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Set it and forget it: The importance of incorporating frequent Check-Ins into our OKR cycles-EN

Rodrigo Ryan

Rodrigo Ryan

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The set it and forget it pitfall is often one of the most common problems facing the successful implementation of an OKRs program within an organization. OKRs should not be forgotten once established and for this purpose, periodic Check-Ins are crucial to monitor progress, discuss obstacles and the confidence we have to achieve the proposed objectives. This keeps the team aligned and adaptable to changes, it also contributes to learning, as we will understand how our OKRs are behaving, we will be able to predict them and consequently we will be able to adjust strategies as needed.

Most teams review objectives in retrospect to determine if they have been successful. Usually when it is too late to take action. One of the most common causes is that they do not include into their OKRs cycle the necessary Check-Ins to monitor progress. But what is a Check-In?

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Set it and forget it: The importance of incorporating frequent Check-Ins into our OKR cycles | Illustrated by Andy Baraja

To summarize.

Check-ins are a series of events within the OKRs cycle that are part of a set of best practices. Generally lasting up to 30 minutes, every week or two weeks, where the team can synchronize their perceptions about the evolution of their OKRs, and can agree and prioritize those actions needed to achieve them.

While preparing for the check-in, the progress towards the corresponding Key Result should be updated, as well as, each team member should keep in mind a very important concept, trust. We will discuss these two aspects below:

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Measuring progress on Key Results

It is clear that, ideally, Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) help to express what you want to achieve, rather than just listing what you want to do. We call this focusing on the outcome, not the output, but for this it is important to understand how we are approaching those goals. Measuring progress towards those outcomes frequently helps us to orient ourselves to where we are, allowing us to adjust our focus on what we have set out to do with different actions.

Normally, within the OKRs cycle, the teams need to be able to measure a number of times in order to understand their progress and predict their behavior. It is important to take into account the frequency at which this data will be available and, as simple as it is sometimes thought to be, I have seen that many times teams tend to define metrics that they cannot obtain, or that they define indicators that react late. But why is that, and what happens when you can’t get a direct metric of progress during the cycle? After all, working with OKRs is all about learning and iterating. That kind of continuous iteration and course correction requires thinking about actions that lead to a defined Objective, and for this, I have found it helpful to understand the concept of Leading Indicators and Lagging Indicators. Have you heard these concepts yet? You can do so in the article Leading and Lagging indicators by Ana Aranda.

One other important point to keep in mind is that teams often realize that their objectives may be important at the business level, but they may not “move the needle” to create real impact. Unfortunately, the pace at which these goals change creates a lag in how teams can receive and act on the behavior and impact of their work. This means that by the time metrics like “company revenue” or “user growth” have changed significantly, they won’t be able to tie these Lagging Indicators to any of their previous efforts, and the team will likely already be working on the next initiative.

However, there are many metrics that a team can influence more directly. At least in theory. To adjust actions based on continuously measured progress, teams need metrics that lead them to create and measure success. That’s why they are called Leading Indicators.

Leading Indicators allow you to predict the future. They are difficult to create but are worthwhile because of their predictive value. When defining a Key Result, it is important that we value the reactivity of the metric, thinking about whether it will allow us to understand the behavior and make decisions about it during the OKRs cycle and not afterwards.

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Incorporating trust in Key Results

Confidence is another key variable in generating a shared vision of what is expected from an OKR. This variable allows us to help teams prioritize their conversations in Check-Ins, depending on their progress and how confident they are in reaching their goal by the end of the cycle.

As we speak of confidence, we directly ask ourselves, how confident are we of reaching our Goal by the end of the cycle? And when talking about assurance, we can measure it in different ways, but probably one of the simplest is to have a 3-point scale, such as High/Medium/Low.

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Tips for successful Check-Ins

The progress and confidence we have, for each KR, before our Check-Ins will guarantee that we will be successful, and for this it is important that we understand that we don’t want them to be like any other meeting. For this I will leave you some tips to keep in mind:

Keep them short: It is very important that these meetings do not last longer than 30 minutes. This will help to maintain motivation and keep people talking exclusively about what is important.

Don’t let them become a talking shop: We should try to keep the conversations focused on results and solutions to problems/blockages, not on the work done. Many people tend to bring to the Check-Ins the long list of tasks they did, let’s keep in mind that this is not the focus of this meeting.

Focus on the exceptions first: By “exceptions” I mean those KRs that may not be going according to what we expect. Using the confidence and progress data, those indicators whose confidence is low should be high on the agenda, and as a second point we should focus on those whose confidence is high but progress is low.

Highlight successes: It is important that this meeting is not just about the challenges, be sure to highlight those successes to keep the team motivated.

Review priorities for the next week/2 weeks: Each team member will share what they will focus on until the next check-in.

Recording in the OKRs tool the lessons learned and the actions defined: To prevent the team from forgetting what was discussed and to keep focus on the decisions they have reached.

These points will help keep your OKRs from falling into the oblivion trap, and keep the team focused on what’s important.

We will continue to publish articles on this exciting topic that so many organizations are successfully using to define, communicate and achieve their goals.

To go even deeper, we invite you to stay tuned to these upcoming publications and to take a look at our Knowledge Center, where you can find the interview Defining OKRs with Rodigo Ryan, and the articles OKRs: What are they? and… Why now? by Rodrigo Ryan and Alignment and focus of Objectives with OKRs by Alonso Álvarez.

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Sobre el autor

Rodrigo Ryan

Rodrigo Ryan

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