Alignment unlocks transformation.
The need for continuous reinvention through software represents a challenge in maintaining that alignment: priorities diverge between teams and local optimizations end up as waste while the ecosystem is evolving fast.
In such a context, organizations need to funnel the team’s energy of priorities that will lead to transformational changes to thrive in the marketplace. And they need a simple process—they don’t have time for a long or complex one.
Objective Key Results (OKRs) is a light method for alignment.
This article shares what are OKRs, their usefulness in Quality Engineering and how to start using them for Quality at Speed software. It makes a zoom from the list of methods to start in Quality Engineering.
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What are OKRs: Transformational goal setting
Research has shown that ambitious goals improve the likelihood of individuals, teams or organizations to achieve more transformational results—a must-have requirement in our context of digitalization.
OKRs originally come from Intel and were adopted and then popularized by Google in 1999. It is now a standard across many companies such as Spotify, LinkedIn, or Airbnb.
The key ingredients of OKRs are:
- An Objective have 3 to 5 measurable Key Results
- Objectives must be ambitious, public, and out-of-the comfort zone
- OKRs must be achieved in a timeframe (usually quarterly) and redefined
- Expected achievements is around 70% to keep the stretch and adapt plans
- OKRs are not linked with employee evaluations, compensation or rewards
- OKRs are not a shared business-as-usual, to-do list, KPIs, or Definition of Done.
These requirements create ambitious objectives that will canalize the team’s energy as well as push them to find solutions to challenging goals, progressing towards core transformational priorities.
Why using OKRs for Quality at Speed
Quality Engineering is the paradigm constraining the entire software lifecycle to Quality and Speed. OKRs accelerate its implementation by streamlining the most important activities from an end-to-end perspective.
You may ask if there was no existing alternative.
A set of strategic planning models exists such as Objectives, goals, strategies and measures (OGSM) or performance management like KPIs, MBOs and balanced scorecard. OKRs are much more lightweight , focusing solely on objectives and key results.
The concrete implication is to progress faster towards Quality at Speed software.
How OKRs contribute to Quality
Aligning multiple actors on shared goals is already a challenge, accentuated during the execution where divergence may appear, creating a gap of value between expected and concrete results.
OKRs contribute to Quality by enabling to:
- Distribute the vision among stakeholders in a simple and public way
- Commit on what will make the difference, removing lower priorities
- Be result-oriented with explicit deliverables to achieve and measure
- Promote achievements that improve energy and contributions
- Be systematic with regular definition, evaluation, and sharing frequency
- Scale with the organization growth thanks to its lightweight model.
How OKRs contribute to Speed
Delivering the expected Quality is half of the game; Without speed, competitors capture market opportunities faster. Delivering key results with velocity is therefore a survival requirement.
OKRs contribute to Speed bringing:
- Focus on objectives and key results, putting aside other themes
- Rhythm with the regular frequency and timebox milestones
- Collaboration fostering by being transversally visible and shared
- Empowerment for the teams to organize the delivery of key results
- Visibility with public sharing of OKRs among stakeholders
- Asynchronous support with a simple model easily shareable.
Let’s now see how to implement OKRs in Quality Engineering.
How to start with OKRs in Quality Engineering
OKRs is a method to follow whatever the size of the organization to align stakeholders applying a systematic process and best-practices. The exercise must start at the top company-wide level to then cascade in the different teams.
The OKRs process revolves around people, process and tools:
- CEO with the board initiates new quarter’s OKRs
- Executives & leaders propose OKRs for their functions
- Alignment workshops are held for top-bottom & bottom-up inputs
- Dependency, evaluation and milestones are committed
- Accountable individuals are identified, also known as DRIs.
This process must be held every 8 to 12 weeks to timebox results with a better likelihood of delivery and adapt more rapidly to the changing ecosystem.
These OKRs best-practices will help you succeed at the exercise:
- Pick just three to five objectives and associated key results
- Assess if key results directly contribute to the objective, else refine
- Ensure words focus on concrete outcomes (avoid “continue”,” improve”)
- Check the understanding of words with outsiders and adapt
- Validate how measurement will be performed, with which data
- Circle OKRs in the company, review them regularly with feedback.
Below are two examples of OKRs. The first one is relatively simple and the second directly comes from Gitlab OKRs process. You can use tools to support this exercise with a simple wiki or dedicated tooling like Gradle OKRs or Ally.io.
OKRs within MAMOS, the Quality Engineering framework
Streamlining the software lifecycle for Quality at Speed starts by working on the right priorities leveraging OKRs, to then implement the identified transformational objectives.
MAMOS is the Quality Engineering framework relying on the five domains of Methods, Architecture, Management & culture, Organization & Skills.
While OKRs are part of the methods, they contribute to other areas of MAMOS in aligning the implementation priorities and linking software outputs to business outcomes.
The transformation capability of an organization requires an end-to-end Quality Engineering, where OKRs are part of the necessary building blocks.
Start now defining your OKRs with care, remembering that their choice defines the opportunities you will capture or miss.
Yes, Quality Engineering requires a high-standard.
Andrew S. Grove, High Output Management (2015). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.
Google Startup Lab Workshop, How Google sets goals: OKRs, Youtube video
John Doerr, Measure What Matters: How Google, Bono, and the Gates Foundation Rock the World with OKRs (2018). Portfolio Penguin, Amazon.
Ryan Panchadsaram, What is an OKR? Definition and Examples. whatmatters.com
Henrik-Jan van der Pol, OKR vs Balanced Scorecard – Paul Niven explains the difference. Perdoo.
Felipe Castro, What is OKR?. Felipecastro.com