Turning vision into action has been one of the fiercest challenges that managers face. That's actually been cited in numerous studies over the years, and even though there are improvements, strategy execution continues to be the main culprit behind the failure of many good ideas.
That's why a management approach such as OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) is extremely popular nowadays. Putting it into practice, however, can be a challenge.
Below, we explain how to enable OKR visualization with Kanban and Kanbanize, so you can gain a practical solution to align strategy with execution.
What Are OKRs?
OKRs stands for "Objectives and Key Results". It's a famous goal-setting framework (used by companies such as Google, Amazon, Dell, etc.) that aims to bring organizational alignment.
The objectives represent high-level goals that communicate "what" your company/division/team wants to achieve.
On the other hand, the key results are the building blocks of the objectives. They answer the question "how" you are going to achieve your high-level goals. You can think of them as the outcomes that measure whether you're achieving your goals.
The OKRs framework is a great way to enable your company to work on the right things at the right time. To do that, you need to gain visibility across your goals and connect them to the actual daily activities.
This is where Kanban and Kanban boards can help.
OKR Visualization: Build and Visualize OKRs with Kanban(ize)
One of the main characteristics of the Kanban method is work visualization.
With the help of interconnected Kanban boards, you can map OKRs on different levels in your company. For example, you might decide to create a specific OKR Kanban board with strategic OKRs that define your company's direction. Different teams can then create their own OKRs based on the strategic ones.
Having said that, let's take a look at some practical examples of mapping OKRs in Kanbanize and connecting them to actual work initiatives. We will go through the following points:
- How to visualize your strategic/organizational OKRs?
- How to create your team-level OKRs?
- How to tie your strategic and team OKRs together?
- How to connect OKRs to daily work?
1. Visualizing Strategic/Organizational OKRs
To visualize your high-level (strategic) objectives, the first thing you need to do is set up an (OKR) Portfolio Kanban board. In Kanbanize, we use Management (Portfolio) boards to visualize multiple projects, products, initiatives, etc., and track work across teams/departments. In this case, you can think of a Management board as a top-level OKR board that you will use for strategic OKR visualization.
In the uppermost workflow lane of the Management (OKR) board, you can create initiatives that will serve as your objectives. For the sake of the example, let's say that one of your strategic (and inspirational) goals is to "Increase the Revenue Across Top Markets".
Visualizing strategic objectives on a Management (OKR) board in Kanbanize
As you can see, this is a pretty wide goal we need to measure. To do this in Kanbanize, you can use "Measurable Outcomes" within an objective to create key results.
To support your strategic goal, let's say that you have the following key results:
- Increase Outbound Sales By 30% in the US and CA
- Increase The Inbound Monthly Conversion Rate in the UK
- Improve the Product's Integration Capabilities
Creating key results within a strategic objective (initiative card) in Kanbanize
In Kanbanize, both your strategic objectives and their corresponding key results will be visible on the top lane of your Management (OKR) Kanban board. The idea is to keep them in a central place so that stakeholders can stay aligned with your company's top priorities. Both objectives & key results will have progress indicators showing you how close you're getting to achieving your goals.
Tracking key result's progress
Note: "Measurable Outcomes" is an exclusive feature of Kanbanize. If you wish to learn more about it, check out our knowledgebase article.
2. Creating Team-Level OKRs
To execute the above-mentioned strategic OKRs, you will need the input of multiple teams. Let's say those teams are Sales, Marketing, and Engineering.
They can build their own Kanban boards where they visualize team-level objectives. Keep in mind that while their objectives need to support the strategic direction of the company, they don't have to be a direct descendent of the strategic objectives. In other words, aim for aligning instead of cascading your OKRs.
So, team-level objectives could be:
- Sales Team Objective - "Increase closed deals with digital transformation professionals".
- Marketing Team Objective - "Improve conversion rate from organic search".
- Engineering Team Objective- "Have a product where users can enable integrations with custom systems".
If we take the Engineering team, they can respectively visualize their objective inside the top-level workflow of a team Kanban board.
Visualizing team-level objectives on a team Kanban board
After that, they could build several team-level key results (or measurable outcomes) within the objective and track their progress over time. In this case, the key results could be the following:
- Engineering KR1 - 10 New Endpoints for the API
- Engineering KR2 - Keep Found Bugs in the API Below 18
- Engineering KR3 - 3 Exclusive Add-Ons for API-Less Integrations
Creating key results within a team-level objective
3. Bringing Strategic and Team OKRs Together
At this point, the main benefit of the Management (Portfolio) boards in Kanbanize comes into play. They allow you to visualize high-level initiatives and connect them to smaller pieces of work across teams in a single place. In our case, that would be the strategic and team-level OKRs.
Using the "Linked Workflows" feature, you can connect the Management Board and other team Kanban boards. This allows you to bring strategic and team goals together to keep an eye on their progress. Using the parent-child link relationships in Kanbanize will help you create a complete hierarchy of your OKRs.
Visualizing both strategic/organizational and team OKRs in Kanbanize
4. Connecting OKRs to Work Initiatives
So far, we've set up some strategic and team OKRs, and we've also linked them together. Still, there is one missing piece of the puzzle - the connection to daily operations.
One way to do this is to connect your team-level OKRs to smaller initiatives/projects right inside your team boards. For example, looking at the Engineering key results above, you will definitely have different work initiatives contributing to their execution.
To visualize all this work on a team board, you can place a timeline workflow below your team OKRs and track the execution of various projects/initiatives.
Connecting OKRs with team projects on a timeline
You can then use another workflow layer below to break down those team projects/initiatives into individual work items (user stories, tasks, etc.). The idea here is to create a hub for your team's daily operations and manage the actual flow of work.
Connecting team-level OKRs with all work initiatives
With the parent-child relationship links, you can keep this entire structure intact. As a result, with every small piece of work your teams deliver, you can measure how that brings you closer to achieving your high-level goals.
Benefits and Use Cases of Kanban OKR Visualization
As we've gone through a possible scenario of combining Kanban and OKRs, let's take a look at some common benefits and use cases.
- Align Strategy and Execution - Using the OKRs framework with multiple Kanban boards brings transparency to the high-level goal-setting process and connects it to daily operations. With a combination of Kanban cadences, all of this enables companies to do the right things at the right time.
- Track Team Progress Toward Company Goals - Connecting OKRs structure to daily operations allows managers to track how teams contribute to company goals. This enables them to plan projects better and take quick action whenever they spot deviations from the high-level goals.
- Improve Communication & Agility - Mapping OKRs with Kanban gives managers an easy way to track the progress of their high-level goals in real time. It facilitates strategic discussions of the company's performance during management meetings. In turn, this can help enable operational agility whenever there are changing business priorities.
Get Started with Kanban OKRs
Mapping the OKRs framework with Kanban is a huge topic that we've only scratched the surface of. Keep in mind that what you've read in this article is one possible configuration out of many different scenarios.
The important takeaway, however, is the concept. When setting OKRs, make sure that you connect them to their execution across teams so you get the full picture of turning your strategy into reality. Kanban and Kanbanize can help you do that.
Just remember that there is no "one-size-fits-all" solution. Instead, start with what you do now and gradually evolve from there.
Product Marketing Manager
Proactive person, passionate about project management, digital transformation, growth hacking and entrepreneurship. Nick is enthusiastic about football, movies and watches.