborators, you can always use Trello or Dapulse. I’m personally considering Dapulse to keep up the board informed of our High-level OKRs progress. That is, just the first two columns of our venture building wall.

If you don’t want to invest you can always use trello, or even a simple google spreadsheet. After all, you just need to update it once a month.

Please contact me if you have any comments, questions, need help defining your OKRs, or designing your wall. And please contact me specially if you have suggestions. I would love to see how other teams hack OKRs and Agile Management:

m. hjbarraza@humana.org.mx
t. @hjbarraza

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