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Issue 60

How OKRs and Scrum work together

Oana Călugar
OKRs coach & consultant @Mindfruits
MANAGEMENT

According to the Scrum Alliance, "Scrum is an Agile framework for completing complex projects. Scrum was originally formalized for software development projects, but it works well for any complex, innovative scope of work. The possibilities are endless. The Scrum framework is deceptively simple." (https://www.scrumalliance.org/why-scrum)

OKRs or Objectives and Key Results is a framework for establishing and communicating goals and results in a company. OKRs bring an easy way to create a structure for your organisation, team, and team members.

OKRs are related to the management of goals and results, and they occur mainly outside of our company; for example, product sales, or the number of installs, or the number of shares of the content on our blog.

On the other hand, Scrum is happening inside our company and focuses on the features from the roadmap; it's about the actions we take to increase our product sales, the number of downloads, and so on.

The two methods complement each other, not only from their perspective but also from the way they work. The OKRs framework brings into practice some of the essential elements missing from Scrum.

OKR brings to the forefront the overall picture, while Scrum focuses on micro-management

Key Objectives and Outcomes are typically defined in the current quarter and derive directly from the company's objectives and mission. Scrum deals with daily tasks that help us get closer to our goal. Using OKRs to complete Scrum helps us decide what functionalities to develop: when we prioritize features that we develop, we use subjective criteria, but with OKRs we have an objective criterion: does this feature bring us closer to Objective?

"Everyone is against micro managing but macro managing means you're working at the big picture but don't know the details." - Henry Mintzberg

OKR offers autonomy to team members

Scrum processes limit autonomy because they focus on the ability of the team to deliver the functionality desired by the customer. When OKR is implemented alongside Scrum, the focus is on fulfilling the functionalities defined in Key Results, starting from the customer-defined features. When we change our mindset and go from "Deliver the user's desired features" to "Accomplish Key Results that have been agreed with the user or manager," team members can rely on their autonomy to fulfil their OKRs, much more than when working for someone else's goals.

How success is defined

Most Scrum projects are measured by quantity: did we deliver on time? Did we complete all user stories? How many bugs did we solve? But the success of a Scrum project must also consider quality: a concrete way to determine how well we have worked. OKRs focus not only on output but also on results, and especially on business results.

Introducing the OKRs and Scrum Board

With the teams I worked, we tried to combine the benefits of OKR and Scrum in a practical way. We used a physical Scrum board with post-its to have visible Sprint Backlog items, and we added Key Objectives and Results for the current Sprint to make sure we always have the overall picture in front of us.

  1. Sprint Objective
    This Objective is defined for a period of between two weeks and three months.

  2. Key Results
    These are the main milestones or metrics we seek to achieve in order to reach the Objective. We keep them at the top of the Board and make sure we start with them each stand-up meeting. After a week, we know them by heart! :)

  3. Tasks (Backlog)
    These are the activities that we know we need to complete; each task belongs to one of the Key Results (we used differently colored post-its to differentiate them and link them to a Key Result). These can take from one day, to several days to a week to complete.

  4. W.I.P. (Work in Progress)
    When we start working on a task, we put it here. This helps us focus on just a few activities at a time.

  5. Done
    Here we place all completed tasks.

  6. Extra
    We add here additional information for everyone, such as events, question marks, useful contacts.

Here's an example of Objective and Key Results for a development team:

Objective: Cleanup alerting and monitoring by the end of October
Key Result 1: Do a gap analysis on alerting and monitoring infrastructure by August 15

Key Result 2: Identify top 30% services by traffic by September 15

Key Result 3: Come up with 5 new alerts for top 30% services by October 20

Next, we identified the tasks and tactics necessary to achieve these results. As in Scrum, each Key Result has an owner who is accountable for achieving the objective. You can add secondary owners if the objective is shared amongst team members.

How would you adapt this Board OKR and Scrum to your needs?

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