How to Map OKRs with Portfolio Kanban

Do you know what sets apart successful companies and managers from their unsuccessful counterparts? A lot actually, but some of the most significant differences lay in the way they set goals, track progress and work to achieve them.

To be more effective in each of these three elements, it is not uncommon for managers to rely on multiple tools and methods that can be implemented in symbiosis. Such can be the case with Portfolio Kanban and OKRs, which can give you a serious edge when put to action together.

Stick around to explore what’s OKRs, why it is useful, and how to put it to practice with Portfolio Kanban.

What is OKRs?

OKRs stands for “Objectives and Key Results.” It is a goal-setting framework that has been growing in popularity due to the success it brought to giants such as Google, Spotify, Linkedin, and many others.

The OKRs framework was developed in the 1970s by Andy Groove who at the time was serving as the CEO of Intel. However, it took it almost 40 years to gain popularity thanks to the venture capitalist John Doerr who advised Google where OKRs became a driving force.

Its goal is to bring organizational alignment and keep the whole team or even company moving in the same direction at an optimal pace.

The framework is in the form of a list that contains a few high-priority objectives. Each of them has multiple key results. To keep the team focused, the ideal amount of key results is somewhere between three and five.

Each key result should have an indicator that shows its progress. In addition, OKRs have to be frequently set, tracked and re-evaluated – usually quarterly.

Here’s an example of OKRs put to action in a software development context:

Objective: Improve our testing procedures

  • Key result: Implement test-driven development in 3 new development teams;
  • Key result: Increase unit test coverage to 75% of the code;
  • Key result: Conduct a security assessment of our codebase using automated tools;
  • Key result: Discover at least 100 bugs and open issues in old code not reviewed in 6 months.

When defining key results, it is important to make them very specific and measurable.

As you can see OKRs are quite a simple framework. However, to make the most of it, you need to manage the process of achieving the objectives you set. This is where Portfolio Kanban can come to help.

Combining OKRs and Portfolio Kanban

For those of you who don’t know, Portfolio Kanban is an approach for scaling Kanban across all organizational levels. It allows you to create multiple levels of project boards, break down your projects into smaller assignments at each level, and connect all aspects together with various tasks relations.

When you look at OKRs, it is easy to look at each objective as a project and the key results as tasks that you need to complete. Therefore, using Portfolio Kanban you can visualize and manage how you work toward completing each objective.

Visualizing Objectives as Initiatives

You can set OKRs on various levels from an ultimate company objective downward to yearly company objectives, quarterly department objectives, monthly team objectives, etc.

Portfolio Kanban OKRs

If you are not experienced with Portfolio Kanban or OKRs, you better start at a lower level (e.g. quarterly objectives) to get your team on board and master these two methods.

To understand how each aspect of these OKRs is progressing, you can visualize them as initiatives. Either use a dedicated portfolio board or just add a swimlane on top of your team Kanban board where your objectives will live. Using both ways simultaneously is also a perfectly viable option.

Afterward, you should start breaking down your objectives to key results. If we go back to the software development example from earlier, it would be wise to create a three-level Portfolio Kanban visualization.

At the top level will live the objective, in this case, to improve your testing procedures. After you create a card for the objective on a strategic portfolio board, you should break it down to all the key results that you need to achieve to consider the objective completed:

  • Implement test-driven development in 3 new development teams;
  • Increase unit test coverage to 75% of the code;
  • Conduct a security assessment of our codebase using automated tools;
  • Discover at least 100 bugs and open issues in old code not reviewed in 6 months.

Therefore, on your team’s Kanban boards, you can put portfolio swimlanes where you place each key result as a team initiative and link it as a child to the large objective.

On the lowest level, break down the key results into actionable tasks that your team will have to process and once again link these cards to the key result initiatives.

Monitoring Progress

When your Portfolio Kanban OKRs are all set and your team starts working on the tasks that comprise them, everybody will have complete visibility over the progress by just checking the board.

Any blockers will become obvious at the moment they appear thanks to the Kanban’s system for visualizing issues and you can react swiftly to remove them.

In conclusion:

OKRs are a fantastic framework for strategic planning. It is lightweight and compatible with other management methods. Implemented together with Portfolio Kanban, it can give your company a chance to visualize specific goals as projects. As a result, you’ll be able to keep track of every activity related to achieving them.

Good luck!

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