okr visualization with kanban

Turning vision into action has been one of the fiercest challenges that managers face. That’s actually been studied in numerous researches over the years and even though there are improvements, strategic execution continues to be the main culprit why many strategies fail.  

That’s why a management approach such as OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) has been steadily gaining popularity. Putting it into practice, however, can be a challenge.  

Keep reading below where we will explain how you can visualize your OKRs with the help of 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.) whose main purpose is to bring organizational alignment. 

The objectives represent high-level goals that should 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 actions 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, on top of setting your OKRs, you need to connect them to your actual work. 

This is where Kanban can help. 

How to Build & Visualize OKRs with Kanban and Kanbanize? 

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 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 different types of OKRs in Kanbanize and connecting them to actual work initiatives. We will go through the following points:

  1. How to visualize your strategic/organizational OKRs?
  2. How to create your team-level OKRs?
  3. How to tie your strategic and team OKRs together?
  4. 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 a 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 where you will be putting on display strategic objectives & key results. 

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 organizational okrs on a strategic OKR board
Visualizing strategic objectives on a Management (OKR) board in Kanbanize

As you can see, this is a pretty wide goal that we need to measure. To do that in Kanbanize, you can use “Measurable Outcomes” within an objective (initiative card) to create some 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
strategic key results in kanban
Creating key results within a strategic objective (initiative card) in Kanbanize

In Kanbanize, both your strategic objectives (initiative cards) and their corresponding key results will be visible on the top lane of your Management (OKR) board. The idea is to keep them in a central place so that stakeholders can stay aligned with your company’s top priorities. Based on the progress of your key results, they will have a percentage status that you can use to measure how close you get to achieving them. 

visualizing OKRs on a strategic OKR board
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

Now that we’ve got some strategic OKRs set up, it’s obvious that to execute them you will need the input of multiple teams. Based on the key results from the above, those teams might respectively be Sales, Marketing, and Engineering. 

If they have their own team Kanban boards, let’s suppose that each one of the strategic key results becomes a team-level objective:

  • Sales Team Objective – “Increase Outbound Sales in the US and CA By 30%”
  • Marketing Team Objective – “Increase The Inbound Conversion Rate in the UK”
  • Engineering Team Objective- “Improve the Product’s Integration Capabilities”

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 OKRs
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 – Develop 10 New Endpoints for the API
  • Engineering KR2 – Keep Found Bugs in the API Below 18
  • Engineering KR3 – Create 3 Exclusive Add-Ons for API-Less Integrations
visualizing team-level key results in Kanbanize
Creating key results within a team-level objective (initiative card)

3. Bringing Strategic & 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 create a connection between the Management board and other team Kanban boards. This allows you to bring both strategic and team goals together, so you can keep an eye on their progress. Using the parent-child link relationships in Kanbanize will help you create a complete hierarchy of your OKRs.

connecting strategic and team 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 go about 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 from above, you will definitely have different work initiatives that contribute to the progressive execution of the outcomes (key results).  

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 team-level OKRs with team projects on a timeline
Connecting OKRs with team projects on a timeline

You can then use another workflow layer below that 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. 

aligning team OKRs with work initiatives and tasks
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 that your teams deliver, you can measure how that brings you closer to achieving your high-level goals.

Benefits & Use Cases of OKRs Visualization with Kanban

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 GoalsConnecting OKRs structure to daily operations allows managers to track how teams contribute to company goals. This enables them to better plan projects 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’re 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 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 strategic execution. 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. 

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