Even when you take all the right steps to roll out your OKR program, there are times when issues might still come up when it comes to OKR progress. It could be the case that you have five OKRs, and you’re making steady progress on two of them- but three are stuck.
Efficiency is doing better than what is already being done.
This could be happening for a number of reasons. Let’s take a look at the four areas you need to examine regarding your OKRs if you’re facing unbalanced progress:
If you’re facing unbalanced progress in your OKR program, there are four key areas you need to look at to find out if something is going wrong: Leader, Team, Target, or Process. In each of these areas, there are some potential issues that might be the cause of your unbalanced progress. Let’s take a closer look at these specific areas.
1. Shifts Focus Often
The first potential source of your OKR program’s unbalanced progress could be the leader.
When it comes to examining the leader, it’s important to see if they have a focus issue. If the leader is setting priorities, then shifting focus often, this can make it difficult for a team to make substantial progress on the key results that must be achieved. Multiple studies have shown that issues with leadership and issues with focus go hand-in-hand.
A focus problem means that many important tasks and initiatives are started, but few are finished. Jumping from one task to the next keeps a team busy adjusting their priorities, but leaves a wake of unfinished work and a low achievement output behind.
2. Doesn’t Follow Through
The second leader-centric issue that your OKR problem could be facing is a leader that doesn’t follow through.
This is similar to the first focus issue, but boils down to a lack of persistence and ability to see projects through to the end. If a leader can’t drive productivity on important tasks and projects, then key targets will not be fulfilled, leading to unbalanced progress in an OKR program.
3. Lacks Subject Matter Expertise
It could be that the leader of a certain team lacks the vital skills to successfully manage and lead projects in their area.
If the leader of the engineering team isn’t well-versed in engineering principles, has never managed engineering projects, or isn’t up to speed on the technological and functional knowledge needed to lead the team, this could be a major issue causing some OKRs to lag behind others.
4. Not Trusted by Their Team
There could be a variety of reasons that team members don’t trust in their leader. This could be due to a lack of knowledge surrounding the subject matter, or simply a lack of confidence in communicating with the team.
Whatever the cause, the bottom line is that the team doesn’t believe that they have the support they need to drive a project forward and see it through to the end. A team’s lack of trust in their leader can slow down projects and stall progress on important OKRs.
The next potential problem area you should examine if you’re facing unbalanced progress is the team.
1. Lacks Subject Matter Expertise
Like the leader, a team itself could have a lack of familiarity or expertise in subject matter. This stunts the capability of a team as a whole.
This problem might be solved with getting the right people performing the right tasks. For example, if you’re managing the sales team and see a gap in capability and expertise, you need to find that skill from an outside source. If you lack a sales process, bring in someone who is good at creating and executing processes to guide the team and teach this skill. If you have the wrong people with experience that doesn’t match the needs of your team, there will be too much trial and error to make substantial progress on your OKRs.
2. Over Capacity/Under Capacity
There are a few issues that can arise related to team capacity. First, over capacity is a problem if a team can blaze through a few initiatives with ease. While this might sound like a good thing, it’s actually an indicator that you have too many team members committed to projects that simply don’t require those resources.
This issue might be paired with the second capacity-related issue– under capacity. If you have too many people committed to one project, and too few on another, teams will underperform, not reaching their full potential or making the progress they need to in order to fulfill priorities.
3. Lack of Initiative
Third, a team might be missing individuals with demonstrated initiative. When team members lack initiative, projects stall simply because people are waiting for things to fall into place, or for the next task in the pipeline to move without following up.
If no one is there to take the initiative and get important questions answered so a project can move forward, then things can stall indefinitely. This might come down to an individual capability or attitude problem, or a team could simply have a bad combination of problems. This issue has the potential to impact team progress in a big way, and could be the piece of the puzzle that isn’t falling into place when it comes to OKR progress.
4. No feeling of “One Team”
If individuals on a team don’t have a sense of camaraderie and common goals to unite them, this can spark many issues. The feeling that not everyone is on the same team could be centralized in a certain department, or it could be a broader cultural issue within a company.
The side effects of this can include many arguments and disagreements, and an unwillingness for individuals to help other departments or coworkers. If collaboration is a chore rather than a natural element of a team’s or a company’s dynamic, the business can suffer. There must be a feeling of unification under the same goals.
Otherwise, situations might arise where teams fall out of alignment with other departments, or in and of themselves. The swift implementation of new features by the engineering team doesn’t spell success for the company if they don’t address the concerns that customer success raises from customers. Prioritizing a feeling of unity and being on the same team can help balance progress in your organization.
The third area that you need to examine if you’re facing unbalanced progress with your OKRs is the target itself.
1. Too Aggressive
First, the target might be too aggressive in comparison to the targets around it. This isn’t necessarily an issue that stands on it’s own. It’s possible that leader- and team-related issues could contribute to issues with your target. A lack of communication between a leader and their team, for example, might have caused an OKR to be set at a target that surpasses “ambitious” and becomes “unachievable”.
2. Too Conservative
Alternatively, unbalanced progress could be due to a disproportionately conservative target. If a target isn’t ambitious and pushing the limit, a team might end up achieving and surpassing the target for a key result or objective.
Similar to the “too aggressive” issue, this problem might arise from a combination of other problems regarding communication or trust between team members and leadership, or even an attitude issue with a team called “sandbagging”, where they purposefully set their target too low to ensure they achieve it.
3. Wrong Measurement of KPI
This is an interesting issue to consider if you are facing unbalanced progress and can’t get a sense of why an OKR is lagging behind. Trying to track an OKR using the wrong measurement or KPI is like trying to climb up one ladder while you’re standing on another.
This might stem from an issue with alignment, or even an understanding of all the tools that are at your disposal for a certain initiative. If you’re trying to measure a key result with a KPI that doesn’t match, you naturally won’t see progress– or, alternatively, you’ll see progress that doesn’t actually reflect the true state of a key result.
If you’re completing an initiative to increase customer satisfaction, but trying to measure it using a sales or marketing metric, you’re not going to be able to track the impact your projects are having.
4. Not Backed by a Clear Plan
The fourth issue you might find when examining your targets is that they are not backed by a clear plan. If you set a target and create a list of planned activities that doesn’t follow the MECE principle– of being mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive– then you won’t be able to reach your target.
Without a clearly-defined plan laid out to help guide your team to impact set targets, you will see unbalanced progress.
The fourth area that you need to take a hard look at if you want to find the source of your unbalanced OKR progress is the review process.
1. No Set Meeting Frequency
In order to successfully stay aligned and follow through on priorities, there needs to be a set meeting frequency. Having meetings localized at different levels at the organization or on a case-by-case basis leaves individuals with no agenda, organization, or ability to anticipate when they can coordinate with their team members.
Having a dedicated meeting such as a PPP meeting to review plans, progress, and problems, helps teams check in with one another on OKR progress on a regular basis. This allows for teams to check the pulse on priorities, collaborate in issues, and get a sense of where everyone in the organization is in their goals. If a meeting like this doesn’t exist, there is a major disconnect that can cause a variety of issues– including an imbalance on OKR progress.
2. No Agenda
Let’s say that you have a meeting with a set frequency. This gives you the opportunity to coordinate with other individuals– but what if there’s no set agenda?
A meeting without a clearly-managed agenda means that important time is wasted, and projects and other important tasks can begin to slip through the cracks. Meetings are useful when there’s a clear record of everything discussed previously, and the items that overflowed from one week to the next. Without an agenda, individuals might not bring their important questions to the table, and this could cause progress to slow and stall out.
3. Discussion filled with Wishes & Hopes
Process issues breed more process issues. A lack of a clear agency and direction for a discussion can lead you to issue number three– an unproductive, useless discussion filled with wishes and hopes rather than concrete plans and action items.
Structuring discussion in meetings is vitally important so that everyone has the opportunity to present what has been done, the results of this progress, the methods that worked out and the strategies that weren’t useful. Not having that structure means that discussion is aimless and based on a hazy outline of what is really happening in the company rather than the concrete data and information available.
4. No Takeaways / No Follow-Ups
Ineffective meetings and discussions can leave important items vague, and give team members a sense that things will simply get sorted out as they go along. This mindset, combined with poor review processes, can cause a lack of takeaways from meetings, and a lack of following-up done by team members.
If individuals don’t leave meetings with clear action items, deadlines, or concrete tasks to complete, then what was the point of the meeting itself? Running review processes in this way is simply a disaster waiting to happen– and that can culminate in the form of unbalanced progress on your OKRs.
Unbalanced progress is not only frustrating to see, but in some cases it can take hard work to fix. These four areas of your business– leaders, teams, targets, and review processes- are important to examine when you’re in the middle of your quarter and you notice some OKRs lagging behind others. Finding out why the individuals at certain levels are able to make substantial progress on one OKR, but not on another is an important step of creating a successful OKR program.
Not all of the issues described here are present in every situation. However, it’s important to be on the lookout for these circumstances and understand that issues as simple as not setting a meeting frequency, or not having the right expertise, can stall your OKR progress for an entire quarter.
Once you identify these issues, work with your team to make them understand the source of the problem and the solutions they can enact to build up the right mindset and skills to iterate faster and solidify the tools your business needs to succeed.
To see how these issues play out in real life, take a look at a series of examples that we have created for demonstrating unbalanced progress at different levels with interesting case studies!
- Unbalanced Progress: What’s Going Wrong?: Take a look at what Profit.co’s radar chart, what you can do during your planning process to help prevent unbalanced progress, and what it means for your organization in this first article in the Unbalanced Progress series.
- Unbalanced Progress Case Study: Imbalance at Corporate Level: This case study explores five OKRs set at corporate level and how issues with the team and target can impact OKR progress.
- Unbalanced Progress Case Study: Marketing Department Imbalance: This case study examines six OKRs at the marketing level and the issues that are causing an imbalance of OKR progress, as shown by the Profit.co radar chart.
- Unbalanced Progress Case Study: Sales Department Issues and Imbalances: In this final case study for the Unbalanced Progress series, we’ll take a look at a sales department that is seemingly doing everything right, but is still facing unbalanced progress.
Go on and read them to appreciate balanced OKR progress better!