Getting Engineering Teams to Embrace OKRs
OKRs, or Objectives and Key Results, are a commonly used strategy for engineering organizations to set and measure progress towards their goals. However, getting engineering teams to fully embrace OKRs and put them into practice can be a challenge. The common approach of starting with objectives before planning the work is rarely successful as objectives tend to be too conceptual and disconnected from the day-to-day work of the engineers. To overcome this, leaders need to adopt a bottom-up approach that emphasizes the importance of input and alignment with the team’s work.
Tapping into Expertise
Senior engineers intuitively know what is needed to evolve an architecture, keep a codebase maintainable, and sustain development velocity. By tapping into this expertise and asking the team what initiatives and projects they think are important for the product to be successful, leaders can extract meaningful goals while creating buy-in and ownership among the team.
Start by gathering a list of initiatives, both big and small, that the team thinks are important. This can include developing new tools, adopting a new build system, or something more audacious like migrating to a new framework — you might be surprised how much easier it is to get the team thinking about concrete, practical stuff before getting all strategic. Next, prioritize and group the initiatives into common themes, taking into account their impact and cost.
By grouping initiatives into themes, the team can better see how they fit together and identify areas where multiple initiatives can be tackled in a coordinated manner. Now the team is starting to think strategically. Each theme can then be used as the basis for an objective by looking at the broader problem each initiative is trying to solve. By describing a brighter future where that problem is solved, an objective emerges that is both inspiring and motivating for the team.
To make OKRs effective, organizations need to involve engineers and prioritize initiatives they consider important. Adopting a bottom-up approach can create buy-in and motivation among the team.
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