Changing OKRs During the Quarter


Photo by Brendan Church on Unsplash
3 February 2020

Recently, I had the privilege of providing two full days of on-site coaching with 13 teams across an entire company that had just finished its first quarter with OKRs.

One question that came up repeatedly was “Is it okay to change our OKRs during the quarter?

My answer was a resounding “Yes, and be mindful when you do it”. Let me explain.

One of the biggest challenges to effective goal setting is that we usually do it from a place of limited data and many unproven assumptions. As the old saying goes, “no plan survives first contact with the enemy” (Helmuth von Moltke) and this is certainly true of OKRs.

If you start the quarter and discover that your OKRs don’t reflect your most pressing ambitions and most critical outcomes then not only can you change them, but I believe you have an obligation to rethink and re-articulate your focus, not just for your own team but for the benefit of everyone depending on that team.

Is it okay to change our OKRs during the quarter? Yes! Keep OKRs relevant but be mindful when making changes.

If you don’t recalibrate when necessary, your original OKRs will become, at best, an annoyance, and at worst, a major distraction preventing you from achieving your true goals. In either case it will dull your team’s enthusiasm for the process and reduce the benefit you’ll get from OKRs.

So what are the warning signs that we need to change our OKRs and how should we adjust when this happens?

If our OKR check ins are painful, if people are avoiding coming to them or if we find that we’re having meetings about the “real” work outside of the OKR check ins, then this could mean one of three things: 1) we need to sharpen up our check in process to be a bit more efficient, 2) we’re getting distracted by things which feel important but actually aren’t supporting our OKRs and need to be stopped, or 3) we legitimately need to adjust our OKRs to reflect new priorities or new information.

Remember that OKRs are different from initiatives and we should be able to change initiatives (tactics) as required throughout the quarter to help deliver our OKRs. If our OKRs are too tactical then we will frequently (and artificially) feel the need to change them so watch out for that as well.

Don’t be afraid to have conversations about this with the team.

If we do need to change them (whether it’s tweaking a target, rewording something or replacing or dropping an entire OKR), treat this as a valuable learning exercise and an opportunity to improve our alignment and communicate even better with our stakeholders.

So make the change and tell everyone what you’ve changed and why, maybe even ask for some input from stakeholders when you do this. Of course if you find that you are changing them Every few weeks and this happens continuously that’s also interesting and worth having a conversation about.

The key thing is that the team should feel inspired by the OKRs and the OKRs should be obviously valuable to those outside the team as well. So if you need to do a bit if tweaking after the quarter starts to keep your OKRs really relevant and valuable, go for it. Especially when you’re just getting started with OKRs and you need more practice. It will get easier over time.

Have you changed OKRs during the quarter? How did it go? Let me know!

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