The P-D-F process for valuable OKR Definition 

OKR Definition Workshop Guide

The OKR Definition is the first step in every OKR Cycle followed by Alignment workshops or meetings to ensure a shared direction throughout the organization.

Many teams rely on workshop formats to define their OKR Sets, because collaborative sessions tend to create more context and shared understanding from the beginning and help identify obstacles early in the process.
However, just meeting for a workshop every quarter to define OKRs often does not bring the desired results. 

To get the most out of the experience - also beyond the actual OKR Definition itself - a 3-step process for OKR Definition in teams has proven to be valuable:


Below you will find a description of the P-D-F process steps as well as tips and good practices for facilitating this process with a team taken from our experience with teams around the globe throughout different industries and company sizes.

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STEP 1: PREPARATION

Many teams jump right into the OKR Definition. When you have a good foundation and a lot of experience, that might lead to great results.
Especially when teams are rather new to the OKR process, a “Preparation Workshop” before the actual OKR Definition Workshop can be crucial to successfully define OKR Sets together.

Recommended timebox: 60-90 minutes

Goal: “Create a shared understanding of the scope, current foundational input and set the scene for successful collaboration”

After a check-in activity to get everyone on board, clarify the following topics together:

Workshop Scope

  • What is the actual goal for your OKR Definition Workshop?
    (i.e., define Objectives, define whole OKR Sets, collect ideas for initiatives etc.)
  • What is the timeline for your OKR Sets (e.g. the next three months)?
  • What will be the scope of your OKR Sets?
  • (Are you looking for strategic-only or product-only OKR Sets or should for example internal team development topics be covered as well?)

Foundational input for the OKR Definition

  • What long-term foundational input does already exist (e.g. company vision / mission, department or product strategy, team mission)?
  • What mid-term foundational input does already exist (e.g. product or initiative roadmap, yearly OKRs or yearly strategic goals etc.)? Do you already have a shared understanding of them or are clarifications necessary?
  • Which additional info do you still need to gather (or share) before the workshop?
  • And how are you going to integrate information or ideas of OKR Contributors who will not participate in the actual workshop?

Collaboration during and after the Workshop

  • How are you going to decide on the final Objectives and Key Results
    (e.g. democratically, the leader decides or consent decision making)?
  • What are the process steps that will be taken during the workshop (general flow of the OKR Definition workshop)?
  • Who is going to facilitate the workshop and what is their role (e.g. an OKR Coach facilitating the process and a timekeeper from the team)? If it is a person from the team, how are you ensuring that the person can facilitate the group and give input at the same time?
  • How do we want to document the results and next steps?

PREPARATION - PRACTICE TIPS

If necessary, use the preparation to discuss open questions around the concept of OKRs. Moreover, if it has not happened yet, collecting why the team wants to use OKRs and what they are hoping to gain from it can be useful up front to use as a reference point for decisions during the workshop and for the next steps.

After the Preparation: Fill the blanks

  • Use the time between the Preparation workshop and the OKR Definition workshop for “homefun” activities for the team, like collecting the missing documents from the new strategy and reading through them, discussing already visible obstacles or current data or alike.

Good practice:

  • It is tempting to ditch the preparation workshop after the first OKR cycle – thinking now you know it all and are good to go – and maybe that is the case in your team. In our experience something new arises in every OKR cycle – a new team member, changed circumstances, an updated department strategy etc. so keeping the time slot for open topics might be useful – “worst case”: you are through in 10 minutes and gained some free time in your calendar!

STEP 2: ​DEFINITION

In the actual OKR Definition workshop, the common principles for valuable workshop applies that we will not cover in this guide, but here are some specific tips around the OKR side of it.

Recommended timebox: 120 -180 minutes

Goal: “Define a first draft of OKR Sets together building on the foundational input and learnings from the last OKR cycle”

1) Make sure everybody is on the same page

After a check-in activity, do a quick recap of the results from the preparation workshop and discuss any outstanding input. So, for example, when the preparation workshop revealed that the strategic background is unclear or not everyone is familiar with the current roadmap, check whether this has been solved and where necessary discuss open questions around the foundational input together before you start.

The goal here: A shared understanding of the current situation and the foundation for the OKR Definition BEFORE you start to discuss objectives for the next OKR cycle to avoid lack of focus, missing alignment or general misunderstanding during the process.

Good practice: 

  • Visualize the OKR Definition process and collected foundational input on the wall / remote whiteboard for everyone to see and refer to during the workshop

2) Ensure a supporting environment for the OKR Definition Workshop!

Here are some variables to think about:

Duration: From our experience, it usually takes 2-3 hours to define 1-3 whole OKR Sets per unit or team from scratch. Block enough time to avoid frustration and the need to cut off valuable conversations.

Priority: Ensure that all participants (can) prioritize the OKR Definition workshop over other short-term issues and discuss impediments around that in the preparation.

Room Preparation upfront: No matter if you are doing the OKR Definition on-site or remote, use the wall or boards to visualize the foundational input, define sections for “Objectives”, “Key Results” and “Initiatives” and “Tasks”, prepare idea and discussion spaces and whatever else you might need to ensure a smooth flow and visual cues.

3) Make everyone feel welcome, appreciated and comfortable!

When you think about the OKR Definition as part of a creation process, start with the ideation phase (no evaluation yet), then move to evaluation and finally to solution (in terms of selected goals, not features ;)

To create a good environment for all team members to freely brainstorm and share ideas, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • At the beginning of the OKR Definition Workshop it is important to clearly state that it is not about “right” or “wrong” and there is no need to evaluate (yet). Being creative, thinking big and valuing all ideas (no matter how crazy) should be the credo.
  • Questions like “What marketing activity for our company would you carry out if you had 10 Mio. Dollars today?” can help to think big.
  • Be aware: everybody lives in his or her own reality. To assure valuable communication, it is worth regularly checking in with everyone and letting them repeat what they understood from the ideas of others to ensure alignment.

Good practice: 
  • To get the team into the right “spirit”, prepare a creativity exercise or other activity to distinguish this workshop from the regular working mode. You can ask them questions that interrupt and challenge their normal thought patterns, like “Where would you fly to if you would have wings?” or “Draw an animal that tastes like honey and looks like a cucumber”.

4) Ideate, cluster and decide for inspiring Objectives:

To ensure focus during the process, we recommend starting with the definition of objectives and continue to iterate and select objectives before going into the details of the Key Results.

Of course, often ideas for Key Results (or initiatives) also come up during the objective discussion. 
Collect them on the board as valuable input for the later steps.


The first iteration of objectives:

  • Start with a free brainstorming with a short time box (e.g. 3 minutes).
  • One idea is to have participants write down their ideas for Objectives (one per post-it) in response to one or more of these questions:
    • “What should be our next step to achieve our strategy?”
    • “What success stories would we want to share at the upcoming industry conference?”
    • “What key indicators would change if we could eliminate our actual strategic weak spots?"
  • Have everyone present their post-its to the group.
  • Cluster and classify the ideas together under Objectives, Key Results and if necessary Initiatives and tasks.
  • Check for the “reasons behind”: If a post-it rather describes a Key Result or task you can ask the person (or the entire group) “Why would you measure this or do this?” or “Why is this important?” and the answer will provide new ideas for Objectives.
  • Once all the post-its have been assigned to the right “flight”-levels and objective clusters have been build, the Objectives are jointly discussed to identify the biggest lever to move forward in terms of strategy.
  • Decide about the Objective(s) you want to work on in the next OKR Cycle.

Good practices:

  • An Objective is really valuable when everyone in the room nods in response to the question: “Do you want to get out of bed to contribute to this every morning?” If not, that’s also okay – but maybe the discussion offers some insights on how to tweak the Objective to really be inspiring and motivational.
  • Have the OKR Coach / facilitator guide the participants through the process by asking questions and summarizing every step.
  • Have an OKR Checklist at hand during the Workshop. It should describe how Objectives, Key Results and initiatives / tasks are defined in your organization to reflect on the collected Objectives (and later Key Results) and sort them into the right category or iterate the shared idea to get closer to the desired outcome

5) Ideate, cluster and decide for measurable Key Results:

After you have decided on a (first draft) of Objective(s) for the next OKR Cycle, continue with the definition of Key Results:

  • Start with a free brainstorming with a short timebox (e.g. 3 minutes) again to ensure you collect all the ideas BEFORE evaluating or eliminating options.
  • One idea is to have participants write down their ideas for Key Results (one per post-it) in response to these questions:
    • How will we know that we are on the right track to reaching our objective?
    • What indicators should we look for?
    • How can we measure progress over time?
  • Have everyone present their ideas to the group.
  • Cluster the ideas for Key Results and make sure to really differentiate between the Objective and initiative / tasks.
  • Discuss the options and decide on the final Key Results which are best suited to measure your progress towards the Objective.

Good practices:

  • To keep the discussion efficient and avoid getting lost in the weeds, you can initially only write down the ideas for measurement criteria itself and NOT define a relative or absolute number yet, e.g. ‘X % more leads.
  • Make sure to cover different perspectives (e.g. user growth, engagement, sales, quality or performance) in your Key Results. You might not need 3 Key Results representing the same perspective but rather pick one. Or if you identify that all 3 Key Results from the same perspective are relevant, then the Objective might need another tweak / focus.
  • AFTER deciding which Key Results you want to use for the next OKR Cycle, briefly discuss together which values should be set as ambition or who will do some research and present an option in the Follow-up.

6) Define next steps

In most cases, you won’t leave the OKR Definition workshop with all questions answered and no open tasks – and that’s totally fine. However, to ensure that the transfer into the actual execution will happen, make sure to set aside 10 minutes at the end of the workshop to define next steps and responsibilities together.

DEFINITION - PRACTICE TIPS

After the Definition: Iterate and align

  • Use the time between the OKR Definition workshop and the Follow-up for “homefun” activities for the team, like iterating on the OKR Sets, collecting missing baseline data or validating Key Result numbers.
  • Typically, after the first drafting of the OKR Sets, the alignment process in your department or company-wide will happen to ensure a shared direction, well distributed resources, clarify open questions and so on. Often the finalization of OKR Sets in the teams and the alignment process happen in parallel. Check the process in your company to decide on the best interval between OKR Definition workshop and the Follow-up and valuable next steps in between.

STEP 3: ​FOLLOW-UP

After collecting missing data, clarifying open questions with other departments and going through (parts of) the alignment process for the organization, a follow-up workshop can ensure a smooth transfer into the
next OKR cycle and that all loose ends are take care of before execution starts.

Recommended timebox: 120 minutes

Go
al: “Finalize your OKR Sets, discuss possible impediments or open topics and clarify the next steps for a successful next OKR cycle”

Follow-up workshops tend to be very individual depending on what topics came up in the OKR Definition workshop, how much time the team had to iterate OKR Sets in between or how far the alignment process in your organization came until the scheduled workshop.

However, in general a scheduled follow-up meeting as third part of the OKR Definition process can be used as valuable time to…

  • Finalize the OKR Sets by including findings from the alignment process and / or missing data and new information
  • Discuss possible impediments in the next OKR Cycle and how to address them
  • Make sure everything is in place for the OKR Cycle itself (scheduled meetings, clear responsibilities etc.)
  • Discuss relevant open issues that came up during the OKR Definition.


Good practice:

  • To ensure a valuable and efficient follow-up, reflect on the alignment process from the last OKR Cycle, and draw conclusions what it will take to get to a sufficient result. Define next steps and responsibilities already in the OKR Definition workshop.
  • Schedule the follow-up with enough time to the OKR Definition workshop to give team members capacity to do “homefun” activities in between.
  • When the OKR Definition process has been challenging, use the follow-up workshop to look at the situation with a fresh mind and possibly new ideas on how to solve issues and continue.

Tip for teams in their first OKR cycle(s):

To ensure a smooth start for teams in your organization new to the OKR process, extend the follow-up and use the second half of the workshop to go through the OKR cycle and answer remaining questions around the following topics for OKR Check-Ins and OKR Reflection (Reviews and Retrospectives):

  • When will they happen?
  • How long will they last?
  • What is the goal of each of them?
  • What will they cover
    (e.g. for the Check-In only a status update for the Key Results, or also confidence levels, consequences for initiatives, task planning etc.)
  • Who does what (roles, responsibilities)?
  • What tooling will you use? How will you document results?
  • How will you make sure the learnings will be transferred to execution and the next OKR cycle?
  • How will you integrate the OKR events with our other business routines (like Scrum events, team meetings, management boards etc.) to avoid too much additional effort?

Sources:

More resources from OKRs AT THE CENTER (Check-In Guide, OKR System Design Template and much more) can be found here.

This guide is partly based on the OKR Check-In Guide (CC BY-SA Sonja Mewes und Natalija Hellesoe).

Check out our new book “OKRs AT THE CENTER: How to use goals to drive ongoing change in your organization”.

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We value your feedback!

This is a living document to support OKR Practitioners around the world.
So, if you have any comments, please write us at hello@okrs-at-the-center.com

Download a copy of the complete OKR Definition Workshop Guide here

Want to know more about individual OKR System design?

The book "OKRs AT THE CENTER - How to use goals to drive ongoing change and create the organization you want" is out now!

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