6 Steps for an effective OKR Check-In

Improve your OKR Check-in with these tips and our template

Many companies associate OKRs with defining ambitious goals for a short timeframe. However, there is so much more to the concept of OKRs. 

OKRs are built around a cyclical model that isn't limited to the work of a single team. The OKR Cycle links the work of individuals and teams to create an integrated model of work that provides iterative learning opportunities for the whole organization. 

One crucial part of this iterative process is the OKR Check-Ins. These Check-Ins allow teams and the whole organization to track progress on a regular (e.g., weekly) basis to adapt tactics as needed and remove first impediments along the way. 

The OKR Check-Ins can be integrated as a top priority agenda topic into a regular team or management meeting processes, no matter if it is a classic team meeting or a Scrum sprint planning. If no divergent estimates, opinions or impediment perceptions come up, such a Check-in with 1-3 OKRs can be done in 15 minutes. If substantial disagreements arise in the team more time or even a separate meeting block is needed.

 The goals of the OKR Check-In are as follows:

  • Transparency of the status quo

  • Overview of the progress and upcoming tasks and activities

  • Get everybody on the same page

  • Identify impediments for fast removal

Here are six steps to effectively design and work through OKR Check-Ins:

Step 1:  Setting the scene

An effective OKR Check-In requires preparation and focus on progress and activity planning. Ideally, all necessary data is prepared upfront and shared. It is important that all thoughts are raised, especially concerns and open questions from team members since this is valuable input and ensures a common understanding in the group. 

Good practice:

Set the scene by stating what the intention of the meetings is (quick check of status quo, in-depth discussion of impediments etc.) and remind the participants that all their thought and ideas are valuable. 

Step 2:  Looking back to evaluate the current situation

Understanding the current situation and creating a starting point for objective discussions can start by walking through a (pre-filled) status overview of all Key Results (KR). The KR status can be evaluated by an absolute number (like 1 out of 4) and / or the relative progress (25% achievement).

Good practice:

Update the actual status quo of KRs one time at the beginning of the OKR Cycle so the starting point can be used as  a reference. It might also be helpful to add a comment on the KR to state the reference point (e.g. today we have 15.000 users and we want to increase this number by 15%). Also, make sure that you have clear responsibilities for the preparation of the respective KR data every week before the meeting or make sure one or more people attend the meeting who can not just give a quick update, but also answer related questions.

Step 3: Looking forward to estimating the end state

After reflecting on where you are right now, take a look into the future and estimate the possible result of the OKR Set - based on the knowledge of today. The more the estimations among team members differ, the higher the need for communication and investigation.

Good practice:

A quick way to add this perspective is to define a confidence level for each Key Result. Ask everyone to share their confidence level, that the company or team will achieve this goal (eg. from 1 (very low) to 4 (very high) or percentage). Use the average number to capture the actual estimation. Talk about the reasons, if there are bigger variations. Talk about trends, impediments, and actions if the confidence remains low for everybody.

A copy of the OKR Check-In template can be downloaded here

Step 4: Adjusting and planning

Discuss the results with your team and use them as a foundation to define and adapt the next priorities and activities for the upcoming week(s). If completely new topics occur, an extra task planning meeting might be necessary.

Good practice:

Check your current task planning - does it still stand after the information gathered today or are new and/or different activities necessary? Do not talk about all details in the meetings, but get the main points across to create a shared understanding of the next steps. If necessary, schedule a specific task planning meeting - ideally right in the Check-In meeting.

Step 5: Check other relevant metrics (optional)

There might be other relevant metrics that are important for organizational health and success that are not included in the KRs, like the fuel level in a car (something that requires active monitoring), which can also be company-wide or team specific.

Good practice:

You may use specific numbers that a person responsible updates before the OKR Check-In. Alternatively, you can use a rough evaluation (like high-middle-low) given by an expert or the whole team. There is a need to spend extra time on the health metrics if either they are recurrently too low or team members have a different opinion about the status quo which might be a hint for a need for communication.

Step 6: Remove impediments

The insights shared and discussions happening in an OKR Check-Ins are a great source for possible impediments on the way towards achieving the set goals.

Good practice:

Listen carefully to the reasons mentioned why team(s) might not have met the estimated progress so far or impediments which appear on the horizon and might have a negative impact on the progress in the future. Collect impediments on a separate area and assign responsibilities. An impediment could be solved by a team member, taken to a designated meeting (e.g. an impediment board) or discussed with the next hierarchy level.

It is important to note that moving the item “OKR Check-In” to done is easy, whereas gaining valuable insights without too much extra effort while having all engaged in the process is not. The above tips are designed to help facilitate effective OKR Check-Ins in a way that improves the overall OKR experience.

Happy process tracking!

A copy of the OKR Check-In Guide can be downloaded here

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