Dear Andy,

Say we set OKRs for a particular quarter and explicitly agree that Project X is not going to be a priority for various reasons. However, three or four weeks into the quarter, it turns out that we misunderstood the constraints, and the landscape changed such that Project X should really be our top priority. Rather than pivot and throw our quarter’s OKRs at the window (and risk dropping the OKR system entirely), how do we deal with this sudden change in priorities via the OKR system?



Hi Alex!

Thanks for writing in! Your concerns are absolutely valid and ones we hear often. Good on you and your team for going with the flow and being so willing to adapt. I can definitely help you with your query — let’s dive in!

A sudden change in priorities absolutely warrants a second look at your OKRs. After all, OKRs are your priorities, so the two should naturally grow and shift together. Remember, OKRs are amendable and revisable; they should represent the growth and change you want to see in your company at that moment. If something out of your control changes or you become more aware of what the aggressively realistic goal should be, feel free to get those OKRs out of there and write some new ones!

Based on your question, though, I suspect you may be concerned about throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Good news is, while a complete overhaul of your OKRs is certainly one option, it may not be necessary to start entirely from scratch. If you’re worried about losing work, company morale, or simply don’t want to go through the full process all over again, perhaps there’s a way to simply reword your OKRs to better reflect your new understanding of the priorities. Based on your circumstances, consider adding an additional OKR or simply taking away one or two KRs from an Objective that feels lower priority. We definitely recommend consulting your team on this — they’ll know a lot about the real barriers to progress, as well as insights to moving forward.

We understand that when leaders frequently change priorities, it can be tempting to feel frustrated with OKRs. That’s why it’s important that major change is accompanied by open and honest team dialogue. Is your general direction the same? How do the new OKRs tie into that? If your North Star has changed — is it permanent? Does one sect of the company need more support at the moment, and how can other teams use OKRs to rise to that challenge? Are there any trade-offs the team is concerned about as a result of the new OKRs? As always, we recommend taking full advantage of CFRs to check in with your team to make sure everyone is on the same page.

And remember — you are far from the first company who has needed to make big changes in a hurry, and you certainly won’t be the last. Companies like Upside, SciNote, and Light For The World have all successfully utilized OKRs to make fairly drastic pivots and came out all the stronger for it. Things change — OKRs can help.

Thanks for writing in, Alex, and best of luck to you on your OKR journey.

Billy from the What Matters Team


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