A clear company vision is great, but it often ends up as a decor piece on the office walls. “Business as usual” has a nasty habit of disconnecting operations from strategy.
Without persistent attempts to steer workflows in the right direction, teams lose sight of goals. However, such attempts can exhaust even the most well-intentioned leaders.
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What is the OKR framework?
The OKR (Objective and Key Results) is a goal-setting framework that helps teams define measurable goals and track their progress — focusing on outcomes over outputs.
OKRs are industry and culture agnostic. They work well for teams of all sizes across different industries. That’s why its flag bearers range from Larry Page to Bono. Today, organizations like Google, Spotify, LinkedIn, Baidu, and Amazon use OKRs to accomplish their goals.
7 steps to implement OKRs using Atlassian tools
There are several ways to introduce OKRs at your organization. We’ll share a lightweight approach that will work well for most organizations, and that we use internally at Modus Create.
1. Define Objectives and Key Results
The first step is to set objectives and key results for your organization. Objectives should be clearly defined and inspirational in nature, i.e., they should be beyond business as usual targets. For example:
- Become the preferred employer for remote engineering professionals
- Become the market leader in preventive healthcare
- Build a high-performing lead-generation engine
Each objective must have 3-5 key results, which measure the success of that objective. Note that, unlike objectives, key results are measurable. You either achieve a key result or you don’t. There is no ambiguity. Setting measurable key results is essential for a successful OKR implementation.
Key results for the objective: Become the preferred employer for remote engineering professionals
2. Understand the executive reporting requirements
One of the OKR framework’s goals is to provide executives visibility into company operations and empower them to course correct. Don’t treat reporting as an afterthought. Instead, build the OKR implementation around it.
Ask your stakeholders which questions they’d like answers to. “What’s going on in the company?” has a different answer than “How is each department performing?” Understanding expectations before implementation reduces rework toward the end of the project. It’s much easier to implement OKRs when you know what the output should be.
3. Define Jira issue hierarchy and logic
By default, Jira has a three-tier issue hierarchy — Epic, Issue, and Sub-task Issue. Specify additional levels you’ll need to implement OKRs. We’ll later show you how to implement them with Advanced Roadmaps.
Here’s how you can level up the default issue hierarchy on Jira to accommodate OKRs:
- Goals — high level (for the entire year)
- Objectives — mid level (for the entire quarter)
- Key Results — mid level (for the entire quarter)
- Epic — mid level (1 – 2 months)
- Issue — low level (1 – 2 weeks)
- Subtasks — low level (less than one week)
These additional levels will provide a framework for linking your routine work in Jira to company OKRs. Note that the issue hierarchy is flexible, and you can tweak it according to your team’s requirements. For example, at Modus Create, we added another layer of hierarchy between Key Results and Epics — Initiative (projects spanning 2 – 6 months).
Similarly, you also need to define the hierarchy logic, i.e., what rules govern the relationship across different issue levels. Again, this will vary from one team to another. Here’s the logic we created for OKRs at Modus Create.
A few observations from our issue hierarchy model
- A parent issue (higher in the hierarchy) can have multiple child issues (lower in the hierarchy) but not vice versa. For example, a key result can have multiple initiatives, but an initiative can only have one key result. This is a standard rule across all OKR implementations.
- An individual Jira issue (task) can link directly to a key result if it’s not part of an epic or an initiative. We made this customization to avoid creating epics just to adhere to the OKR framework.
- Finally, not every Jira issue in our instance will be part of the OKR framework, and that is okay. We don’t have to force the OKR framework on every single task at work. However, if the majority of your Jira issues are not part of the OKR framework, then that’s a sign for reprioritization.
Now that you have clearly defined your OKRs, issue hierarchy, logic, and executive dashboard requirements, it’s time to roll out the changes in Jira.
4. Implement custom issue hierarchy in Jira
Advanced Roadmaps is a planning tool for Jira Cloud. One of its core features is adding hierarchy levels above epic. Here’s how you can use it to add additional levels for OKRs:
Add custom hierarchy to Advanced Roadmaps
- Select> Products, then select Advanced Roadmaps hierarchy configuration
- Select + Create level at the bottom of the menu. Give your new Advanced Roadmaps level a name, then use the dropdown in the Jira issue types column to associate it with an issue type.
- To reorganize your hierarchy structure, drag and drop the levels into the order you’d like. The order of this list is how your hierarchy levels will show in Advanced Roadmaps and won’t change the structure of your Jira issue types as previously configured.
- Select Save changes.
For more information, check out the Advanced Roadmap resource on Jira.
Note: You need Jira Software Administrator permissions to create issue hierarchies.
5. Set up executive dashboard
OKRs are only effective if the goals and the progress against those goals are communicated and visible to the entire organization. Luckily, visibility is a core principle for Jira, which offers features like powerful tailored reporting dashboards that anyone can create, customize, and share with stakeholders.
You can extend Jira’s dashboards and reporting abilities with apps like Custom Charts for Jira and Structure that truly empower you to organize and report on work in a clear and meaningful way. These tools help you set up executive-level dashboards and share the progress of all departments against OKRs, without requiring status meetings or slide decks.
Sample Custom Charts dashboard for HR team
Structure’s ability to gather issues from multiple projects in one view, group, sort, and filter them as needed, and roll up values from the sub-task all the way to any organization’s highest issue type, allows project managers to report on the real-time status of projects, share progress with the rest of the organization, and plan – or change plans – accordingly.
Custom Charts offers a happy medium between the simplicity of the native dashboards and the power of an external business intelligence and analytics platform.
6. Create documentation in confluence
Like every major company-wide initiative, OKRs benefit from accessible documentation.
Confluence is a great tool to consolidate and share all your OKR-related resources with the team. This encourages OKR adoption and reduces back-and-forth communication between departments.
Since Confluence is also part of the Atlassian suite, it lets you link Jira issues directly to the documentation. You will get a single source of truth for the logic, best practices, and the actual projects involved in your OKR implementation. At Modus, we use Confluence as our virtual office for our completely remote team.
7. Feedback and iteration
OKR implementation is not a one-time, prescriptive process. As you roll it out, feedback from the team will help you refine it and drive improvements. Embracing an agile leadership approach will help your team become more responsive to iterative change than they are today.
For example, one helpful suggestion in our OKR implementation was to include the ability to visualize the entire OKR hierarchy in one place (from objective to the individual Jira issue.) So, our Atlassian experts used Structure, a popular Jira marketplace app by Tempo, to organize all OKRs in one place. Users can dig deeper into each objective to see how their work contributes to the company’s strategic goals.
Example of visualizing Jira hierarchy using Structure
Example of visualizing Jira hierarchy using Structure
Since feedback is a vital element of OKR implementation, it helps to start small rather than aim for an all-out launch. Roll out OKRs and transition one team to the new process. Their feedback will help you make incremental improvements and successfully launch the initiative across the entire organization.
OKRs need work. But the payoff is massive.
Each OKR implementation is unique, and its adoption is rarely a smooth ride. You’ll encounter unforeseen challenges and require continuous improvements. However, once everyone is on board, the benefits far outweigh the implementation hassle. OKR deployment with Atlassian fosters deeper alignment across all levels of an organization and reduces time wasted in status update meetings. It also provides executives unprecedented visibility into the overall business operations.
Interested in introducing OKRs at your organization? Talk to Modus. Our Atlassian experts have helped enterprises across industries transform their workflows with Jira and Confluence.
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